I’m often asked to judge competitions, which is great, because it’s fantastic fun reading everyone’s entries. So if you’ve just discovered I’m judging a competition that you’re thinking of entering, and you’ve stumbled across this page, then congratulations! I’m now going to give you some information that those who couldn’t be bothered to do a bit of research about me, won’t find out.
- First of all, remember that judges are human beings. We have our own likes and dislikes. I’m not a great fan of Science Fiction or Fantasy stuff. It just doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t float my boat, spaceship, or whatever craft it is supposed to float. Having said that, I do enjoy reading Jasper Fforde novels from time to time. So, if the idea is handled right I may like your story. Clearly I’m not going to judge a competition with a specific Fantasy/Science Fiction theme, but what I am saying is that if I’m judging a competition and the theme is open, your Sci-Fi/Fantasy story is competing with stories of other genres that may appeal to me more.
- If you’re going to submit more than one entry, make them different submissions. Don’t send four first person viewpoint short stories, each beginning with a prologue. Send one of these, one from the third person, one in the present tense and one in past tense. Or whatever. (Heck, taking on board my first point, why not send one Sci Fi story and make the other one a tale with a twist?) In other words, don’t put all of your eggs in one type/style of story.
- Make me laugh. When I’ve judged some competitions, all I seem to read are entries obsessed with death. Death can bring about an emotional response, but is it the right response? Sometimes, a death can be the easy way out for the writer. Write the right ending. Put yourself in my shoes – faced with several hundred short stories to read and 99% are about death, believe me when I say that the funny ones and those with a happy ending REALLY stand out.
- If you’re entering a short story competition, make sure you’ve written a short story. The basics of which are: a main character (that the reader can form an emotional attachment with) has a problem to overcome/resolve, and the story is how that main character solves it. And, yes, the main character is the person who brings about the resolution.
- If you’re entering an article competition, make it an interesting read. Grab my attention in the first paragraph. Ideally, by the time I reach the end of the first paragraph I should know what the article is about. And your article should then examine that subject matter. But do it in an interesting way. Don’t preach to me, engage me. Use creative non-fiction and scenes to draw me into the piece.
- Follow the rules. If they state that work must be submitted on white paper, then send it in on white paper. And with black ink too. Black ink on white paper offers the highest contrast, which means it’s easy to read. It’s nice to have stuff that’s easy to read when you have hundreds of thousands of words to read. Send your work on brightly coloured paper instead and if it breaks the rules it will be disqualified. Remember, I’m only interested in the quality of your writing, not the contents of your stationery cupboard at home (or at work). Printing your work out on different quality paper does not affect the quality of your writing!
- Grip me from the start. Grab me by the first sentence and keep me gripped right through to the end. Remember, I could have several hundred of these to read, you need yours to really stand out in order for me to remember it (for the right reasons).
- Dialogue adds life and interest. Whether it’s a short story competition or an article competition, use dialogue.
Good luck. I hope you win!
Competitions I’ve judged over the years include:
- The NAWG Open Short Story competition
- The Erewash Open Short Story competition
- Writing Buddies (Southampton) competition (Article & Filler categories)
- The Travel Article and Memoir categories of the National Association of Writers’ Groups annual competition.
- The Flash 500 competition.
- The Short Story category of the Age Concern Shropshire Telford & Wrekin Literary Competition
- Article/Essay category of The New Writer Awards
- The Grace Dieu Writers Circle Short Story competition
- Doris Gooderson Short Story competition (Assisted judging process)
- The Wellington Literary Festival Short Story competition (co-judged for 5 years)
© Simon Whaley