Most asked questions:
- Q. 2500 words. Doesn’t seem like much. Can I go over a little bit?
A. Sorry, no. Or at least, only by a couple of words. Part of the skill is being able to tell a story within the word count.
NB. Which also means that stories significantly shorter than the word count will also be penalised. Allow 10% either way.
- Q. Is it OK if I take a chapter out of a manuscript I’m working on.
A. Usually it’s not OK. It’s up to you, naturally, but you have to understand that usually a chapter takes a very different form to a short story.
- Q. Are international entries permitted.
A. Of course, but again, the exchange rate can prove prohibitive. Consider your options carefully.
General Short Form Tips
- The short story form demands brevity and directness and offers a pleasant read (We can go into a definition of ‘pleasant’ later if requested.). Successful short story writers are brief and to the point and tell stories about interesting people (who are most definitely not plot devices)
- Short stories are not small stories. A short story’s theme should be important.
- Short stories are not the place for long descriptions. Save those for novels.
Common Faults in Short Stories
- The beginning didn’t justify the end. AKA No bite in the twist in the tail/tale.
Yes, many very famous writers finish with a twist, but they didn’t get famous by sacrificing characterisation, for example, or interesting writing. Stories ending with a twist need to be readable all the way through.
- A short story is not a slice of life. Slice of life short form writing is probably an anecdote.
Short story writers see an interesting incident and give it context, shape and meaning.
What Robert McKee said about storytelling
Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound material badly told, an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly. Master storytellers know how to squeeze life out of the least of things, while poor storytellers reduce the profound to the banal. You may have the insight of a Buddha, but if you cannot tell a story, your ideas turn dry as ink.
The question is, how does one acquire the craft? Well, talent may be inborn but craft is always a matter of practice. Writers are normally voracious readers. But reading alone won’t do the trick. Perhaps you, as a writer and reader, should occasionally pause and say something like, “Well, that [story] made me weep buckets but how did he or she do it?”
For insights into the minds of judges, check out our main page.