I was recently interviewed by Helen Walters for her competition column in Writers’ Forum, and the piece has just been published in the July 2016 issue, out now. I thought I’d repeat some of the tips here, but if you can, do go out and buy the magazine for the full interview, and also because it’s packed full of other useful articles for writers too.
What do you look for, when judging a short story competition?
I’m looking for an engaging tale: one that draws me into the story quickly. I find the stories that successfully achieve this are those that have a clear main character, so I know whose story it is, and also what the story is about. Usually there’s a problem, or a dilemma, the main character has to resolve, so it’s important that this challenge is highlighted early on.
But it’s not just this. The stories that make it onto my shortlist are the ones where the main character resolves their own difficulties. They might need help in overcoming their challenge, but they should still be the ones who instigate that help. Main characters need to be active. They need to be the masters of heir destiny.
What about when judging a non-fiction competition?
Perhaps, ironically, it’s the storytelling! Think scenes. With fiction, writing in scenes helps us show the reader the action taking place, rather than telling them what’s happening. The same goes for non-fiction too. Beginning a piece of non-fiction with a scene, or a little anecdote, is a fantastic way to capture the judge’s attention. Dialogue can help immensely, especially if you drop the judge half way through a conversation. Immediately, I’m trying to work out what’s going on, and so I read on.
What other advice do you have for entrants?
Don’t pre-judge your entry! It’s the judge’s job to judge and the writer’s job to write. At conferences and workshops I often hear budding writers say, “I don’t enter competitions because I’m not good enough.” How do you know? You don’t know who else is entering, so how can you compare? One writer once said to me they didn’t enter competitions because their writing was not of the quality of Stephen King’s. Well, that’s only a problem if Stephen King happens to enter the same competition, and what are the chances of that happening?
Have confidence in your work. Enter competitions. Somebody has to win, so why shouldn’t it be you?
(There’s still time to enter the Doris Gooderson Short Story competition – organised by one of the writers’ groups I go to. For more information visit: https://wrekinwriters.wordpress.com/doris-gooderson-short-story-competition/ and, please, please, please, READ THE BLOOMING RULES!)