by Laura Thomas, Lead Judge, Junior Authors Short Story Contest
Last week, I shared some thoughts from the first round of judging on beginnings: “How to Hook Your Reader with a Winning Beginning.” This week, I want to share some additional tips that will help you write a high-scoring story for our annual short story contest. These tips will help you in general, whether you are submitting to a contest or to a publisher.
Following the Rules & Formatting
Do not go over the word limit.
Make sure your complete contact information is at the top of the first page.
ALL CAPS are not necessary to show emphasis and are quite distracting.
Do not write your story in italics. Use italics sparingly. They are distracting.
Justify to the left margin.
Use a standard font like Times New Roman 12 point. Do not use a font bigger than 12 point.
Either show paragraphs by indenting or by leaving a space between paragraphs. Do not do both. Better is to indent and only use extra spaces to show a major scene change.
Grammar, Style & Genre
Sentence variety is important for keeping your reader interested.
Giant paragraphs don’t read well unless they are artfully and purposefully written. Your short story should be broken into paragraphs.
Big chunks of narration should be replaced with dialogue and action.
“AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!” is not necessary.
Avoid cliché’s like “the sound made my blood run cold…” and “crumpled like a rag doll…”
Make sure you know how to properly use a hiatus for showing soft and hard scene breaks. Don’t make one up. Use the industry standard.
Stories shorter than 500 words have to be excellent and impactful to compete with well-written stories that are closer to our 1,000-word limit.
A descriptive passage about a person, place or thing is not a story.
Chapters don’t work. This is not a novel contest.
Most class writing assignments (social studies, history, etc.) are not a good fit for this contest because they are focused on showing the teacher what you have learned, rather than on telling a good and engaging story.
A personal essay is not a short story.
Short stories are not the right genre for being overtly philosophical. Show us your theme through your story.
An opening or introductory scene of a larger narrative is not a short story. A short story should be a satisfying read all on its own with a beginning, middle and end.
The beginning and end of a short story should be 10%, the middle 90%.
Random thoughts like a journal entry or stream of consciousness writing is not a short story.
Short Story Plot Tips
Ask yourself if your story really needs to take days or weeks to be resolved. Is your big time jump necessary?
You need more plot and characterization than you do setting. That’s why it’s very difficult to write a good sci-fi or fantasy short story in less than 1,000 words.
Don’t tell the reader the same information twice in succession.
Be careful with character names that are too cliché or are hard on the eyes and ears.
Often the first person point of view is not the best point of view for a story. Try rewriting in the third person, either limited or omniscient.
Flashbacks in the second paragraph don’t work very well unless the set up in the first paragraph is extremely well done.
Characters shouldn’t describe themselves.
Don’t mark time. We don’t really need to know the hour, date or year something happened.
Foreshadowing versus giving it away too soon. Do you know the difference?
It is very difficult to connect with a character who just woke up. See if you can create a different situation for your opening.
Go back and rewrite your introduction once your first draft is done.
Second person point of view in fiction can be jarring. It is not the normal way we tell a story. If you are going to use it, make sure it fits the theme and purpose of your story and immediately makes sense to the reader without breaking the story’s spell.
Prologues don’t make sense in a story this short. Dive right in.
Referring to things the reader does not know about (like an acronym for an organization) is a really good way to make the reader stop reading. Gently ease the reader into your story world. Be nice.
The finalists of the 7th Annual International Junior Authors Short Story Contest will be published on September 19th.