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How to Write for a Short Story Contest

by Christine Szarmes

Writing for a short story contest poses numerous problems: How do I develop my character within such a confining word limit? How quickly should I advance my plot? At what point is my short story ready to reach resolution?
When writing a short story, it is vital to captivate the reader within the first page, if not the first line. To navigate the challenges posed by writing a short story, it is important to keep these few simple tips and tricks in mind:

Collecting Ideas and Finding Inspiration

Real Life Inspiration. When deciding on the plot and characters for your short story, it is a good idea to look to your surroundings and borrow snippets from these real life aspects.

Carry a Notebook. Inspiration can occur at any moment in the day, and therefore writing down moments of clarity or fast-forming ideas for plots, characters, or settings will be beneficial when you physically sit down to write.

Developing Real Characters

Know Your Characters. Because of the word limitations of a short story, it is difficult to establish depth within the main characters. Therefore, it is important to know more about the characters than you will actually use in the story. It is often recommended that a writer sit down and write as many facts about the main character as possible in order to develop a holistic character filled with complexity. While these character facts may not be explicitly present in the story, glimmerings of these pieces will seep into your writing and will allow the character to evolve past the words on the page.

Baggage. In order to produce real characters that are relatable and captivate audiences, it is necessary to build characters with flaws and give them some baggage.

Limiting the Plot

Key Narratives. In order to deeply delve into a storyline without exceeding the word limit, it is important to limit the plot to one or two key narratives. The plot must occur over a shorter period of time than a novel to remain sensical and allow for depth within the key setting. A writer must explore the motivations for the story, but limit the plot as every sentence counts within a short story.

Plot Timeline. Writers should develop a timeline for their story before writing. This timeline functions as a loose guide to propel your story but will also help to keep the story within the confines of the word limit.

A World Beyond the Text. Similar to the characters of the short story, a successful short story will let audiences know that there is a world beyond what is explicitly presented in the text. This tip serves to further enthral audiences by presenting touches of a greater universe.

Ending Your Story. When ending your short story, providing a comprehensive resolution is often difficult due to the word limit. To combat this limitation, a resolution within a short story can be as simple as a shift of consciousness or deepening of insight.

Submitting for a Contest

Deadlines. When writing for a contest, it is important to keep the contest deadline in mind and plan your writing time appropriately.

Time for Editing. In the editing process, it is helpful to set the story aside for a few days to clear your mind. Therefore, when you return to the story for editing, you will be refreshed and may see your story differently. Thus in the planning process, it is necessary that writers account for this period of time to achieve clarity. Overall, there are no strict rules when writing a short story; however, these simple tips will help in guiding the writing process. When writing a short story, authors must know when to break the rules to stay true to the characters and plot.

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