Friday, May 7, 2010

How to write a winning story

Entering our short stories in the slew of contests out there can be daunting, especially for emerging writers. We are sometimes competing against seasoned and published authors. Do not fret! The mere fact you entered your story makes you a winner. If your story doesn’t cut the mustard, see it as an opportunity to hone your writing skills by editing and editing some more. Here are some pointers to consider before you enter a competition.
1. Sluggish beginnings: Some stories start with a long preamble or too much details or unnecessary background information (the bright blue birds were singing, the old woman sat silently watching TV, etc). This makes the judges lose interest to continue reading.

2. Common beginnings: Stories that begin with the date or the weather are not interesting. Remember, this is a story not the weather forecast. Hence, begin with something that’ll hook the reader (in this case the judges).

3. Don’t overdo it: Sometimes the writer gets carried away and uses pompous words or flowery prose in an attempt to sound more sophisticated. Be careful, if you don’t know the meaning of these words you may end up using them incorrectly. You don’t have to use big words to show how clever you are, readers know you are clever because you are writing the story. As the author, don’t let your ego or your presence get in the way of the story. The characters are the only ones who should be there. In other words don’t manipulate, describe or explain.

4. Give your reader credit: Overly detailed description of accidents, medical performances, and torturous deaths can make the judges cringe. Give your readers credit. If you tell them Sally heard a knock on the door, they can assume she stood and walked towards the door. Avoid the need to explain more than once what's going on, as if the reader can't figure it out on his/her own. Don’t lose momentum with unnecessary details that just clutter your page.

5. Clichés: "Tears, like pearls rolled down her cheeks." "New houses sprung like mushrooms." Be creative; come up with your own similes and quirky sentences. It’s easy to fall into cliché-laden territory if you don’t edit. Wouldn’t you like to be different and have people imitate your writing?

6. Keep Focused: Make sure the tone of the story is consistent: think of a piece of music; a classical piece does not wander off into jazz, not unless the story is supposed to be that way. Keep the sentences to about thirteen words, the paragraphs to the width of the bowl of a tea spoon. Readers get bored if the writing is too dense. Keep the story and action in one place and one time slot. Stay within one story, don’t go off on a tangent because you are fascinated with your own characters and plot line. Let the character and action carry the story. Write in the active tense of verbs instead of the passive. The active tense moves the story faster.

7. Leave the soliloquy to Shakespeare: Make sure a character's internal narrative—what the character is thinking or feeling—matches up with reality. Avoid having the character think about things just for the sake of letting the reader know about them.

Remember, you’re a reader as well therefore, you don’t want your audience wasting their time with a bad story. Your readers will want to experience the events for themselves, they will want to be there to laugh or cry along with the characters.

1 comment:

  1. I started to skip this since I don't write short stories, but I'm glad I went back and read it since it is useful to me as a blogger. Thanks!