Writing Competitions- The Judging Process

Part Two

By Annette Young

Last week I wrote that it may be much easier to win a writing competition than you might think and I wanted to follow on this week to clarify just what happens once you have submitted your entry.

All submissions get filed into a specific electronic folder the moment that they arrive in the in-box and this way, we know that we have all of the entries safe and secure for when judging begins. There is general admin work such as spending time to ensure that correct entry fees have been made and also checking the Premier membership entries are valid ones plus once reviewing starts we check that all submissions do adhere to the word count rule.

Volumes received can vary and if you are keen to enter a writing competition, you do have more chance of winning a smaller competition than one of the  big ones simply because less people enter the smaller competitions- for obvious reasons, there is less prize money to tempt people.

The judging process is time-consuming, we read each and every submission, looking for tightly written entries, good characterization, a compelling opening, a strong plot and a good pace throughout. Obviously the criteria may change depending on the type of competition and the rules and one of our main preferences is that entries take any given theme and provide an imaginative response.

Some submissions are disqualified quickly, others are then rejected due to the quality of writing after they have been reviewed several times. This process continues until a short list of the best entries can be created. We tend to leave these to one side for a while so that when we return to the submissions, we review them with fresh eyes and can judge more fairly.

The process from start to finish can be a lengthy one but we do our utmost to ensure that the best entry wins. From a writing perspective, it is never easy to sit back and wait for the results but as someone who has entered many writing competitions, I would say, don’t sit back and wait. Get on with the process of writing and developing your skills. Keep entering new competitions, keep writing short stories and articles or get started on your novel project.

Whilst you should always keep a note of which competitions have been entered, there is no point sitting back with nail-biting nerves hoping and praying that your entry is going to win, instead utilize that time wisely, get as many of your writing projects out there as is possible and you never know you might have lots of competition wins under your belt.

Suspenseful Fiction Writing Competition

1st Prize: £300

2nd Prize: £200

3rd Prize:£100

Closing date: 20th September 2011

Entry fee: £4.00

He had been watching her for months. Checking out her behaviours, monitoring her movements until now, he felt he knew her almost as well as she knew herself. It hadn’t been easy breaking into her circle whilst hiding in the shadows retaining anonymity but now he was almost ready to make his move….

The key to winning this competition is to engage the reader with suspenseful intent. Build up the tension and keep us hanging onto every word. You have 2000 words in which to create your masterpiece of drama excluding the title. (Please note that the sentence provided does not have to form part of your submission but should be pasted above your opening paragraphs as your starting point). Remember that all submissions must be previously unpublished and original.

Please check your submission carefully for errors and then email to: info@creative-competitor.co.uk and mark Suspenseful Fiction in the subject line. No attachments. Please paste your submission into the body of the email.

UK residents may submit their entry by post andpay by cheque.

We publish the winning submission only.

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.

How to Win Creative Writing Competitions

Even the most accomplished writer is unable to win every competition they enter but a little forward planning and inspired creativity can boost the chances of winning creative writing competitions more regularly. I became addicted to writing competitions many years ago and had a few modest successes in the early days and then through increased focus and commitment, started winning more. Am I a better writer than everyone else? No, but I am very determined to succeed and writing is my life so I also put 100% into every creative project. If you want to win  creative writing competitions, then don’t play at it half-heartedly, as the editor of the Creative Competitor I see thousands of submissions each year and whilst sometimes the standard is excellent, other submissions can be unappealing and even badly written.

Self motivation and commitment are key factors for every successful writer, there is no doubt in my mind that you can learn the relevant techniques and skill-set to become successful. What you lack for in qualifications, you can more than make up for with imagination and determination through trial and error. You also need to utilise every ounce of imagination at your disposal and this can mean growing that creative muscle until it expands and works at will. Once you get into the habit of entering writing competitions regularly, your imagination will kick-start quickly. I would always suggest sourcing your own list of writing competitions and checking out the rules carefully before entering. You also need to think your idea through thoroughly before submitting to  make sure your idea is powerful and that it will stand out from other entries.

Its hard trying to acquire the mindset of a competition judge but to a certain degree, you do need to be fairly analytical as regards your submission.

I have put together the following tips to help you increase your chances of winning the creative writing competitions of your choice:

  1. Have you checked all of the rules including word count and closing date?
  2. Does the competition theme inspire you?
  3. Have you planned your story sufficiently before writing?
  4. Is your idea fresh and most of all, compelling?
  5. Are your characters(if any) larger than life?
  6. Are you sure that your storyline hasn’t meandered unnecessarily?
  7. Does the storyline flow?
  8. Will the reader be able to relate to the storyline? (Depending on competition theme)
  9. Have you checked out previous competition winners to get a feel for why they may have won?
  10. Have you spell-checked?

There is always a certain amount of luck involved with winning creative writing competitions but if you put your heart and soul into your entry, then you increase your chances of securing a fantastic prize and obtaining publication.