How to Win a Short Story Contest

Secrets of Winning a Contest
By Bob Bruggemann, volunteer staff for Creative Writing Institute

Beginner’s Short Story Contest Listed Below.

If you want to win a contest, the first thing you must do is follow the guidelines. Many submissions are disqualified because they don’t meet all the requirements. If formatting guidelines have not been given, single space the text and indent the paragraph. If the rules state a maximum of 1000 words, a 1200-word story, however brilliant, will hit the trash pile. If the short story contest calls for G-rated material (which means no swearing, vulgarities, or erotica) and your entry contains just one swear word, it will be discarded.

Welcome to the judging world, where judges go strictly by the rules. Assuming you follow the guidelines, the judges will then look at the following four elements. Let’s look at each one and see what they mean.

• Originality
• Creativity
• Style
• Technique


Short story contest winners come from second, third, and tenth thoughts. Some contests give you a theme, such as, “Wedding Day.” What’s the first story idea that comes to mind? Whatever it is, forget it. You can bet everyone else will have thought of it, too. A large percentage of submissions will be so similar that the competition will be fierce. Give yours an original angle and the judges will love it.


Don’t wrack your brain for an idea. Relax. Get your conscious, critical mind out of the way and allow ideas to bubble up from your subconscious. In other words, daydream.

Ask yourself who, what, when, where, why, how, and ‘what if?’ Let your train of thought go where it will. Before long, you’ll have an idea for a unique story.


In short story contests, you’ll never wrong with the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Sweetie.
Don’t try to impress the judges with $3 words. Like any other reader, they want a story that is easy to read.

Every sentence must move the story forward. The reader doesn’t want flowery descriptions of a rose garden in the moonlight. He/she wants to know what the girl is doing there at two in the morning and what will happen next. Stick to the point.


A short story contest calls for three distinct parts: the beginning, middle, and end. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The beginning introduces the main character and what the story is about. The middle develops the theme and keeps the reader hooked. The ending must be believable, resolve the problems, and leave the reader satisfied.

Above all, don’t overlook simple formatting rules.

· Make a new paragraph for every new speaker
· Single space your short story and indent paragraphs
· Run the spellchecker!
· Watch your punctuation

Last, but not least: write an original story specifically for the contest – but if you decide not to do that, at least rewrite your story to fit the guidelines.

Creative Writing Institute’s fourth annual beginner’s short story contest is now in session. Accepting entries from July 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012. This is a small contest and your chances of winning are good. Invest in yourself and get your entry ready! For details and submission instructions go to

This short story contest is especially for beginners. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. First prize is $100 or a free writing course plus miscellaneous gifts. Second prize is $50 and miscellaneous. Third prize is a tutoring session with our CEO, Deborah Owen, and miscellaneous. We will also recognize honorable mentions. Above all, have fun! Hey! Wait a minute! “Like” us before you go.


3 thoughts on “How to Win a Short Story Contest

  1. Your chances of winning are better when you write specifically for a contest. Most require a theme or give a prompt, so in cases like that, you’re targeting your entry. Second best idea is to rewrite an entry to fit a contest. Stay tuned because we’ll be giving more tips and tricks on writing for contests. Thanks for dropping by.


  2. I am working on a short story with no contest in mind. Most of these instructions are exactly what I need. I am printing this article now and will paste it in the wall over my computer for easy reminders.

    Thanks so much!



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