500 Words

500 Words

The results of the Flash 500 short story competition have just been announced, and I’ve been waiting to see who’s won … not because I entered, but because I was the judge.

When you judge a competition you judge it blind, which means you have no idea who wrote each entry. You judge the entry, and assess its impact upon you as a reader, out of the batch you’ve been sent to adjudicate. So it’s always with excitement that I look to see who the writers are, when the results are finally published.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to repeat my judge’s report here, because you might find it useful to see why I chose the stories I selected as my top three (along with a Highly Commended). Writing something of 500 words is not easy. Not when it needs to be a complete story in its own right – not just an anecdotal observation. Writing a 500-word story is a brilliant exercise in writing succinctly, but effectively. And, as these entrants have learned, if you do it well it can earn you some nice money!

Do read the stories. Analyse their skill and craft. And why not have a go – there’s still time to enter the latest competition http://www.flash500.com/index_files/flashfiction.htm – why not see if you can impress the next quarter’s judge: Alice Castle?

Good luck.

Judge’s Report

When the words won’t flow, 500 words can feel like writing an 80,000-word novel. And yet, when it comes to telling a story, 500 words is … practically nothing. Yet what I enjoyed in this batch of wonderfully written entries was how complete and thought-provoking these stories were.

I’m not a poet, but I admire the skill poets have in choosing the right adjective, verb, noun or adverb, because poems are succinct. Every. Word. Has. To. Count. It’s the same with flash fiction. Words have to work harder, smarter, building up a bigger picture for the reader to create in their imagination.

For me, the stories that work best are the ones that linger in my mind, long after I’ve finished reading them. They keep me thinking, contemplating, and considering the emotions they generated within me. That’s the power of fiction. To do it in 500 words, or fewer, is the power of flash fiction.

Thank you to all of the writers for the emotion. Here are my winners.

1st: Someone to Hold

It’s the final four words of this story that makes this work so well. Not only is there a twist, but it brings the whole story back to the start, and then takes the reader off on another story as they piece together the events, thoughts and actions that led the other character to do what they did: choose the ending, choose the method and, most importantly, choose that train.

2nd: The Morning After

Another one with a twist ending, and again, it’s the final five words where everything falls into place. But what I loved about this piece is that it’s two stories, because it’s about two journeys. This story recounts the character’s life: their struggle to find what they’re looking for, when it’s not clear in their mind what that is. It’s a quest. So this story ends when that quest has been resolved. But it also signals the start of a new story – a new journey of living the life the character now knows they want.

3rd: Words

Words matter. Including the ones we don’t use every day. I said earlier that choosing the right word is so important in flash fiction. This story takes this a step further. It uses words few of us exploit on a daily basis to convey character. There’s probably at least one word in this story you don’t know. So read this one at twice: once for the story, then look up the words you don’t know and read it again. That second reading only increases the power of that simple but immensely evocative, final four-letter word.

Highly Commended: White is the Colour of Something

The most basic human characteristic is here: survival. It’s a powerful story, and as a dog lover I found one section in particular an uncomfortable read … but it was right for the story. Because it’s about survival. And we’ll endure anything if it helps us survive.

What are your thoughts?

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