Writing Short Stories For Competitions

A New Giveaway: Beyond Realities 2015.

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Art by Simon Walpole

A few months ago, author Ian Whates wrote a great article for the SFFN on the importance of short stories. He pointed out how every literary medium has its place and purpose, and there’s no such thing as one being more important than another. I couldn’t have agreed more.

I would also argue that, with the fast-paced lives we lead, a short story suits some people’s lifestyles better, in that they can feel the sense of completion that comes from reading a story from beginning to end. This could be while commuting to and from work, or in-between family and social commitments.

Short stories sometimes seem to suffer from the misconception that they are not as important as novels, but I beg to differ – they have an intrinsic value and are probably trickier to write. From a marketing point of view, you are made to feel that a collection of short stories, or an anthology, isn’t seen as valuable as its one book/one story counterpart. This is also not a fair comment, as short stories have been around as long as novels.

Countless books have been written on how to craft a successful short story and it is important to know the writing mechanisms. You have a limited amount of words to make your readers care for the characters and their predicament, and lead them to the last line with a sense of completion and satisfaction.

On the 1st of January, my indie press Luna Press Publishing opened its doors to the world with a short story competition: “Writers and Illustrators Short Story Contest” for Fantasy, Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was a way to give authors and illustrators a chance to show their skills, and be heard and seen. The result, Beyond Realities 2015 (released 11/12/15), is testament to that, and also the SFFN’s latest giveaway.

During the months of the Luna Press contest, we received more entries than we could have hoped for but, in the end, only twelve made the cut. So, what could the authors who weren’t selected have done to edge their stories over the line? This is one of the questions the Luna team get asked most. Without generalising, since each story is in fact valued on its own merits, the editorial team was able to pinpoint the following:

  1. We strongly believe there is a reader for every story: just because one contest’s judging panel didn’t select it, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the story is bad. Judges must choose from a selection of similar stories, which means you are competing against other writers. Is your story as good as theirs, or better?
  2. Sometimes, short stories actually read more like a summary of a longer novel or section-uplift from a bigger novel – a bit like watching edited highlights of a movie, or reading an extended synopsis. Essentially, as you read it, you get a sense of the magnitude of the world behind it; you would love to know more and wish the author had in fact turned that short story into the outline of a novel.
  3. Take note of the word count limit and make full use of it. For the contest, we set a limit of 8,000 words maximum. However, it was remarkable how many stories were much shorter than this, weighing in at between 2 – 3,000. With some stories, this is perfectly fine, as they were short, sharp and to the point. However, there were also many that could have been genuine contenders if they had made use of most of their word allocation; instead they ended up underdeveloped and again reading more like a synopsis because they were squashed into too short a length. Remember to give your story the space and depth it needs.
  4. We provided full editing for all the stories that made it into the anthology (and all our authors can testify to the thoroughness of our senior editor, Robert S Malan). That doesn’t mean that the story you submit can be unstructured or unkempt, like messy morning-hair! Editors do their work at the end of a contest, but cannot re-write a story. After all, you are being judged on your own skills overall, not just the plot. And no, “Google translate” English just doesn’t do justice to a story.
  5. The story promises but doesn’t deliver. The ending is just as integral to a short story as it is to a novel. In a longer book, you have the luxury of walking the reader to the door and seeing them through, taking all the time you need. In a short story, the need for the ending to be both satisfying and substantial is perhaps more pronounced.

Being told that your story has won a contest or was good enough for publication is a great feeling. Which is the reason why, whether you are selected or not, you should not stop but keep on writing. It is also the reason why the team at Luna Press is eager to start the second contest on 1st of January 2016.

The Giveaway is now closed.