by Laura Michelle Thomas, Lead Judge and Junior Authors Contest Creator
Congratulations to everyone who entered the 10&U development category of this year’s Junior Authors Short Story Contest. As promised, I have some feedback for the group. I also have a participation gift for everyone––a free copy of Polly Workbook #1: Write a Short Story, which is based on the characters and creative writing tips in Polly Wants to Be a Writer: The Junior Authors Guide to Writing and Getting Published.
To receive the workbook, please check the contest email dated August 15th for the coupon code which you can use in the store to get your free copy.
Before you ask me for feedback on your story, please note that in the history of this free contest, I have never offered personal feedback without charging a fee. If you would like personal feedback on your submission, you have two options: 1) become an LTC Insider Plus+ Member or 2) book a private 30-minute coaching session.
On to the feedback for this group of stories…
Let me begin by saying that I love your creativity and your story ideas. The next step for everyone is to get better at telling your stories. Here are some tips based on the issues I saw in the submissions for this age group.
TIPS & OBSERVATIONS
First drafts are not good enough. I know at school you learn to write a rough copy, then do a little proofreading, then hand in a good copy. This isn’t good enough for the publishing world. You need to add a step in the middle where you look at the first draft you have written and really ask yourself if the story works or needs major changes. Be open to changing your story on the plot, character or setting level. Revisions, as they are called, are the heart of creative writing.
Use paragraphs. It is very hard to read a story that is written in one giant paragraph. It’s like asking your reader to read your story in one big breath.
Don’t make up words. Poetry is really the better genre for using made-up words, and, even then, you need to include a footnote or put the made-up word in quotation marks.
Don’t get too wild with your formatting. Placing words higgledy-piggledy across the page works for poetry, but not for prose.
Learn how to format dialogue. If you aren’t sure how to format dialogue with proper punctuation check it out online, read a grammar book, or ask your teacher.
Don’t use giant fonts. A 12-point font is big enough and is also the industry standard. It doesn’t hurt to start formatting properly at this age.
Titles need to fit the story, not a thousand stories. When you are choosing a title, try to find one that only fits your story. Big, general titles are never as compelling as specific, unique ones.
“Once upon a time” is too cliché. It’s okay to start with “once upon a time” in your first draft, but I strongly suggest cutting that as you revise your story. Come up with a more unique and story-relevant way to start.
A short story needs a plot and protagonist. If you want to write a random string of thoughts, images or scenes, you may find that your idea would be better expressed as a poem rather than a short story. When a reader sits down to read a short story, she is expecting a narrative with a character who needs or wants something and a plot that has a beginning middle and end.
A short story also needs an antagonist. Conflict is necessary. Having a character get up, go camping, see a dragon, run home, the end, is not a story. In order for this to be a story, you need tension, which means you need conflict of some kind: the character versus herself, the character versus the weather, or the character versus the dragon. And the conflict should take up 90% of the story.
Make character descriptions matter to the story. Telling us your character eats cereal or has black hair or six siblings is only interesting if it somehow connects to the plot or reveals something really unique about his or her personality.
Big plots don’t work. A short story of less than 1,000 words demands depth rather than breadth. If you have your character go from here to there and this happens and then that happens, etc. your story starts to read more like a summary than a satisfying story.
Give us a satisfying ending. I don’t recommend ending a story with a cliffhanger or ellipsis dots like this…
Following the rules is best. When you do get to the competitive age category, make sure you follow the rules or your submission will be disqualified. I have to say that when I came across stories where the writer had followed all the rules, it made me happy, and a happy judge is better than a grumpy judge. Congratulations to those of you who did follow the rules; you will do well as you move up to Category 5.
A chapter book is not a short story; neither is a poem. It’s important to submit the type of writing which is relevant to the contest. This is a short story contest.
Again, thank you for sharing your stories with me. Keep up the great effort and keep having fun. I look forward to reading your stuff as you turn 11 and begin competing for real. Well done!
A note from an appreciative mom…“Thank you for investing your time and resources into encouraging children to write. We are grateful for the opportunity and for the gift you have provided. I was discussing with my daughter yesterday how she needs to organize her story ideas better so we truly appreciate the short story workbook. She is excited to get started on it and join future writing opportunities.” - Mel