How to Format a Short Story

Formatting Tips

by Pat Decker Nipper

Formatting a story is designing how it looks in print. Determine the layout of your manuscript by setting parameters. Look at examples of written material. Are the letters large enough to read comfortably? Are the lines far enough apart? How are the new paragraphs formatted?

Professional formatting will make your work shine. If you follow these standards, your manuscript will be ready to submit, whether in hard copy (paper) or online. Although the following is a commonly accepted standard for formatting, individual publications occasionally vary, so be sure to check before you submit.

The 2010 Writer’s Market has illustrations of formatting and includes good advice. They say to use white 8-1/2 x 11 paper, and “ …no artsy fonts.” They also suggest you use a laser or an ink-jet printer.

Below are the common formatting standards, as developed over years of creating documents.

1. Leave one inch of space on all four margins of the paper—top, bottom, and both sides. 

2. Left justify your pages. That means every line should align on the left. The right margin is not justified, or in other words, it remains “ragged.”

3. Indent five spaces at the beginning of a new paragraph.

4. Choose an easy-to-read font. For PC users, try Times New Roman or Verdana. Macintosh users might like Palatino.

5. Set the font size at 12 point for easy readability.

6. Stay away from italics, except where needed to be grammatically correct.

7. Avoid bold, except in headings and areas where you want to emphasize text.

8. Double-space if you’re printing on paper. Single space if you’re submitting electronically, and in such case, double space between paragraphs.

9. In dialogue, each new speaker starts a new line.

10. Add your personal information in the upper left corner of the page. The title can carry over to the additional pages, along with a page number.

11. Center the title of the story and your name under it on the first page. Some publications want you to start the first page about one-third of the way down. Check their style and follow their example.

12. Avoid hyphenation at the ends of lines. e.c

These are general rules. Needless to say, guidelines always take president. For extra information, check The Chicago Manual of Style. You can even find it online. Another good one is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. There are many more style guides on the Internet.

Pat Decker Nipper is a native Idahoan and former teacher, now living and writing in San Jose, California. She is the author of Love on the Lewis and Clark Trail and a number of short stories and articles. For more information visit www.patdeckernipper.com

Join the beginner’s short story contest at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com. Contest closes Aug. 31, 2012. Please FOLLOW the guidelines so your entry won’t be disqualified. Don’t forget to click “like” before you leave!

         

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.

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

Originality

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.

Creativity

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.

Style

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.

Technique

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 http://CreativeWritingInstitute.submittable.com/

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.

How to Write Tight

Cutting Verbiage
By L. Edward Carroll
Tutor at Creative Writing Institute

What’s wrong with simplicity? When you read a typical contract, business memo, or phone bill, that might be your first question. Those who construct such documents have their reasons for making them all but impossible to read but creative writers that want their readers to understand their message must simplify. It’s difficult to write easily read material.

Begin by deleting every word that isn’t absolutely essential. Look at multi-syllable words and replace them with shorter ones that convey the same meaning. According to William Zinsser’s, On Writing Well (p 7):

“Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what–these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.”

Writing is a process. No one writes perfect sentences from scratch. While writing your first draft, don’t be concerned with sentence construction, punctuation, proper grammar, and spelling. Get your thoughts down as fast as you can and don’t look back. After you’ve finished, get down to the business of editing and polishing.

Think conciseness. Get to the point quickly. Rewrite your sentences and see how many words you can save. For example, an excerpt from Quick Access (reference for writers) by Lynn Quitman Troyka (p 79) says:

“As a matter of fact, the television station which was situated in the local area had won a great many awards as a result of its having been involved in the coverage of all kinds of controversial issues.”

Why didn’t they just say – The local television station won many awards for its coverage of controversial issues.

Learn to spot empty words and phrases and eradicate them. Don’t use more than three prepositional phrases per sentence, and no more than two in consecutive order. Place “he said” and “she said” tags at the end of the sentence. Delete as many forms of the verb “is” as possible. On your last edit, replace the verbs with the jazziest verbs you can dream up. Balance long sentences by following them with two very short sentences. Get to the point! Get rid of the excess baggage and all that remains will be meat.

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HOW to WIN a SHORT STORY CONTEST

SHORT STORY CONTEST for BEGINNERS listed below… by Bob Bruggemann

If you want to win a short story contest, the first thing you must do is study the rules. 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 these four elements:

• Originality
• Creativity
• Style
• Technique

Let’s look at each one and see what they mean.

    Originality

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.

Make your short story unique and the judges will love you. Come at it from a different point of view. Seek a new angle.

    Creativity

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 story that is different.

For example, what if a shy looking woman attended a wedding and sat in the back, all alone? At the reception, she avoided conversation. She partook of the food and drinks and then left. Back in her lonely, one room apartment she scanned the Forthcoming Marriages column in the local paper to see where her next free food and wine would come from. See? The ‘what if’ question can lead you down original alleys.

    Style

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 readable and absorbing.

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.

    Technique

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 short 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

And Finally…

If you don’t write an original entry for a short story contest, at least rewrite it to fit. For example, Creative Writing Institute’s contest is G-rated, which means no swearing or vulgar language. We’ve already received entries that contain good stories but the author probably didn’t cull out swear words from a story they had already written so it won’t be eligible. What a shame. Make sure your entry fits the rules.

This is short story contest is especially for beginners and the first thing the writer must learn is that judges go strictly by the book. See the rules here and abide by them: http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com. Above all, have fun! First prize wins $$ OR a FREE Writing Course!

Short Story Titles for Contests and Competitions

First Impressions for Short Story Competition
by Hugh Wilson

As a reader, what is the first thing you look at in a short story? The title. Does it appeal to you? Does it arouse your curiosity enough to want to read the opening lines? If the title doesn’t grab you, you’ll look for something more interesting.

Short story contest judges are readers, too. The title is the first indication of your skill and creativity so choose one that will attract the judges – one that will make them want to read it again. The title is important in a short story competition. Here are some pointers:

Make it Short and Fitting

Make it easy to remember, not more than four or five words. It should give the reader a clue about the tone and mood. For instance, it’s obvious that Dial M for Murder is going to be something creepy involving murder and a telephone, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover revolves around another man.

Not too revealing

But a short story title shouldn’t give away too much, especially the ending. For example, Crime Doesn’t Pay tells the reader that the bad guy gets his comeuppance in the end, so why bother to read the story?

Re-cycle existing phrases

Well known literary works can provide memorable titles. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises stem from the Bible.

British author H.E. Bates’, The Darling Buds of May, (a line from a Shakespeare sonnet), evokes inviting images of life in the countryside.

Another method is to twist well-known phrases or sayings such as Live and Let Die, and You Only Live Twice.

• Just names

Some short story titles use names of people or places, so let’s make up a couple. Deborah’s Secret would surely make you rub your hands in anticipation, while Florida Frolics might suggest a lighthearted tale of fun and games on vacation in the Everglades.

Let the Short Story Name Itself

A short story can name itself by extracting dialogue, a memorable line, or a couple of words that capture the mood. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins are such titles.

Research Your Title for Short Story Competition

There is no copyright on titles, but it’s worth a quick search to make sure yours is not identical to a well-known story or one that has recently won a short story contest. If it is, change it slightly.

These are just a few ideas to get your mind thinking of different ways to dream up a short story title.

Study the titles that have won recent contests and, of course, read the stories to see what made them stand out from the rest. You might be the next short story contest winner.

Please click on “Share This” and “Like” below to help us spread the word.

More great writing tips and short story contest rules at http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com. Ends October 20, 2011. Hurry! First place wins a $$$ price (or) FREE writing course.

Writing for Short Story Contests – Beginner’s Contest Listed Below

Entering Short Story Contests by Bob Bruggemann

Why enter a short story contest? One answer is to win prizes and services, but the primary reason is for exposure and recognition. It’s the next best thing to getting the entry published.

Some short story contests make submissions public. On other sites, only the winning stories are displayed. Either way, your work will appear before an audience. In rare instances, you may even receive feedback on it.

Short story contests can be scary, as it puts your work up for close inspection. It’s hard to be objective with your own writing. By the time you read and reread the same piece, your mind slips into a surreal fantasy and literally supplies missing words. Get a second or third set of eyes to proof your material and give you a report.

• Receive prizes
• Receive recognition for your labor
• Get Exposure
• Get Reviews

Don’t fear rejection. Keep on submitting. Don’t give up! Check out this SHORT STORY CONTEST for BEGINNERS ONLY at http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com. (Ends October 20, 2011.)

Short Story Contest Parameters:

• Guidelines (always stay within them)
• Some short story contests use prompts
• Content is first and foremost

Note: Always read the submission guidelines carefully and abide by them or your entry will be discarded as ineligible.

Have Fun

Short story contests immediately connect you with authors and avid readers. They have a unique talent for picking a story apart. A good writing forum will provide you with clear and concise feedback about your work and suggestions to improve it.

• Get your work read, even if it doesn’t win.
• Read your reviews and see where you can improve
• Grow a hard shell. Don’t get hurt feelings. Rewrite the piece and submit it again.

The absolute best part of short story contests is to let your imagination run free. In real life, you have so little control of what is around you, but when you write, you control the story, its inhabitants, and the surroundings. It is your own little world and you’re the king.

Use short story contest opportunities to sharpen your skills and don’t forget to check out this short story contest for beginners. It’s a small contest and your chance of winning is good. First place will receive a cash prize or a free writing course. http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com
Remember – FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES or your entry will be discarded.