What Judges Look for in a Short Story

Win a Short Story Contest
by Deborah Owen

What do judges look for when they read a short story entry? I helped judge a contest last year and I can tell you.

** The submission must follow ALL of the guidelines!
** A catchy title that lures the reader.
** A snappy first sentence that opens in the middle of an action scene.
** The story must hold interest from beginning to end. No sagging middle.
** Use action verbs.
** Judges love an unpredictable ending that resolves all the loose ends.
** There are no new stories. Only old stories told with new angles. In other words – originality.
** Be creative in the way you phrase your sentences. (By the way, third person, past tense stores are the most popular these days.)
** Avoid verbiage (wordiness), ‘dead words,’ (such as really, just, even, some. most, often, even, more, most – words that are not definitive), too many prepositional phrases per sentence, (no more than three, and no more than two in consecutive order).
** Style – the way in which you express yourself. Call upon every experience you know or have imagined. Call on your knowledge of other people’s experiences, but mix facts with fiction so the real person is unrecognizable.
** Technique – id hoe you structure your story. Does it use flashbacks? Is it fast or slow paced? How does the narration balance with the dialogue? Do the characters feel like real people?
** Does the reader feel satisfied with the ending? If you’re telling a real story, you’ll always have to manufacture a good ending.
** Let’s end where we began – FOLLOW the GUIDELINES.

When you edit, have a writer friend (not a family member) read it. Listen to their suggestions. On your last edit, read the story aloud and replace all verbs with the most action packed verbs you can dream up.

Do all of these things, and I guarantee you a good chance of winning. Good luck! Read about our short story contest for beginners at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com. And hey – don’t forget to click “like” before you leave! Help us spread the word. The contest closes 8/31/12.


4 thoughts on “What Judges Look for in a Short Story

  1. Hi Deb,
    Thank you dear friend,I copied those words in my note book for quick reference,
    I am working on that short story,
    I send it soon.
    Oh Happy Day !
    I’m still praying for your health.


  2. Hi, Sonny. Verbs are the action part of the sentence, such as, I WENT, He GAVE, She SAW, Mom INDICATED, The little girl SKIPPED. If we said, “He WALKED down the street,” we could give it a better action verb by saying, “He STROLLED down the avenue.” See? Good point! Those of us who have been out of school for many years forget some of the basics. Thanks for dropping by.


  3. Hi Deb,
    And thanks for the letter, I had to laugh at myself as I read this,
    I need to begin searching for the verbs, I have forgotten what they are,
    Back to school, ya know, lol,
    But that is not impossible, is it?
    Thank you


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