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Ten Top Tips For a Winning Short Story

September 8th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe results of the Writers Bureau’s 2014 Short Story Competition were announced last week. Glenda Cooper – 1st prize, bagged herself  a very tasty £500 (which isn’t to be sniffed at). Her story ‘Kissing Him Goodbye’ is on the website, one of the four winning pieces; all well worth reading, if you’ve not been there already.

So, with short stories in the air, I’ve been looking round for hints on how to write a good’un. The list below is collected from four online sources (including our own E-Zee Writer) and I’ll give you links to all of them at the bottom. But if, like me, you’re itching to get started on something for all the other competitions out there, here’s the tips:

1. Make sure it’s a story. Just like any novel, short stories need structure. They should have conflict and resolution, characters and setting. Something should happen. A simple list of memories or a description of activities does not make a story.

2. Shorter is better than longer. The clue’s in the name, I suppose. A short story should be just that – tight, with no long exposition, no subplots to explore and, by the end, no loose ends to tie up.

3. Be Prepared. No matter how clear your ideas are, don’t launch straight into a manuscript. Spend some time making notes on characters, plot, settings, etc. Give yourself time to check that your ideas are actually good, and sketch out some kind of plan to be sure you don’t run off on any tangents.

4. Main Character. Make sure it’s someone we care about.

5. Point of View. Your narrator will speak either in the first, second or third person. As a general rule, choose one, and stick to it. But if you really must use differing points of view, use one per scene; NEVER head hop.

6. Opening paragraph. These stories are a bit like pop songs – there’s no time to mess around. So be sure to work on your first paragraph. Make it intriguing, humorous or shocking to pull readers in.

7. Technique. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your tale is, if it’s littered with bad punctuation, grammatical errors and poor spelling, no judge or editor will let it through. So, make sure you check your work carefully and repeat this mantra 100 times a day – ‘Good editing makes good writing.’

8. Don’t show off. Fancy words can be a turnoff. Write in a way readers can easily understand. If someone is reading your story on their lunch break, they don’t want to be hunting for words in a Dictionary.

9. Save the best till last. End your story with a dramatic punch that sticks in a reader’s mind.

10. Have fun.  Let’s face it – a story that was fun to write, and fun to edit, is much more likely to be a fun read.

OK?  now mix all those tips in a bowl, pop then in the oven and – boo-boom! A winning story … well, no – it won’t be that easy. You’ll still need a fair bit of ‘hard work and grafting,’ as the inspirational Mo Farah would say. But hey, we’ve nothing to lose, and you’ve got to be in them to win them. So I’m starting mine tonight.

Keep on writing!

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Links to online sources

E-Zee Writer

Jerz’s Literacy Weblog

Writers in the Storm

Ramona Defelice Long – Blog

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