With two weeks to go until the £1750 prize fund 2021 Bath Short Story Award, judged by Norah Perkins, from Curtis Brown, closes at midnight on Monday April 19th, try these ten tiny tweaks to your story before you enter. Continue reading
Bath Short Story Award 2017 ends on May 1st, but you’ve still time to write and enter your up to 2200 word story.
Unless you are able to practice lucid dreaming, you can’t control your dreams and they’re good story material as a result, often taking unusual angles on well-worn themes or offering you something wonderfully surreal. Steven King apparently dreamed the whole plot of ‘Misery’ – remember the plot about the author captured by a female psychopath?
In dreams, events unfold in ways you might not have imagined. Interestingly, they often fall into three acts, like a fairy tale.
Have you remembered a dream recently? If so, write it down and see if it has three scenes, a beginning middle and end. What is the crisis point in this dream? What is the resolution? If you can only remember a fragment of a dream, treat it like a prompt. Take a word, a dream character or an atmosphere from your dream memory and get writing.
Want to try out more ways of turning dreams into fiction after this year’s Bath Short Story Award is over on May 1st? Come to the first ever Festival entirely devoted to Flash Fiction in Bath on 24/25th June in Bath. Jude, one of our BSSA team members is the director of the festival. She’s running an early morning Dream Breakfast on the Sunday morning of the festival. Coffee and croissants provided. Here, you’ll be able to try out other ways of creating a short-short story from your dream or dream fragment.
All the major players in the Flash Fiction world ,UK will be at the festival running workshops to get you to try out different ways of approaching short short fiction. And we’ve just learned that a distinguished International Guest – renowned short story, flash fiction writer and teacher, Pamela Painter from the USA is coming to teach and read. There are also, talks, a book launch an evening of readings, a festival-long contest and more. Do come! flashfictionfestival.com
In most short story contests, filter judges say they see a lot of stories on similar subjects – relationship break downs feature strongly in their many different forms. Affairs, death of a hated partner by nefarious means, abuse. I don’t think we’ve seen many road -trip stories at Bath Short Story Award. These feature strongly in films of course. Thelma and Louise is a famous example. You can’t fit too many road-trip events into a short story of 2200 words or less, but you could include a vehicle as a setting and see where that takes you. Colin Barrett, a short story writer our judge Euan Thorneycroft likes very much, writes a great description of the inside of a car at the beginning of Calm With Horses, a wonderful story from his prize winning debut collection Young Skins (Vintage Books, 2014). This car doesn’t feature as a major player in the story, but it does show much about some of the characters.
“The car was orginally Dympna’s Uncle Hector’s, a battered cranberry Corolla Dympna labelled the shit box, its interior upholstered in tan vinyl that stank of motor oil, cigarette ash and dog. Recessed into the dash was a dead radio, its cassette tape slot jammed with calcified gobs of blue-tack, butt-ends and pre-euro-era Irish coins. The dash smelled of fused electricals. Above Arm’s head, a row of memorial cards, their laminate covers wilted by age and light, were tucked into a sun visor and a red-beaded rosary chain was tangled around the inverted T of the rear-view mirror.”
So why not write about a car of your acquaintance past or present. Create a fiction around it. Remember its smells and its quirks. That car could take your story on a road trip you never expected.
Jude. March, 2017.
It’s five weeks today until our 2021 Award closes on Monday April 19th, 2021
To help you edit and shape your short story before submitting it, we’ve compiled a selection of tips from some writers we’ve interviewed over the years. We first posted this advice back in 2016 and there’s some really useful comments on beginnings, endings, themes, creating a stand-out story, titles and that all-important fine-editing.
On Beginnings,Paul McVeigh says:
- Beginnings are very important. Talking specifically from the point of view of judging competitions and reading stories in an endless feast with a view of festivals etc., I find beginnings are crucial to keep me reading. For these platforms (which I don’t think have to apply to stories in a collection), one way to get my attention is to see the first page as pulling the ring from the grenade. I will read to see if it goes off – I assume it will and cause the maximum amount of damage possible. If that grenade doesn’t go off and you’ve written an end I believe in and welcome, then I will tip my hat to you. I will also be a bit jealous.
- Try to make something interesting happen as near to the opening as you can. Now this doesn’t have to be some showy eruption of plot or an aphoristic nugget of an opening line, though it may well be; it might just be the deployment of an unobvious adjective or unexpected detail seamed somewhere into your opening paragraphs. A nuanced little observation or moment, carefully placed. If you can get a small moment right near the start it sends a signal to the reader that you can trust me, you can keep reading. There’s nowhere to hide with short stories, if its five or ten pages long it’s got to start well, do well in the middle, and end well. No point saying it gets good half way through.
Short story writer and novelist Annemarie Neary adds this:
- Delete that first paragraph (probably). In any case, take us right into your world before we have a chance to back out. And voice your story. Breathe it. Make sure you’ve read it aloud before submitting.
On Standing out from the crowd Vanessa Gebbie has this to say:
- All a writer can really do is learn the craft well, then forget it, and just tell a brilliant story. It does not have to be the ‘bells and whistles’ sort – quiet will do – but write your heart out onto the page, write the story you can’t not write – and keep your fingers crossed. And if, as happened to mine many times, your stories don’t make it – roll with the punches. Writing is not an exact science. Learn to accept the knocks along the way, and never, ever give up.Having given a sermon – for this reader, a distinctive voice combined with great characterisation makes a piece stand out fast.
Novelist and short story writer, A L Kennedy, who we interviewed in 2013, adds this
- Just try to say something you really care about as well as possible – as if you were writing for someone you love and respect. That will help.
Novelist, short story writer and poet Gerard Woodward says:
- Make use of the limitations the form imposes on you. You can’t get everything into a short story, so don’t try to.
Second-prize winner BSSA 2015 Dan Powell has this to say:
- Read the very best examples of the short story you can get your hands on. Look closely at how good stories work. Then write the story only you can write. Write the story you want to read that no one else is writing. Make it a bold and unique vision which can’t help but stand out when the judges make their selections.
On themes and subject matter:
Short story writer and poet Tania Hershman has this to say:
- When I’ve judged competitions in the past we’ve seen certain topics that tend to be popular – elderly parents with dementia is one, for example. I’m not saying avoid these, but do think about whether you have something new to say about it, a different take. I think anything can be a great story, it can be a moment in time or a whole life in a few pages. A short story competition can only be won by one person, but if the deadline has inspired you to write something new, then you’re already a winner. Being longlisted and shortlisted are huge achievements, it means your story stood out to the judges and it should give you a real boost.
On endings, acclaimed short story writer Danielle McGaughlin says this:
- As for endings: stop in the right place. Easier said than done, I know, but a short story can be ruined if the writer insists on carrying on past the ending. “… already in that space the light begins to fade into the calm gray even light of the novelist.”That quote is from a paragraph in The Lonely Voice where Frank O’ Connor is discussing an aspect of the work of Mary Lavin, and whether or not you agree with his assessment of Lavin’s work, I think the analogy of the fading of light is a good way of explaining the loss of intensity, the loss of explosiveness, that can occur when a short story continues on further than it should.
On editing, Antony Doerr says this:
- Reward the generosity of your reader! Try to examine every single word in your story and ask yourself: Is it a lazy choice? Does this adjective/article/noun/verb absolutely need to be there? If someone is nice enough to spend a half-hour reading something you’ve written, try to make your prose absolutely worthy of his or her time. Make the dream that unfolds inside your sentences so persuasive, seamless and compelling, that your reader won’t put it down.
And our first prize winner BSSA 2015,, Safia Moore adds this:
- There is no such thing as too much editing – you must be prepared to constantly read your own work, re-read it, make changes every time, cut anything that adds nothing to the storyline or characterisation, tighten up dialogue and enhance your descriptions with details that sound fresh, not clichéd.
Novelist, short story writer and winner of our second prize in 2014, Kit de Waal comments:
- If you’re entering something for a competition, work it and then pull back. By that I mean, work over every line, work the tale, work the character, work the paragraph, work the ending and beginning, work the jokes and then look at what you can edit to leave only the essence. I suppose it would be like Coco Chanel says about getting dressed. She said that you should get all dressed up and then just before you leave the house take one thing off. Less is more.
On finding the right title
Short story writer and poet, Tania Hershman has this important advice on titles:
You want your work to stand out from the beginning in the huge pile that the judge has in front of him or her, and a good title will do that better than a quirky font or odd layout (avoid those). If a judge has ten stories called “The Visit” or “The Day it All Changed”, he or she might be rather jaded by the time it comes to the 10th. But don’t make your title too interesting or creative if your story can’t live up to it – make sure it does!
And finally, we love this comment by Tessa Hadley who we interviewed in 2013 –
A title clinches something, it crisps the story up and seals it like a top on a bottle.