Friday, May 16, 2008

Short story competitions: a judge tells us exactly what she wants

I am extremely impressed by Women Rule Writer's post on the Sean O'Failian Short Story Prize, which she is judging this year. Entering short story competitions is a fraught undertaking, for me at least, involving much work. First, who are the judges? Google them, see what they write, then try and think if I have something "similar". Or perhaps they like to read stuff that isn't what they write. Should I send two very different stories? But wait - does the judge read all the entries? What if there are First Readers, and I don't know who they are, don't know what they like. (Tear hair out.) And what about the word limit - should I only send a story that is exactly that length? What about short shorts? Will they just toss those? (Often at this point I bombard the competition organizer with emails to try and ascertain what their views are about stories much shorter than the max length. Can't fail to suspect that this bombardment might harm my chances, even if the comp is being judged blind.)

Anyhow, WRW has spared me this agony. As she says:
This is a very honest and open competition: there is no team of first readers, the judge reads EVERY story. That is rare, and it means your story has an equal chance with every other story submitted. You are only going to be subject to one person’s taste (mine) so here’s a helping hand. These are some of the things that I’ll be looking for in entries:

• A distinctive tone or voice to the story. I often dislike straightforward narratives unless the language is beautiful.

• I have a weakness for stylish, first person narratives.

• Innovative, considered writing. The language used is equally as important to my enjoyment of a story as the ‘what happens’.

... For the rest of her list of likes and dislikes, read the rest of the post.

My friend Vanessa has also been blogging about what she looks for when judging various competitions, you can read her post about the Cadenza comp here and about the Fish One Page short story prize here. Thank you, WRW and Vanessa, for your honesty and transparency about the process, may this encourage more judges - it would be to their advantage, too, I imagine, because WRW , having stated her personal preferences, should receive more of the kinds of stories she likes. I hope she will keep us updated.

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