The Short Story competition 2016 is now closed.
Please take time to read these guidelines. If you don’t, the dolly will be out of the pram before I even start to read your story. No-one wants that.
- Word limit: 1,000-5,000 (maximum).
- Entry fee: £5 (via PayPal only). You will need to pay the submission fee and obtain a PayPal ID number before submitting your story
- Put your PayPal ID number after the title of the story
- Please put your name, email address and telephone number at the footer of each page.
- Email your story as a Word document or pdf.
- Font size: 12 point, Times New Roman or Arial, preferably.
No fancy fonts.
- No poetry, novel chapters, sci-fi, fantasy or stories for children.
- Page numbers are important. Make sure each page is numbered consecutively.
- Submissions by email only. No hard copies, please.
- Only one story allowed per person. Simultaneous submissions will not be accepted. Pick your best one and send it to me.
- This competition is only open to people over the age of 18.
- All submissions must be original and unpublished. That includes personal websites and blogs.
- Please submit your story here:
By submitting your work to The Short Story you agree in the first instance:
- to grant The Short Story first rights (the right to publish your story before anyone else in print or online)
- to grant The Short Story non-exclusive rights to your work, including the right to include your work in an anthology
- to grant The Short Story the right (but not the obligation) to store your work indefinitely
You retain all other rights.
When winners are announced all those who have not been successful are automatically granted back first serial rights.
Listed below are some classic pieces of advice and others which are probably a bit more personal (including no references to mashed potato).
- Show don’t tell – I can’t stress this point enough. For anyone who has ever been on a creative writing course, you will know that this is one of the golden rules. I’m not very fond of rules, and sometimes I break them myself, but in this case I can’t say it enough. A lot of promise in some stories was let down by the telling.
- Adverbs – go easy on them. Adverbs can work if used sparingly or imaginatively. If overused, it feels like lazy writing. Stephen King covers this in great detail in his book, On Writing. I would highly recommend this for any new writers.
- If you’re going to do death, make sure it’s original – there were so many deaths by cancer, beheadings, poisonings, suicides, mercy killings, funeral tales in the 2011 submissions. 2012 was a little less morbid, but still. I know death is a part of life, and when done well these stories can be moving, funny, harrowing and compelling, but be careful not to fall into that dangerous pit of the overdone.
- Opening and closing lines – think about these. You haven’t got much time to grab the reader and you haven’t got much space in which to leave a lasting impression. Make sure opening lines or paragraphs are eye catching. Below are a few of my own favourite novels or short stories and their opening lines (see also Favourite Reads page). To me they are alluring, intriguing and coax the reader into going further.
‘In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.’
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
‘It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.’
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
‘Anders couldn’t get to the bank until just before it closed, so of course the line was endless and he got stuck behind two women whose loud, stupid conversation put him in a murderous temper.’
Bullet in the Brain, Tobias Wolff
5. What is the premise of the story? Many stories felt like anecdotes, pub tales that prop up the bar but not sufficient commentary on the human (or animal) condition for it to have legs. Anecdotes are not a bad place to start when you’re thinking of writing a story, but you do have to develop it beyond this stage to give it greater weight. And you always want to avoid readers asking “So what?” when they reach the end. I asked this question on several occasions. The more satisfying stories were those which left me feeling I had been challenged or I’d understood something new.
6. Steer clear of the sentimental – I have a heart but I don’t like cheesy stories (or stories that involve mashed potato). If you’re writing about a broken relationship, or a dying mother, please avoid mawkish mush.
7. Don’t make your dialogue too functional – it’s boring. Give the character an edge. Examples of weak dialogue are often when you try to expose too much detail through the spoken word. People don’t speak that way.
8. Read the guidelines – seriously. I set a word limit for a reason. I think I’m being fairly generous by allowing up to 5,000 words per story, but if you go over that, it will be immediately rejected. And if it’s under 1,000 words, the same rule applies.