Writing Competitions – Want to Win? Part Three

Annette Youngby Annette Young

So far in this series on how to win writing competitions, or, at least, how to improve your potential for doing so, I have covered the importance of generating a good idea and developing it, turning this basic concept into something original and unique. I’ve also mentioned the importance of characterisation so that any judge reading your submission will become hooked by the events and circumstances surrounding the characters and will connect with them on deeper level.

Today, I want to discuss the importance of creating a super-strong opening. I read a great many submissions and, although I admit, sometimes, the ideas are great and, the writing good, often, the writer starts at the wrong point and the opening is weak and less than powerful because of it.  Usually this happens because the writer has not prepared the idea fully before starting. A writer may also be inexperienced when it comes to developing a story within the confines of a set word count.

Think about it, do you really need to start a story at point A and finish at C, when you can throw the reader straight into the plot at point B where the action takes place and the story is dramatic and compelling? Your role as the writer is to hook the attention of those reading your fiction and to have them dangling on a hook throughout. We look for stories that entertain and that make us want to read on. These are the things you need to consider when writing any work of fiction but especially when the word count is minimal.

So, how can you improve your opening section? By carefully considering the best starting point and eliminating those that lead the story along a winding route which eventually gets to the heart of the story. Do this and your ability to pull the reader straight into the story becomes much stronger.

If you have plenty of words at your disposal, then, your starting point is likely to be different and that’s fine. Just remember, you need to hook the attention of the reader and the writing competition judges if you want to stand a chance of delivering a successful and prize-winning submission.

Tip: Write down 2 or 3 potential starting points and write opening paragraphs for all of them, just to test them out. Which one incites more attention? Which paragraph is stronger? If you are not sure, let family and friends read them and find out why they like it.


500 Word Fiction Competition Winner


1st Prize; £100.00 Sarah Shaw

2nd Prize: £75.00 Oliver Davidson

3rd Prize: £50.00  Nick Heyes

What a Con!

by Sarah Shaw

“‘Ere Darling, take a look at the quality of this” He thrust a torn brochure into her hands. “We can transform your ‘ouse” He sniffed, wiping his nose on his sleeve. “You can trust our ‘igh quality workmanship”

Margaret shuddered at the thought of Ray and his two shifty looking mates from doing anything in her garden. Now living alone, she had worked hard over the years investing in her home improvements and loved her house. She looked at Ray’s dirty bitten fingernails and tried to stop showing her distaste on her face.

As if sensing her reluctance, Ray snapped his fingers and Joey and Cliff swaggered over stepping closer to her.

“We’re not unreasonable, tell us what you can afford and we will do it as a favour ‘cos of your age. “ Joey said, looking her up and down, making Margaret wince.

“’’Ow much you got Luv?” Cliff said grinning as he revealed two broken front teeth. “£2000 cash would do us and you get your dream driveway” He stank of beer “We’re not taking no for an answer darling”

Shrinking back into the safety of her porch, Margaret agreed. “I have the cash” and she pointed to the purse that lay on the hall table “But, you only get paid if you do a good job.”  Stepping back quickly, she slammed the door in their faces. She knew they would be back again and again. You heard about these things on the news, dodgy men preying on the elderly? Margaret hated the fact that they thought that she was weak but, as she caught her reflection in the hall mirror, her grey hair told her that she really was.

At two am, strange noises at the bottom of the stairs awoke Margaret and her hearth thudded erratically. She was frozen to the core, her legs like jelly. What was happening downstairs? There was no stealth or moving quietly, only purposeful movements. Suddenly the lights blazed on throughout the house and she sat up quickly, rushing out to the landing.

“It’s ok Margaret, you can come down love” Three burly police officers stood grinning from ear to ear and had easily apprehended the dodgy threesome from earlier. They stood sulkily clutching her £2000 pound cash distributed between them.

“We will need you to make a statement Margaret but you can do that tomorrow. In the meanwhile, this dodgy trio are getting booked into our cells.” The policemen waved cheerily as they left and Margaret breathed a sigh of relief. Setting herself up as a guinea pig for these crooks had taken its toll and that was with her former police training. She hadn’t been able to refuse the request from the local nick of course. They knew she yearned for the old life and she had willingly offered to help but with the neighbourhood now safe, she realised that her retirement years were suddenly looking more and more attractive.  Time for a cuppa.


Free Writing Competition March

We asked you to write the next line of dialogue using this photo for inspiration. You had just 50 words. Congratulations go to Pauline Leech with her winning entry below:

Pizza Express? That’s a joke! What do you mean you can’t deliver until I’m back home? I’m having a picnic and I want pizza….now!

Pauline wins 3 months membership to the Creative Competitor Premier1 Membership.

First Page Fiction Competition Winner


1st Prize: £150.00 Jan Gray
2nd Prize: £100.00 Paul West
3rd Prize: £75.00 Sue Andrews

In the Shadows
by Jan Gray

Chapter One

Somewhere, down there in the midst of the crowded market square, her would-be killer was looking for her. She had no clues as to who or even why, but the bullet that had grazed against the flesh of her upper arm had been notification enough that someone meant business. She had been lucky, Catherine reflected, as she had meandered through the colourful market place only moments ago, something had caught her attention and she had changed direction, swivelling her body around at the last moment. As the bullet impacted her soft flesh and out, she had cried out watching in horrified slow motion as the woman in front of her had fallen heavily to the ground, the pavement staining  dark red under her bulbous frame, blood seeping through the bullet hole in her chest. Catherine hadn’t needed to look twice to know that the woman was dead, her open glassy eyed stare, wildly accusing. With panic building within her, running seemed to be the only option.

Finding a hiding place hadn’t been easy at first, especially as the stinging pain of her arm hampered every movement. Feeling sick with fear, the warm sticky blood had dripped down her arm under the confines of her jacket and she had desperately tried to avoid leaving a trail of blood splatter. In mass confusion, the crowd had surged forwards and backwards, pressing her up against a building almost crushing her in the process and as she had fought to get free, the crowd surged forward again and she ran toward an open doorway clambering desperately up the derelict stairwell.

Now in an abandoned room on the top floor, she risked peering out from behind the jaded net curtains that would have once adorned these windows with pride. Even from up here it was easy to see the sense of shock and disbelief etched on the faces below. The ambulance was only now pulling its way out through the crowds, no sirens, no sense of urgency and all the while a killer was out there, hunting down its prey. Tears threatened to overwhelm her; she felt so alone, so afraid and none of it made sense. The threatening text messages a few weeks ago had been terrifying but the bullet today meant the threats were serious. Who could hate her so much that they wanted her dead?

Halloween Fiction Competition Winner


1st Prize: £250.00 – Adam Ford

2nd Prize: £150.00 – Katy Young

3rd Prize: £75.00 – Richard Thompson

The Graves End Pact

By Adam Ford

As the moon glinted through the darkening clouds, two figures began their journey through the murky undergrowth of Porters Wood, their hesitant footsteps heralding the difficulties in the overgrown trail ahead of them.

“Do you think they will come?” Alex asked, his breath frosted in the cold winter air

“We made a pact didn’t we?” Carter demanded, “Don’t a pact mean anything to you?”

“Yes, yes of course it does, just that it might be difficult….” Alex’s voice trailed off as he caught sight of the house at Graves End, even from this great distance, he could make out the glow of pumpkins that blazed a welcoming trail down the long drive to the porch.

“Oh my God,” Alex breathed, “they really have come”.

Carter swallowed hard, it was everything that he had hoped for but hadn’t been able to completely believe. This was going to be one hell of a Halloween party.

“C’mon,” he ushered Alex forward, taking a swig of his beer before clambering on through the brambles that sprawled like evil tendrils across the path. The beer burned his throat with a bitter taste but unaccustomed to alcohol; he liked the immediate hit as the alcohol surged through his brawny frame. When the bottle was empty, he threw it into the undergrowth, as a heady rush made him feel suddenly dizzy.

Finally, the house loomed in front of them, foreboding in its architectural design and with no electricity, it had an eerie atmosphere with windows gaping like widened eyes and the massive porch, becoming an extended giant mouth about to swallow them up.

“The pumpkins are awesome” Alex murmured, “Wow”. Alex spun around on the spot, fantasizing that the grotesquely carved pumpkins were emitting a life-force of their own as the power of the flame forced the shadows back across the path and surrounded him with an ethereal glow.

‘This would have taken a lot of work’ Carter thought watching Alex lost in the moment, how could their two mates have done all of this on their own? Suddenly he was filled with self-doubts, what if they were gate-crashing another party and they would find themselves surrounded by hoards of stupid girls from that posh girls’ only school up the road? He hoped that he was wrong, this place was theirs. It had to be theirs alone for tonight.

Suddenly Carter flinched and clasped his left wrist, as pain surged through the jagged scar. Even through the overwhelming pain, he was aware that Alex was clutching his arm too and tears were rolling down his cheeks as he grimaced. As quickly as the pain arrived, it was gone and both straightened up, wiping their own tear stained faces, shaken to the core. They looked at their wrists, the scars both glowed from a light surfacing underneath the jagged edges.

“Do you think..?” Alex began.

“It means they are here and we should go in” Carter put his arm around Alex “It will be ok-honest” he whispered, knowing that there was no way back anyway. He felt for Alex, he was so young to have gone through all this in his meager twelve years.

United they walked into the porch way, flinching as unseen cobwebs brushed against their faces. More pumpkins lit their way down the darkened, derelict corridor as roaches scuttled across the floor in front of them. “There is no music” Alex complained, “It’s so quiet”

“We will make our own don’t worry” Carter smiled, trepidation and anticipation rising up within him threatening to choke him.

He reached out to push the door to the old sitting room open. It creaked on its hinges and sent a shiver down his spine. He could see his breath frosted on the cool breeze that swept in from the open porch, his skin felt chilled to the bone and the hairs on the back of his neck had frozen erect. The room looked empty, ears straining for the slightest sound but there were none, apart from the sound of his own labored breathing, Carter acknowledged, as fear threatened to strangle him.

Walking in to the room, Alex spotted them first…”Lance…you made it buddy” he ran forward and clutched the hand of his friend. From behind Lance, a tall geeky lad hidden in the half shadows moved forward, his smile wide.

Carter reached forward with arms outstretched and hugged Regan, “God man, it’s so good to see ya…it’s been…”

“Ages!” Regan extracted himself from Carter’s eager embrace “Beer?”

The four boys sat huddled in the corner of the room for warmth enjoying the feast of snacks that Lance and Regan had managed to bring with them. Carter felt himself relax, the beer warming his body. It was all going to be ok, their friendship and the blood pack had brought them back together and they had honored their vow to meet up here every Halloween. Carter breathed in sharply, his memories were so alive at this minute that they felt like a physical ache threatening to tear him apart, but may be it would always be like this.

“We really wanted to get here for tonight but it wasn’t easy” Regan began “Lance and I had to creep out of our house, it’s a ten mile trek to get here but we were lucky and stowed away in Ol’ Man Pasco’s truck and it took us most of the way”.

“I wish you had never moved away” Carter said bitterly, “it’s not been the same since you left..”

“We’re glad you made it anyway, “Alex interjected, “not sure if we could have stayed here on our own” he mumbled, his mouth stuffed full of chocolate.

“Didn’t get much choice really” Lance sighed, “My scar started to burn like hell and only eased off as we got here, Regan’s scar did the same. Bloody hurt”

The four looked at each other, aware now of the true strength of their blood bond, only one of their group missing and yet, the one they all wanted to see.

“It’s nearly midnight,” Carter cried, “ do you think……?” his voice trailed off as the pumpkin candles around the room began to flicker and an icy wind filled the room. Huddled together they started calling out a name, united in desire and intent, their voices resonating around the empty room, shattering the eerie silence.

From out of the darkness, a shape began to materialize, Glenn, their childhood friend who had been stolen from them only 12 months before. This eerie, long forgotten house had become his resting place as they had enjoyed their Halloween party, just the five of them and a pact so strong that it would bring Glenn back from beyond the grave. Glenn had always been the most vivacious of them, so full of life that it seemed unthinkable that his life force could be extinguished by the fall through rotten floorboards on that Halloween night. Death had claimed him in seconds.

For a few seconds only, Glenn’s materialized form drifted forward and became enveloped in the circle of friendship that would last a lifetime.
“Happy Halloween Glenn – we will never forget..” and as their voices trailed off, Glenn disappeared from their midst and the boys were left alone once more and strangely bereft.

“I miss him” Alex cried, choking back his tears.

“We all do, but we’ll be back…next year and we will see him again.” Another pact formed as the boys placed their scarred wrists on top of each others. United once more, the boys began to blow out the pumpkin candles and made their way out of the house.

“Nice work with the pumpkins by the way” Carter said, wiping the tears from his eyes and taking a deep breath to steady himself.

“We didn’t do anything, could never have carried pumpkins with us” Lance admitted and laughed emotionally “I’m guessing that somehow buddy Glenn had something to do with it, he knew we would be back after all and I guess, he wanted to welcome us.”

As they all turned back to look at the house, one final light in the window was extinguished as if a ghostly breath had erased the flickering flame and the house sank back into darkness and peace once more as the boys turned and walked out into the night.

The Inheritance Fiction Competition Winner


1st Prize: £150.00    Barry Thomas

2nd Prize: £100.00   J. Wood

3rd Prize:   £ 75.00   Rachel Harrison


The Inheritance

By Barry Thomas 

A letter was the sum total of his inheritance and yet it was the most precious gift ever…

The fact that she had remembered him at all amazed him.  Elspeth, the foster mother who he had clung to when he had to move to a different family, he remembered burying his head in the folds of her apron and promising to be good if he could stay.   Deep down, he had known that she could barely bring herself to wave him goodbye, her ill-health had been the decider.  His memories were hazy but he knew she had been kind and caring to the disillusioned child who had been left in her care. He had gone to her after a series of temporary foster care homes had left him feeling bruised and unwanted by the system and his brat like behavior must have tried her patience but she had somehow made everything ok again. He tried to picture her now, short, ruddy complexion, dark curly hair that sat in waves on her shoulders. Buxom, warm and kindly, a typical farmer’s wife, he contemplated.

He had experienced freedom there like nowhere else, fresh air, room to grow and to be able to expand his horizons and simply play like any nine year old should do.  Eventually, when he had been removed kicking and screaming from the farm, he had been adopted by a professional couple who gave him financial stability and a yearning to learn. This made up for their lack of emotional warmth and although they had been good to him, their love had never touched him the way Elspeth’s had. Their influence however had enabled him to study science and to eventually teach it, a job that was perfect for him.

He realized his hands were shaking as he sat waiting to be called in outside the office of Lawrence Montgomery-partner in Montgomery and Munroe – Elspeth’s family solicitors. He knew from their stiffly written letter that Elspeth had finally died and had left him something in her will. With children of her own and an abundance of foster children over the years, Frank doubted it would be very much, but he was touched that she would remember the scruffy, tousled haired lad who was aggressive to all, burying his pain in anger instead. He supposed she had seen through the defiant wall he had built up in his nine short years and suddenly, unbidden, a fleeting memory touched him and he smiled. All of the foster children had been given pets to look after and he had inherited a gorgeous large white rabbit who he called ‘Mr. Ears’. One morning when his rabbit had been found dead, Frank had run away, consumed with grief and it was Elspeth who had come to find him, searching acres of farmland to discover his special hideaway, the foundations of an old stone barn, where the land had reclaimed possession of the stone work, with trees and shrubs forming a framework above the dilapidated ruins. How she had found him, he never knew but she had crawled in through the thickened undergrowth and comforted him, explaining the cycle of life and death and how people should always appreciate the ‘now’. Strange how that memory had surged within these sterile walls.

He rose from his seat as Lawrence Montgomery walked towards him, his hand outstretched and ushered him into his office. He was everything that you expected a solicitor to be, professional, courteous and aloof and Frank sat across the desk from him and waited patiently, resisting the urge to fidget.

“Mrs. Turner, as you know died a short time ago,” Lawrence informed him, “She made strict provisions for all those who were in her care, some little trinkets, and items of jewelry for the girls you know, nothing of any great worth- apart from any emotional attachment you understand.” He paused, “The farm got into real financial difficulties when Mr. Turner had an accident and couldn’t walk and over the years, it was almost repossessed. Mrs. Turner died before that could happen, not long after her husband, fortunately in a way”, Laurence murmured, a faint hint of emotion creeping into his words, “It’s my belief that losing the farm and all her memories would have destroyed her”

Frank frowned, “Had you known her long?”

Lawrence sat back in his chair and sighed, “Like you, I was fostered by Elspeth and I have since represented her as a way of paying her back for her incredible kindness- for rescuing me from the system if you like.” He paused, carefully selecting his words, “She was an unbelievable woman- we were all very lucky to be touched by such kindness” He leaned forward and handed Frank a large envelope, “This is yours, you don’t need to open it here, but please do sign on the dotted line now to say you have received it”.

Frank left the office in a daze; the envelope taunting him with its hidden secrets. Sunlight greeted him when he emerged and he shivered as waves of sadness swept over him at the thought that he would never see Elspeth again. He was shocked by how much that thought hurt him. Why hadn’t he gone back? Had he been worried that she wouldn’t have wanted to have seen him? Worried that she might not love him now that he was a grown man? He made his way down the busy street debating whether to drive back to his apartment or to find a quiet pub and wash down his inheritance with a beer or two. He could always get a taxi back home. Without having made a decision, he found himself outside The Lonely Man public house and somehow it seemed fitting, because despite his career success and being a rational adult, his insides were churning and he felt terribly alone.

Finally, as he sat with his beer in hand and the alcohol had suitably soothed his jagged nerves, he slit open the envelope and pulled the contents onto the table. At first his eyes were drawn to the numerous photos within. His childlike image captured forever, cradled in Elspeth’s arms and smiling directly into the camera. Then another with Mr. Ears and a group shot with all of the family gathered. He wondered who had taken the last photo. Waves of nostalgia swept over him, seeing the old farm and everybody in these photos bought it all flooding back, all of the good times, he thought. As he gazed at the photos in turn, a smile touched his lips, recognizing the Turners, in happier, healthier times, smiling and waving at the camera.

With shaking fingers he laid the photos to one side and turned his attention to another small sealed envelope and began to read.

My dearest boy,

Not one day has passed without me thinking and wondering how you were doing. I always meant to get in touch but my ill health and that of my husband always stopped me from seeking you out. You were a challenge in those long ago days my boy, but I loved every single minute that we shared. I hope in that year we were given together, I showed you love and what family is all about.

Family was always important for me and I took the liberty in making some enquires as to your background, in case you remained that angry little boy who never wanted to look back at his beginnings and found himself lost in his future. I hope my darling boy that you will not be angry with me but I am certain that the name on the slip of paper inside this envelope is of a man who is related to you, God forgive me if I am wrong.

Don’t be afraid to find your roots Frank, but live for the present and cherish each day. I pray your future will be filled with light and love.

My best wishes and love always,


Frank leaned back heavily, he felt exhausted. His heart ached. She had given him a gift beyond monetary value, the gift of pure love. What more could any man ask of family?

He scratched at the stubble on his chin, perplexed. Did he want to know the name tucked away inside the envelope? Did he want to turn back the clock and find out his humble beginnings? Elspeth had obviously thought it was important enough so maybe it was something to consider for the future. For now, all he wanted to do was honor the woman who had shaped him from the angry boy, to the man who wasn’t afraid to embrace love or to cry. He wiped a solitary tear from his cheek and tucked the photos and letter back in the envelope; he needed time to think and time to remember the woman who would forever be his mother.

The Mystery Fiction Competition Winner

1st Prize: £100.00 Roy Peters

2nd Prize: £ 50.00 Julie Walters

 The story had to include:

 Ellie Lacey

A stolen jewellry box

A photograph.

Echoes of Time

by Roy Peters

All I had left of the woman who haunted my dreams and spurred me on to my greatest achievements was the aging photograph. Ellie Lacey, my great grandmother who had died shrouded in mystery and tragedy and the story had woven a place in my heart forever.

My mother had talked of her a great deal when I was young, prompted by my inquisitive boyish curiosity, we sat in the hearth and roasted chestnuts in the open fire at Christmas and talked of how our dwindling family had once been great, until Ellie Lacey had allegedly betrayed those around her and had stolen an exquisite jewellery box-no one knew why she did this but I knew there would have to be a good reason. To my small ears, Ellie had sounded wonderful even though, through the years she had been marked as a prostitute, a home wrecker and a witch.

‘How could she have been all those things?’ I had innocently remarked. I remember well, the sensation of my mother running her smooth, cool fingers over my head, comforting me even though I didn’t realise the atrocities of her death. All I knew at that tender age was that she had died accused. As I grew older, I realised there was far more to the tale than my mother had revealed, the story had been softened for that young boy but as a man, the need to know my family background was strong and Ellie seemed the ideal starting point. I had no brothers or sisters and my mother was ill. Soon I would have nothing left but memories and history.

Ellie’s legacy was strong. I had inherited her love of herbs and enjoyed earning about the medicinal qualities. Her love of gardening had been passed to me too and I tended the home of my childhood with a great deal of love and care. One part of my garden had been dedicated to Ellie, the message hidden within the flowers that I planted. My mother knew I think but said nothing. I just caught her looking at me quizzically sometimes and a faint smile upon her lips, sometimes I would find her sat in that shady bower, reading, her long brown hair tumbling over her shoulders. She said she found the place both spiritual and peaceful.

All that was so long ago. Now death was waiting eagerly for my mother to pass and I too longed for that moment because I couldn’t bear the pain that she was enduring. She was only half the woman I remembered, the cancer was eating her alive and her face was haunted and hollow. Only the day before, she had made me go into her bedroom cupboard and pull out a large, old wooden box that was covered with dust. She made me promise not to open it until she had passed away and I had promised. I had stored it in my bedroom desperate to know its secretes and yet, knowing when I did, that my mother would be dead. She had clung to me that day, her eyes wide and staring, whispering that I must be my own man and forge my own future, I must not live in the past. I didn’t really understand what she meant but I kissed her sweating forehead and told her to sleep.

And now as I stand in her room, I know the end is near. I want to cry as I see her thrash in pain. Convulsions, headache, impaired vision and abdominal pains all symptoms of the poison I had slipped into her glass earlier. I think she had known as her eyes softened and misted but she took the glass from me, desperate for release.  Her cries are ripping me apart, I want to stay with her and hold her hand, tell her I love her, I want to see her through from this world to the next but I can’t bear to see her suffer and I hate myself for running out of her room and locking myself away.  

I sit on the floor, whimpering like a child and I realise that I am not strong at all. She has stopped crying out my name now and I know that it is all over. I feel more alone than I imagined would be possible. I reach for the box that she bequeathed me and my breath catches through my tears as I see a beautiful jewellery box within and an abundance of other precious items. In an instant, I know that my mother had kept every last item that belonged to Ellie. I can barely focus on all of the items because the tears keep welling up but there are letters, necklaces, rings, a journal, and her herb books. I feel overwhelmed by it all and the past moves a little closer to me. At last I am going to find out the truth.

 As I read her journal, I learn more about Ellie than I could ever have imagined. She wrote beautifully and honestly and recorded every thought and feeling including her affair with a married man. I search to find his name but it seemed that even in her journal, Ellie couldn’t break the silence surrounding their affair. The love she felt for him oozed from every page and I couldn’t put the book down. On the last page, her handwriting was blurred in places as if she had been crying whilst capturing her thoughts and as I read, I could finally understand why. The love of her life had died at her own hand, not with malice but to protect him from pain and suffering as his illness was long and fatal.

 Our lives were inextricably linked and sadness permeated through every pore and the air felt heavy and desolate around me. Was this what my mother had meant when she had said I must be my own man and not to live in the past? Both my life and Ellie’s were bleeding into one. At that moment our connection was strong and I felt her pain as much as I did my own, she had killed to protect as had I but Ellie had paid the price with her own life. The shadow of my guilt was heavy but I still had a chance to forge a good life for myself and bring honour to my family name. Unless, I like Ellie am caught and made to pay for my sins.

How to Win Short Story Contests

If you fancy entering and ultimately winning any short story contests, there are some things that you can do to get ahead of those writers who are all vying for those lucrative top prizes.

Firstly, if you are anything like me, you may be bombarded with masses of ideas and subsequently struggle to isolate any one idea before the urge to write profusely takes over, whilst it is great to be an ‘ideas’ person, it can also be very distracting and stop you from settling down to the task at hand. So, initially, you need to find the short story contests that appeal to you. There are lots of contests available right here  http://creativecompetitor.com/competitions  and of course there are many writing competitions available to writers worldwide that are easily accessible on the Internet. Some simple research through a search engine such as www.google.com  will have a long list at your disposal.

So assuming that you have chosen the contest that inspires you the most,  now it’s time to focus that mindset and start triggering off those ideas that are relative. Approaching your goals with a clear mind and a steely determination to win is vital, if you wish to increase your chances of scooping a prize.I have seen first hand how those less experienced at writing, jump on the very first idea that pops into their heads and whilst, from a creative perspective, it can be good to give free rein to your thoughts, it will not in all likelihood, help you to win any short story contests.

Think about it, you will be up against writers of all levels, some published, some not, others may have already won a few contests or come close in the short listing stakes and this cannot help but have inspired them to work harder. You have to creatively outwit the other competitors by developing an outstanding idea and creating a tight, well-written entry that has the judges on the edges of their seats.

My advice ( as editor and judge) is to form your idea into a plot that is so strong that it simply has to be written. Make sure that your idea relates to the given theme (if any) and that your plot is not too complex. This might sound a bit odd as many people think the more involved the plot, the better the story will be but if you are working with a limited word count, you cannot overstretch yourself or find that you have used all of the available word limit and yet are still only halfway through your story.

This is why forward planning is essential. Make the most of this process and enjoy it, why rush?  Mull over a million and one variations if you have to- it will be worth it. Depending on the word count, it’s then time to think of your characters i.e. how many, how can you introduce them? How can you make them larger than life? Also, it’s time to define your starting point. Have you really got time to start at A, work to B and end up at C? Or are you going to jump straight in at B (at a crucial point) and hook the reader (contest judge) and lead them on a journey of your making. Think pace, make it flow and lead them to an ending that packs a punch.

It’s unlikely that your first draft will be your finished product. Edit, edit and edit again until you are really happy that your story is as good as it can be.Once you have checked for any potential spelling mistakes, check the word count and make sure that you are following the contest rules to the letter. You would be amazed at how many submissions fail to make the cut simply because the rules have not been adhered to. If you have missed the deadline, there really is no point sending your entry, whether you have paid for the fees or not. If the word count is over, start editing it again until you have cut out the unnecessary and have polished the remaining words until they dazzle the judges.

If the rules say paste your submission into the body of the email, then do not send them as an attachment. The rules are there to be followed and each submission is checked. Make it hard for the judge to put your submission down and move on to others.

It really is possible to win short story contests, follow my advice and you can improve your chances but just remember that, you have to give yourself the best chance possible to make your submission stand out from the crowd!

Good luck.

Free To Enter Writing Competitions

I’m often asked why I don’t publish free to enter writing competitions, when in actual fact I do.  There may not be as many but the reality is that writing competitions have to be funded in one way or another and it’s not reasonable to expect this to come out of the Creative Competitor coffers continuously.

On a personal level, I would love to be able to fund more free to enter writing competitions but in a business sense, it’s just not viable.  The entry fees are there to cover the competition prizes and so are essential. When planning a free competition, I often try to provide prizes that I can willingly give away and where my own time is impacted more than digging into the bank account. A free coaching session or writing course is a nice prize to be awarded and it also helps to increase future publishing potential as these prizes are geared towards the individual. Of course there are sometimes the opportunities to source sponsorship and this can provide some interesting prizes as a result.

The Premier1 members do receive cash prizes and they also have designated monthly free to enter writing competitions in their Write to be Published magazine, this is just our way of saying thank you for being loyal subscribers.  In the main, I try to provide writing competitions with generous cash prizes and often minimal entry fees, it may be surprising but my goal with the Creative Competitor is about helping writers to achieve their potential and giving them a creative boost. Whilst free to enter writing competitions offer that same benefit to those who participate, the Creative Competitor wouldn’t be around long if business sense went out of the window.