Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of competitions is brought to you by author, editor and writing competition judge John Yeoman.
How to be a weaver bird – and win a story contest
Are you a peacock or a weaver bird? Some writers – peacocks – flaunt their lovely words and beg us to admire them. Others are weaver birds, patiently building a structure that’s serviceable but dull.
Some preen. Some delve.
Or so I’ve discovered from three years of judging the Writers’ Village story competition. Who wins the prizes? Peacocks or weaver birds? Neither. The cash goes to those who combine both colour and craft, preening and delving – with flair.
Here are three fast ways to blend colour and craft and write a best-selling story – or, at least, win a cash award in a story contest:
1. Draft it quickly
You have a plot idea, right? A few dramatic events? A snatch or two of dialogue? Scribble it all down as fast as you can. Don’t wait for the ‘right’ words to come to you. Clichés, stagy incidents, clumsy expressions? Welcome them. They’re fine. Just get the tale written!
Then throw it in a closet for a month.
Pluck it out with a sniff, tone it down and tune each sentence so it sings. The job should now be easy.
‘She rolled her eyes to heaven. “Joe,” she spat. “You are a lying bastard!”’
That’s formulaic. Boring. What are you really trying to express?
‘Camilla toyed with her bread stick. She wouldn’t look at me. “Is there somebody else?”
I tried to smile. “Of course, not.” I leaned back in my chair.
“That’s what you said before.” The bread stick crumbled in her hand.’
Now the incident, underplayed but loaded with body language, has gained depth.
2. Knock out the ‘show off’ language
Peacocks love to display their metaphors, fine sensibilities and erudite tropes. Tropes? ‘Tropes’ is itself an erudite term. They wouldn’t buy it at WalMart. Why didn’t I simply write ‘tricks of style’? Because I was showing off.
‘Show off’ writing stops the reader. It says: ‘forget the story. Look at me, the author!’ In commercial fiction, we are allowed to use just one show-off expression per thousand words. More than that and our name is Umberto Eco and the reader loses the plot.
‘Literary’ works are another matter. If our name is Umberto Eco we can strut our ego in every line. Alas, our name is not Eco.
3. Firm up the structure
A good story is a ‘globed compacted thing’ (Virginia Woolf). Every word, incident and exchange of speech should support the plot. Is your structure strong? Does your story cling close to the plot? Is your first paragraph arresting and the close emphatic and clear?
Does the reader finish your story and sigh? Like somebody who has just consumed a filet de bouef without a shred of gristle?
True, you can end with a mystery or question but the reader must feel: ‘nothing could have been added or taken away from this. The story works.’
Here’s a tip. Give your tale to a friend who has no cause to love you. Ask: ‘does it work? Can you spot my deliberate howler?’ Bless them when they frown and chortle and ask you: ‘What’s the point of all that silly chatter between Joe and Madge? Why does Joe dump her? Why doesn’t Madge protest? And what, exactly, is the wretched story all about?’
It’s music to your ears. We’re all too close to our own story to spot passages that do nothing or are obscure to the reader. Or, for that matter, stories that make no sense at all.
Just apply that three-step process. Add flair. And you’ll be points ahead of the average story contestant. Gulp, I might enjoy your story. I might love it so much that I read it three times. Worse, I may even have to pay you a cash prize!
Let’s hope so. Thank you, John!
Dr John Yeoman has 42 years experience as a commercial author, newspaper editor and one-time chairman of a major PR consultancy. He has published eight books of humour, some of them intended to be humorous.
Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at: http://www.writers-village.org/contest-success.
‘How to be a weaver bird – and win a story contest’ reveals a 3-step process that can help writers draft their stories quickly and tidy them up painlessly, based on the author’s own experience of judging 3000+ stories in the Writers’ Village contest.
If you’re after competitions also take a look at my Competitions Calendar which includes details of the H.E. Bates Short Story Competition that one of my writing groups is running (deadline 31st October).
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.
The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with science fiction and fantasy author, short story and article writer, blogger and teacher Nina Munteanu – the four hundred and eighty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore, Kobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me. I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.
Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.