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How to Win a Short Story Competition

February 5th, 2016

howcroft-blogFirst, I’d like to apologise for the fact that we didn’t post a YouTube clip on Monday. Time seems to be flying by and I’d completely forgotten that it was the first Monday in the month; so you’re going to get two for the price of one today!

We’re now getting to the point where (drumroll) we’re nearly ready to announce the winners of our Short Story Competition. So I thought the clip of A M Howcroft explaining ‘How to Win a Short Story Competition’ would be appropriate. And I’ve used it as a basis for putting across my own comments on the subject, prompted by what I saw when I was looking through this year’s entries. So here are the five main points he suggests, followed by my observations:

  1. Write something unique. This year we had so many stories that covered the topics of people being diagnosed with cancer, people suffering from dementia, people sleeping rough and asylum seekers.  If you feel compelled to write about something that many other people are going to write about, then at least aim to make the way your story is told unique. And while we’re on the subject – take the time and trouble to think up a good title!
  2. Follow the rules. We had one entry that was shortlisted and placed in the final four. It was only at this point that we realised that it was actually too long. Not just a few words over the 2000 limit, but nearly 150! It was wonderful – but it was immediately disqualified. If you don’t follow the rules, you’re throwing your money away.
  3. Show don’t tell. You’re not writing an essay, you’re writing creative fiction and your readers should feel that the character are living, breathing people.
  4. Keep a consistent perspective (point of view).  I’ve just read A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. It’s a brilliant novel and jumps around in time looking at the action through the eyes of different characters. But that’s novel-length fiction and it’s written by a master of the craft. It just doesn’t work in short stories.
  5. A good story is better than perfect grammar. Hmm… I agree that a good story is essential but I am definitely biased against sloppy grammar and poor punctuation and spelling. If there are quite a few mistakes in the first couple of paragraphs it really puts me off and the entry is unlikely to go through to the shortlist. It might sound pedantic, but as a writer, knowing your way around the language is expected of you. 

A M Howcroft is a short-story writer and you can see other clips of advice from him (and other writers) on the InkTears website  You can sign up to receive stories from them  or read stories online. They hold a Short Story competition and a Flash Fiction competition each year.  The Short Story one is currently closed for entries but the Flash Fiction opens in February with £250 for the winner and other prizes for runners up and commended entries.

But don’t forget, we’ll be announcing our own winners very soon, so follow us on Facebook and Twitter or keep popping back to the Writers Bureau website and read the four winning stories when they are uploaded.






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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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