Thursday, May 28, 2009

Talking about short stories

Back to the regular and joyful talk of short stories! I was eagerly awaiting the announcement of the winner of Columbia Journal's Fiction contest because it was judged by Diane Williams, editor of NOON Annual and writer of wonderfully surreal and often very very short stories. This was not a flash fiction contest - although the entry requirements are no longer on the web site, I submitted a story myself and remember the word limit being several thousand words. So imagine my surprise - and delight - to see that the winner is a tiny short story, several hundred words long: Register, Please by Jonas Williams (no relation, we assume!). Congratulations to Jonas, whose story is also wonderfully surreal. (The link that appears to lead to his story on the site is a broken one, but I read the story in the new issue of the Columbia Journal, well worth buying).

This is wondrous because it flies in the face of all those assumptions that we can't submit flash stories to "full length" short story competitions. Ms Williams looked at the quality of the writing, not at the length. And thus, she chose. How many judges would do this, would not be swayed by word limits, by the sensation that a flash story, when taken together with longer stories, does not have the heft? I wonder. It's an interesting one.

On that note, I had intended last week to link to Sarah Salway's post but events ran away with me, so I shall do it now and it fits beautifully here. A snippet:
I had the chance earlier this year to work my way through a seriously huge pile of short stories as the judge for The New Writer Magazine short story competition. I can't wait for the stories to be published to hear what others think of my choices, but I'm convinced the right ones won. I said right from the beginning that I was looking for stories with personality - hard to describe but easy to spot. Here are some general comments I'd make about ALL the stories I read for the competition ...
What did Sarah find in her pile? A lot of first person narratives, many more stories about friendship rather than romance, and not much humour. Anyone planning to submit to a short story competition would do well to read her blog post, Nuala's from her stint as judge the Sean on Faolain competition and Vanessa when she judged the FISH One Page competition, for strong hints about how to stand out from the teetering pile a judge receives. Good luck!

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