Here's a few tips to help you with your short stories, particularly if you're planning on entering this year's competition for a chance to win a pair of Luxury Cashmere Writing Gloves.

1. Working to a Word Limit:
Aim for the middle of the range, in this case 2000 words, or about 4 pages in your word processor. If you fall short by a few hundred words think carefully about how best to add more to your story. Consider starting the action a little earlier in the timeline, or emphasising a particular scene with more dramatic, descriptive language. Don't be tempted to just add a few waffly lines onto the end as it may ruin the flow of your story.

2. Approaching the Theme:
When considering the competition theme and how to implement it into your story, be creative, try to approach it from a different angle. The stories that stand out are often those that tell a tale the judging panel weren't expecting to read. The 2017 theme was "Home" and we read over twenty stories about moving house. Some were better than others, but all felt a little trite by the end. Think about emotions, moods, feelings in relation to the theme, rather than a physical object or place. For a unique approach to a theme take a look at Venetian Class, the winner in 2016.

3. Think about structure:
Even a short story will benefit from a clear beginning, middle and end. It can be tempting to submit an extract from a novel you're working on, but that will always read like an extract no matter how hard you try to polish it! The story can still reflect a short moment in time – the five minutes before a major incident for example – but there still needs to be a message, a moral, or a development in the narrative. For a good example of a short story with a clear timeline and moral message look no further than Half Past Nine, Again from the 2016 competition, written by our youngest ever entrant.

4. Make it personal:
Consider using personal experiences as a basis for your story. All art is biographical and writing is no exception. The thing that can make your writing stand out is your own familiarity with the subject at hand. Even if you're writing Sci-Fi or Horror you should be writing about people, relationships, feelings, emotions, not just monsters or spaceships, it's about what those things represent. For a good example of writing from personal experience and conveying feelings and emotions in relation to a specific place take a look at 2017 winner City of Gold.

5. Writing Style:
Be concise. When writing to a word limit you always have to consider whether you really need a particular sentence. The editing stage is vital when getting a story down from 3000 to 2500 words but can be equally useful for getting a story from 2000 to 1500 words if you feel it will benefit the pacing of the story. Dialogue is a great way to speed up a scene or convey a sense of urgency, but finding that blend between narration and dialogue is also important. There's no right or wrong way of doing it, but always consider whether one character's interjection could sum up a descriptive paragraph much more efficiently.

6. Don't bite off more than you can chew!:
Don't set yourself too challenging a task, like unusual or multiple narrators, or more than two time periods. It's hard enough to pull these off in a full length novel but near impossible in a short story. If you're tempted to take a leaf out of Tibor Fischer's book and make your narrator a 6,000-year-old Mesopotamian ceramic bowl I'd suggest thinking again!

7. And finally...
I can't stress this enough, enjoy it. Writing a short story can be lots of fun, it's a lot less stressful than writing a novel I assure you! Throw in the odd joke, the odd obscure reference that only you'd understand. Kill off a character a third of the way in, or make your main character someone so unlikeable even you will want to kill them by the end! Whatever makes it enjoyable to write will also make it enjoyable to read. So have fun and good luck!

Click here to enter the MJMeads.com Short Story Competition 2019 for a chance to win a pair of Luxury Cashmere Writing Gloves!

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