Hello everyone and welcome to the seventy-third month of this competition. There were 51 entries from 22 authors for the theme of ‘Harold goes shopping’. An interesting mix this month with a handful where Harold went into the shop one gender and came out (no pun intended) another. Very well handled as were several charming stories or loss. Some included historical Harolds, many amusing, some poignant.
Please note: I have decided to cease the competition at the end of the year to free up time for my writing. It’ll have been 76 months in the making and a pleasure but sadly, as December’s prompt is going to be, ‘sometimes good things have to come to an end’. Any prizes won up to/including that point will still be honoured until the end of February 2022 so if you choose the editing option, get those stories written. 🙂
One was disqualified for being 102 words and sadly the author had contacted me saying it had been correct on his Word but not on the word counter website. As there had been hyphens between four words, making them two, when separated (as it was an aside so longer dashes with a space either side) changed the word count.
Two from one author were disqualified for being 99 words as each story had a word (sweetheart, stallholders) incorrectly written as two words each. The third story went through to judging. Another author’s story had ‘paper boy’ rather than ‘paperboy’ so that ‘went’ too. As did a ‘door step’ (https://www.lexico.com/definition/doorstep).
Another was 99 words with no obvious reason other than having a word too few, although it had ‘five months old daughter’ instead of ‘five-month-old daughter’ which would have also affected the word count. It was the only one from the author which is a real shame.
https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/deja_vu is two words with accents on the e and a: déjà vu, so one story became 101 with it split. Another entrant’s three submissions were all 150 words so sadly disqualified.
One entrant’s only story was sadly for ‘screams from a now hoarsy throat’ instead of ‘screams from a now-hoarsy throat’, impacting the word count. A way of checking to see whether an adjective (‘modifier’) should be hyphenated is whether each word works independently. Here a ‘hoarsy throat’ would be fine but a ‘now throat’ wouldn’t. Ditto ‘old-school style’ rather than ‘old school style’ (one author’s only entry). 😦 And ‘heart-wrenching days’ https://www.lexico.com/definition/heart-wrenching (which was my favourite story from that author so I had to choose another). One story lost a brownie point for not switching tenses (referring to a previous time in the simple past when the story was already in the past), i.e. ‘he’d arrived’ rather than ‘he arrived’. This wouldn’t have affected the word count so it was still applicable. Another lost a point for switching point of view (from the main character to a secondary and back again) rather than having the main character know that was how the other person felt, so we stay with the MC viewpoint.
- I’m a stickler for unintended repetition, some of which may feel rather pedantic but I listen to the document on my Kindle (Fire’s text to speech), alongside reading it on the screen, and this leapt out. ‘just, ‘now’, ‘very’ ‘back’ and ‘all’ are often overused. In this case shopping. Harold ‘detested shopping with his wife and rarely went shopping without her’. We don’t need the second ‘shopping’. I recommend reading your writing aloud, or getting your computer (or Kindle) to do it for you. It really does help.
- When speaking to someone and using a name, nickname or term of endearment (which counts as a name), generalisation (guys, ladies etc.), you’d need a comma before the name, i.e. ‘Do you know John?’ is asking if the person knows someone called John. ‘Do you know, John?’ means that the character is speaking to someone called John but asking them if they know something. A subtle difference but you want to avoid confusing the reader so they jump out of the story. If what’s said is very short, e.g. ‘Hi John’, then the comma’s not so important.
- Stopping dead is a cliché (as would be stopping something or someone ‘dead in his / her tracks’).
- In the novels I edit, I check for nodding of heads and shrugging of shoulders to remove the ‘his / her head’ or ‘his / her shoulders’ because we only move with those parts of our bodies. Nods especially are often overused. We also only clap with our hands, and shaking heads are usually ‘side to side’ so the how isn’t needed. Certainly mention the body part (or other) if it’s done a different way.
- Although grammatically correct, I strongly recommend not putting commas between adjectives, and certainly not immediately before the noun / object. It slows the pace… really slows it where there are several. In my opinion, commas work best when the reader is supposed to breathe (or the writer wants to make the reader pause for a particular reason). They wouldn’t need to when describing an object and anything that slows what should be a fast-paced page-turning read is best avoided.
- Where it’s clear how something is said or a character feels, you can lose the ‘with…’ or ‘in…’ emotion, e.g. ‘exploded with rage’, or they jump because they’re startled/frightened etc – there the jumping is enough. As long as we have the context (the ‘show’) we don’t need the explaining description (the ‘tell’).
- One of the stories was particularly quirky, which I love, but I wasn’t sure – with the mention of a non-gender-specific cat, then ‘he’, presumably Harold, slipping into a plastic bowl – who all the ‘he’s were. I had already chosen another of the author’s stories (read the quirky one again, still went ‘huh?’, then filed it) but it’s a very useful prompt regarding gender. Where you have two characters of the same gender in the scene, it can be confusing with just ‘he, she, him, her’ etc. (they should always refer to the last character mentioned, e.g. Emma and Tim went to visit her grandfather. He thought the man looked tired. = Tim thought…).
- Where an action (verb) has ‘starts to’ / ‘started to’ or ‘begins to’ / ‘began to’ before it, most of the time they’re not needed because unless the action is interrupted, the verb alone works better / is stronger. An example would be ‘the phone began to ring’. If it stops without being answered then that’s fine (although it still rang!) but if not then just have ‘the phone rang’.
- Where speech has an unrelated dialogue tag, e.g. someone laughing, moving, smiling, waving etc. (with it capitalised: He laughed. She picked up the mug. etc.) the punctuation should be a full stop rather than a comma so: He laughed. ‘Say that again.’. Had it been related description, it would be a comma: ‘Say that again,’ he said while fiddling with his tie.
- Unless a continuation*, speech should always start a capital letter. *e.g. ‘When you go there,’ Tom said, ‘tell him I said “Hi”.’ (vs ‘When you go there, tell him I said “Hi”,’ Tom said.)
- I strongly recommend you don’t invert dialogue tags as it’s not how we would naturally speak if talking aloud, e.g. changing ‘said Tony’ to ‘Tony said’. We wouldn’t say ‘said I’ so the same applies when there’s a name rather than ‘I’. ‘said’s do tend to blur into the background so don’t try too hard to choose something else, e.g. ‘Tony postulated’, even ‘Tony exclaimed’ could be too much if we already have the likes of ‘Get out!’ If you have the character doing something then you don’t need the ‘said’ (or equivalent) tag – have the ‘doing’ (narration), e.g. Tony shook his head. ‘That’s not right.’. Or if we know who’s speaking – because there are only two people in a scene and the other has spoken then just have the dialogue. You can have up to three exchanges (He said/she said/he replied/she replied/he said/she said) without anything – as the reader is clever enough to keep up – before needing some narration or a ‘tag’.
I did a poll on Facebook back in June 2020 about this topic (https://www.facebook.com/morgenwriteruk/posts/3089287701133219) and there was a fair split on not liking (with some agreeing they’re not natural), not minding, not noticing and not needing so many (or any!) dialogue tags. I’m all for authors having a certain style but what we want to avoid is running the risk of alienating some readers, certainly by having too many and there were a lot of non-dialogue verbs (nodding, smiling etc), all of which I amended. As Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying, ‘Easy reading is hard writing.’ And we both want as fluid a read as possible, especially for the hundredth reader (out of a hundred) who will pick up on everything.
The winning stories are ones that I reacted most favourably to. They were clever, surprising, eek-making (in a good way), or gave me a warm fuzzy feeling (without being sickly). Sometimes a story beats another because it has a stronger link to the theme so it’s worth writing a story to the theme rather than tweaking a story you already have to loosely fit it. Alternatively there may have been several stories on with same topic so I chose my favourite of those. With any competition, much rests upon the judge’s preference and it’s usually ones than garner a stronger (positive) reaction that do the best.
Often, for me, it’s where the author has thought outside the clichéd box. Although I would have preferred to have the winning story written entirely in past tense (rather than a mix of past and present), and it could have been read as the character leaving the shop then the shopkeeper speaking to him (which could have been possible had he/she followed him), it had the ‘wow’ factor.
You may have chosen a different order or indeed not placed one or more of them so if you entered and didn’t find your story / stories here, don’t lose heart. You probably only just missed out so do enter new stories this month*, next month, whenever you like (but not in advance!). It’s an ongoing competition and free, so you could win at any time. There were new and familiar names this month so anyone could win… it’s all dependent upon whether your story grabs me, for whatever reason (whether it be clever, funny, unusual, quirky, or sweet).
Apart from the top three and highly commended, there are some ‘Honourable Mentions’. They don’t win anything but they were so close to being Highly Commended that I wanted them to know how close they came. It’s still something for them to put on their CVs.
*The theme for October is ‘a sticky end’ and you can submit your entries (and do send three) at any time up to midnight (UK time) on Sunday 31st October. Details and entry forms on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/100-word-free-monthly-competition. So without further ado, below are the successful entries this month.
Julia Ruth Smith with ‘No Eyes That Have Seen Beauty Ever Lose Their Sight’
Harold went shopping for new eyes for his sister.
She’s going blind. She’s not easy to please with her flaming hair and wilful temperament.
Harold’s a military man but he shed a tear for the choice set out before him. There were eyes that had seen it all; violence, frightened women. There were hearths and happy children. He caught views of mountains and indigo water.
In the end he left the shop with his choice in a transparent bag. The storeowner begged him to be careful. The eyes of one who has nothing to lose are a sight to behold.
Laura Besley with ‘The Price of Love’
Harold goes to the baby shop, trusting his instincts will kick in when he’s there.
Inside it smells of strawberry-sweet shampoo and talc. Stacked on floor-to-ceiling shelves are dozens and dozens of babies.
‘Take as long as you like,’ the shop assistant says.
Eyes follow him as he inches along.
Then he spots her. Pudge-rolls near bursting around her wrists and knees, large gummy smile, lavender eyes.
‘Would you like her gift-wrapped, sir?’
‘Yes, please,’ Harold says. ‘She’s for my wife.’
Carrying her in his arms, Harold takes the long route home. Her bow blows in the late summer breeze.
Denise Bayes with ‘Vita’s Valentine’
White blooms surround him. Harold bends close to inhale sweet gardenia, fragrant roses. The florist shop is heady with scent, reminiscent of the garden they have created together at Sissinghurst. He shakes his head. She has all the flowers she could desire.
Maybe a vase? She could display her bouquets, position this stylish turquoise ceramic in the midst of their elegantly curated home. He knows she admires the colour, recalls her gift to Virginia.
Then Harold catches sight of the glass paperweight. Imagines it nestled on her desk as she is writing.
He holds out the heart to be wrapped.
Wendy Howard with ‘A Spirited Outing’
Harold saw his wife enter the charity shop. He knew Lou’s friend worked there and they’d talk, so he’d have time. She was donating some clutter from their last home. It had been time to downsize; he’d watched his collection being tidied and was pleased some pieces were kept.
Harold saw them hug – this might be his moment.
“Haven’t seen you in years! How are things?” That dreaded question.
Harold saw Lou tensing. He flew to her as she spoke.
“It’s been hard – I lost my husband.”
The butterfly was suddenly there, pretty around her face in the dowdy shop.
- Cathy MacKenzie with ‘Oh, to Live the Good Life’
- Darren York with ‘A Dog’s Life’
- Fiona McKay with ‘Becoming’
- Julian Cadman with ‘Harold Goes Shopping’
- Julie Gavin with ‘Ghostly Acquisition’
- Nicholas Marshall with ‘Still Smiling’
Honourable mentions (not winning anything but only narrowly missing out and still looking good on their CV) – in alphabetical order:
- Harry Ballantyne with ‘Where did these come from?’
- Jane Brown with Harold Goes Shopping For a New Name
- Joan Reed with Harold Watkins Esquire
- Paul Mastaglio with ‘Food Guide’
- Sue Massey with ‘Going Grey’
Congratulations, everyone. The entries for this month are already drifting in. Remember, you can send up to three per month so rather than miss out on a chance by sending one story, do submit more.
If you’ve enjoyed these stories and / or just want to leave a comment, please do so below and / or you can email me at email@example.com., although I won’t (can’t) discuss forthcoming entries unless it’s a general query.