How to Win a Short Story Contest

 

Secrets of Winning a Writing Contest
by Bob Bruggemann

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 the rules state a maximum of 1,000 words, a 1,025-word story, however brilliant, will hit the trash. (Do not include the title or byline in the word count.)

If the 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. If you are in question as to whether a word will be considered a swear word, don’t use it or write to ms.jo@cwinst.com and ask.

Assuming you follow the guidelines, the judges will look at the following four elements.

  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • Style
  • Technique

Originality

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, but if you use an original angle, 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 the action 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 assuming you don’t follow that good advice, at least rewrite your story to fit the guidelines.

Creative Writing Institute’s annual short story contest is now in session and accepting entries until September 15, 2016. 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, visit http://CreativeWritingInstitute.submittable.com/.

Prizes: First prize is $100, a first place eMedal and publication in the 2016 anthology.

Second prize is $50, a second place eMedal and publication in the 2016 anthology.

Third place is $25, a third place eMedal and publication in the 2016 anthology.

*We will also recognize honorable mentions and several “Judge’s Picks,” which means the story didn’t place, but at least one judge really liked it and it will be published in our anthology. Judge’s Pick winners will receive a Judge’s Pick ribbon.

Above all, have fun! Hey! Wait a minute! “Like” us before you go, will you?

See guidelines at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

Secret Writing Techniques #3 Polysyndeton

MotivationGraphic

 

Last week we talked about asyndeton – a method of listing items without using a conjunction for the purpose of showing more by saying less – and the week before was onomotoepia.

Today we will study polysyndeton, which is diametrically opposed to asyndeton. Polysyndeton is the repeated use of conjunctions for the purpose of intensifying the scene, building the excitement and indicating (like asyndeton) an endless and innumerable list.

Our thanks to Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers for this example. This quote comes from Charlotte’s Web where a rat is telling Wilbur the pig, in no uncertain terms, what he expects.

“Struggle if you must,” said Templeton, “but kindly remember that I’m hiding down here in this crate and I don’t want to be stepped on, or kicked in the face, or pummeled, or crushed in any way, or squashed, or buffeted about, or bruised, or lacerated or scarred, or biffed.”

Do you think Templeton made himself clear? And how did he do that? He drove the point home by using the repetitious ‘or.’ You will find a lot of this in children’s books. If you will listen to children talk, they use a lot of polysndeton when they talk:

“Mommy, I want ice cream, and chocolate, and nuts, and whipped cream.”

Do you see how these examples build the scene by intensifying repetition? This is a simple technique, but don’t discount its importance.

P.S. Did you notice this example uses antiquated language? Writing styles are always morphing and wise is the writer who morphs with them. Today’s writer would have written “Templeton said” instead of “said Templeton.”

Assignment:

Write three sentences using ASYNDETON and three more sentences using POLYSYNDETON. Send them to DeborahOwen@CWinst.com. Memorize these words and know what they mean.

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Finding Your Child Voice

by Diane Robinson

When writing children literature, finding your own child voice is the only way to create realistic characters, believable dialogue, and succinct narrative that will grab your reader’s attention and keep them involved in your story.

Students often ask, “How do writers find their child voice?”

My answer is, before you can find your child voice, you must think like a child. To think like a child, you must play like a child, even if it is only in your mind.

Seems like a relatively simple thing to do, right?  But as adults, we often let go of (or lose completely) our childlike attitudes and behaviors or tuck them away in a memory box.

So, open the box. Remember. Put on a costume and dance around the room, go to a park and cruise down the slide, visit a classroom, read children’s literature, or hang out with some kids and just observe. Soon enough, your own childhood memories will come flooding back about what it was like to be that age, what was important, what wasn’t important, how you acted and how you talked, what the world sounded like, felt like, and tasted like. 

Once your own inner child is awakened, you will be able to immerse yourself into your character’s head with more freedom, with more pizzazz.

Another good exercise to get into child-mode thinking is to look at things, people, situations and emotions and write various approaches to express them with originality. Then, break the sentences down again and again until the emotions and situations are expressed simply, with the innocence of a child’s heart.

 Here are some examples of my child voice that I’ve used in my own stories:

Excited:  He felt as if a herd of jumping bugs were doing cartwheels in his stomach.

Sad: My heart fell sideways and stayed lying down all day.

Descriptive dialogue: “I know grandma can fly. She has that flabby, flapping skin under her arms that turns into her after-dark wings.”

Descriptive narrative: The wind pricked him, jabbed at him, finally becoming so mean with all its yelling and howling that he decided the wind just wasn’t worth playing with any longer.

So if you find yourself dancing and twirling around the kitchen, doing cartwheels across the yard, or finger painting like a four-year-old and somebody says you’re acting immature, take it as a compliment and start writing.

*Diane Robinson is an award-winning children’s chapter book author and a writing tutor at Creative Writing Institute

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What a Writing Tutor Will Do for You

by Deborah Owen

Writing tutors will take your skills to a new level in an unbelievably short time. It isn’t necessary to invest multiplied thousands of dollars on courses you can’t afford. The same thing is available at bargain basement prices.

The pioneers of yesteryear provided a mentoring system for their children. Indeed, many of America’s great leaders were tutored at home.

  • Abraham Lincoln attended school only a few months
  • George Washington had the equivalent of an elementary school education
  • Davy Crockett, who was elected to the State Legislature, had almost no formal education
  • The eloquent diplomat, statesman and scientist, Benjamin Franklin, quit school at the age of ten and…
  • Thomas Edison, the father of 1,093 patented inventions, only briefly attended school.

Today’s populace is so disconcerted with traditional education that over one million disgruntled families tutor their children at home. A writing tutor will make you grow by leaps and bounds.

Here’s what the tutoring system can offer you:

  • Instead of being assigned a number like a prisoner in cell bock D, your tutor will know you on a first name basis
  • Your mentor will be available daily to answer questions and guide you through the mire of journalistic rules.
  • You will compete only with yourself as your tutor escorts you from your present level to your individual highest potential
  • The tutoring system is affordable
  • You will gain certification when you successfully complete your course.

Indeed, the mentoring system is more than equal to traditional teaching. It surpasses it.

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Creative Writing Institute Launches First Annual Poetry Contest

It’s FREE! It’s International! Ages 13 and up!

Read ALL the rules!

· Any form of poetry, rhyming or non-rhyming

· Must be about love, nature, or a pet

· Maximum of 15 lines

· Entry must be G-rated according to American standards

First prize: $20 Amazon Gift Card and publication on CWI’s website and blog.

Second prize: $15 Amazon Gift Card and publication as mentioned above.

Third prize: $10 and publication as mentioned above.

Joe Massingham, tutor of Fundamentals of Poetry, will judge the contest, which runs from March 1 – March 31, 2014, midnight EST.

Submit to CWIpoetry@yahoo.com. Questions? Direct queries to the same address.

By entering this contest, you are saying your entry is your original work and it has not been previously published. Winners must agree to minor editing rights for publication and grant first non-exclusive electronic rights to Creative Writing Institute.

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Using the Spellchecker

by Karen Johnson-Waugh

Microsoft Word has accumulated thirty years of features to assist us in writing. One beneficial feature to the writer is spell check. It will highlight the error and open a dropdown menu. The best word option on the list will be highlighted. This is an indispensable tool.

It also checks spelling and homonyms with new dictionaries. It will correct grammar errors, too, but it won’t enhance the readability of your style.

The spellchecker also runs a quick diagnostic feature known as the “Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease.” The test will grade your article and score it. Reading ease should be around 55. The grade level can be as low as seven.

The spellchecker will tell you if your article is too wordy or hard to understand. It will also indicate the amount of passive sentences. Passive voice is most effective in a scientific paper or instruction manual, but in stories, it diverts the attention away from the speaker and highlights the facts. Active voice is the key to prize writing. Keep your writing relative and tight and aim for less than 3% passive voice.

Spell check doesn’t always recognize the meaning of words. It isn’t a proofreader. Try reading your article backwards to catch errors. Another trick is to change the font size to shift paragraphs around on the page and gain a new perspective.

Spell check won’t write your story, but it will give you a lot of help.

Don’t forget to ‘like’ us before you leave. For more great tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter (for free) at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

Travel Writing Tips and Tricks

Travelling with a Pen in Hand

By Deborah Owen

Travel writing pays well and is a perfect way to pick up extra income, but most creative writers don’t take advantage of this. Why?

  • It takes extra time
  • If you haven’t done travel writing, it can be intimidating
  • Laziness

Travel writing is available to everyone – even those who don’t travel. The trick is to look at commonplace locations as though you are seeing them for the first time.

Where to Begin

Start reading travel magazines and pay close attention to how the articles are written. Magazines use various styles of writing. Choose the one that uses articles similar to your writing style. Analyze the articles. Do they use a lot of interviews? Pictures? Quotes? Statistics? What style do they like? What angle? There are no new subjects so the angle is everything.

Travel magazines like articles on little “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants that no one knows about. Tell your audience how you found it, what they serve, how it tasted, prices, atmosphere, and background information such as who owns it and when it was founded. Review some of the clientele.

Always be armed with a camera, a notepad, pen and a tape recorder. Get in touch with the owner or manager and take a few pictures. Magazines pay extra for pictures and they add a lot of human interest.

The field of traveling is wide open. You can write an article on a park, a museum, gas station, antique shop, taxidermy studio, an old-fashioned drugstore, a lake – almost anything can become a travel story.

Tell how long it took to travel to that destination. What unusual things did you see there? What do other tourists think of the place? What other places can you compare it to? You can write virtually dozens of articles on one trip.

Target the Right Market

Most writers don’t get their articles published because they don’t do the proper market research and don’t know how to choose their market. ALWAYS check the publisher’s guidelines.

Search the Writers Market on the Internet and get their online edition, which is approximately $40, but competition is likely to be heavy. The online edition is updated every month, whereas the book is updated yearly. Look for the markets that suit your material best. You will also be able to file your prospects in folders and keep track of your submissions on that site.

Note: Keep good records. Know when you submitted your document, where you sent it, the name of the editor, and when their guidelines say they will respond. If you haven’t heard from them a week past their estimated time of response, send an inquiry.

If you’re a new writer, search this free database for less competition: WorldwideFreelance. You need not query the market. Just send your article with a cover letter and self-addressed, stamped envelope. And remember, success lies in persistence, so submit a new article every week.

Finally… if you sell an article from a vacation trip, you can write part of your expenses off on your taxes. Ask your accountant about this.

So why not try travel writing this year? Be thorough in your research, take good pictures, perfect your work, match it to the right market and, above all, enjoy it… travel writing is fun!

How to Overcome Writer’s Block

Some Helpful Tips

by Deborah Owen

More often than not, writer’s block is caused by not writing regularly.

Most people are overcome and overwhelmed when writer’s block strikes, and rightly so. A writer who can’t write is much like a pianist who can’t play. Worse yet, writer’s block will carry over into other areas of your life. Don’t let depression and discouragement get you down. It’s vital to stay positive in order to get back in control.

Organization is the key to breaking writer’s block. Start by organizing your life in little ways, by setting short-term goals. Reasonable goals. For example, brush your teeth at the same time every day, or sweep one room at the same time every day. Try to eat at the same time. Get up the first time the alarm clock goes off, and go to bed at the same time every night. The idea is to gain control and meet your goals. When you can live a somewhat regulated life for a week or two, it’s time to work on your writer’s block in a more direct way.

Sit down to write for at least 15 minutes a day, every day. Inasmuch as possible, do it at the same time. What you write isn’t important. Write what you’re thinking about, or write a biography. Write about your parents or a childhood sweetheart that jilted you. Write about something that makes you mad or your problems in life. Anything emotional. If you can’t even write about that, write about the inability to write. Just write! Before two weeks are out, you will rediscover the muse (inward creative stirring) and you’ll be on your way again.

To prevent losing the muse, continue writing at the same time every day, and when you’re ready to take a writing course, remember Creative Writing Institute, where every student receives a personal tutor.

Don’t be satisfied with less than the best. Check it out today.

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Show, Don’t Tell Will Sell Your Stories

The First Commandment of Writing

by Deborah Owen

Show, Don’t Tell is not only the writer’s first commandment, it is the one broken the most. This strange phrase, Show, Don’t Tell, means we must learn to paint pictures of emotions instead of telling them outright; however, some things must be told. Examples of works that tell are:

  • Newspaper articles: The robber was last seen heading south on Main Street.
    • Most magazine articles: Joseph Hanson resigned his position with the GOP on March 26.   
  • Advertisements: When you have a stain, Shout it out!
  • Journals: I had a lousy day today.

You’ll notice one common denominator in the statements above. Every statement is flat and descriptive. That’s what telling is. It’s very shallow writing. Cut and dried. Matter of fact. Dull and boring. A listed description is always telling.

Don’t say, ‟Roberta was jealous,” or “She had coal black hair, dark brown eyes, long lashes, and the cutest rosebud lips you ever saw.” Instead, release descriptions a little at a time, in one or more scenes. For example:

Lisa sighed and pushed her coal black hair out of her eyes.

My boyfriend virtually drowns in her chocolaty eyes. I’ll bet she wears false eyelashes,Roberta said. 

Nah. They’re hers, alright. I have brown eyes. That’s no biggie, but I’d give my arm to have rosebud lips like hers,” Eleanor replied.

The first thing you’ll notice is that telling the facts took only 15 words, but showing them took 52. You may notice that we have two writing laws in conflict. The first says to show all emotions, but the second says to cut down on words. The more important of these two laws is showing, which always takes three to four times more words than telling. Don’t worry about the added verbiage.

Let’s look at more examples:

Instead of writing this flat statement, “He works out at the gym and has a great physique,” we could show his muscular form with dialogue. A girl could see him and text her friend, saying, “Wayne just came out of the gym wearing one of those tight muscle shirts. Wow! What a hunk!”

Another way to show is by using internal dialogue ([thoughts] – although editors don’t like internal dialogue these days). Let’s say you have a scene in the kitchen where a woman is angry. She could throw pots and pans to express her temperament, or she could think, I could literally place my hands around her skinny little neck and slowly squeeze the life out of her. Notice that some types of showing still have a little telling in them. (By the way, internal dialogue is always expressed in italics.)

Or we could view the woman through another character’s eyes, like this:

She stood stock still, right hand on her hip, and one foot patting the floor. Blood engorged the vessels in her neck and temples as a crimson flush crawled from her collar upward. We knew it was time to get out of Dodge.

More ways to learn showing:

  • Read stories printed within the last five years and pick out showing sentences.
  • Review your own work and look for telling sentences.
    • Observe people and make a telling statement about them, then change it to showing.

Learning to show emotions and attitudes is an advanced technique that takes months to learn. Be patient. It will come in time.

For more helpful insights, go to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and learn more about our fantastic creative writing courses!

Twist that Ending and Twist it Again

The Art to Twisting an Ending

by Deborah Owen

We all know a surprise ending when we see one, but how do you write it? Read on to find out.

Wikipedia defines a twisted ending as an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, which may contain a surprising irony, or cause the audience to review the story from a different perspective by revealing new information about the characters or plot.

In other words, a twisted ending is the conclusive form of plot twists. This literary device is also referred to as a surprise ending.

Alfred Hitchcock was the first master of twisted endings in film. In only 30 minutes, he could develop a plot and mislead the viewer. His technique was something akin to the game of “Clue,” allowing the viewers to draw their own faulty conclusions. This type of twisted ending is called a “red herring.”

In the movie Moby Dick, Captain Ahab spends his life searching for the white whale that bit his leg off. The twist comes when Ahab becomes ensnared in ropes attached to the great white and the whale drags him to his drowning death.

Examples: Let’s suppose a man has murdered a woman and her husband is out to catch the killer. Just as hubby catches the murderer, the police arrive and take the man into custody. How can you twist that ending? There are many ways and none are right or wrong. You have literary license to do as you please, but do follow one rule: satisfy your reader. Here are a few ideas:

1. The husband’s vendetta is to see the killer die, but when the murderer goes to trial, he begs for the death penalty. Now the husband wants him to live a miserable life in prison.

2. Suppose the killer became a Christian and begged the husband to forgive him? Think how that would change the parameters of this case.

3. Suppose the murderer was sentenced to life without parole? The husband of the dead woman is delighted with the verdict, but an inmate kills the murderer on the first day in prison. Oops.

4. Or… the killer could escape from the courtroom, dash into the street and be hit by a semi.

5. The judge sentences the man to death. The dead woman’s husband is happy, but his grief drives him to his knees and he becomes a Christian. He changes his mind about wanting the killer to die and instead, leads a campaign for a stay of execution.

The best ending is when you twist the ending, and then twist it again. For example, let’s make this murderer a really evil man. In prison, he killed two people but wasn’t caught in the act. Eventually, he gets paroled and is promptly hit by a car. The reader thinks justice has been served… but the man doesn’t die. He’s paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life.

The secret to twisting an ending is finding the point where you can veer off to an alternative resolution. Exactly what you do with it from that point is up to you.

Your turn. Think of a scene and how you can twist the ending and share it with us.

And don’t forget to head over to www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com and check out our privately tutored writing courses. Sign up for monthly writing tips at http://www.cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.

How to Write Dialogue Tags

Advice for Setting Up Meaningful Story Dialogue

by Deborah Owen

Dialogue tags are the short insertions that identify the speakers in a written conversation. Without them, the reader would be lost.

Dialogue tags are quick signposts that keep the reader on the right path. When you change paths to another speaker, it is not always necessary to place a tag. Sometimes you can use characters’ speech patterns and the natural flow of conversation to identify a change in speakers.

Modern style dictates that all dialogue tags identify the speaker first, and then the action. In other words you should write, “Jason said” rather than “said Jason”. If you are selling your work, little things like this show you are up on the latest writing trends.

Don’t use tags such as, “Jack said mysteriously,” or “Crystal said wryly.” Avoid the use of adverbs that end in –ly. Stick to the same ole, same ole, mundane, “Jack said.” The reader’s subconscious mind will pass over this without realizing they have read it.

Readers expect to see tags. They flow with the story and don’t distract from the action.

When you introduce conversations into your stories, narration and exposition will become dialogue. And with that change will come an exchange of emotion, pace, conflict, and the actions of the characters as they progress through the theme.

Challenge yourself to give life and energy to speech. If you want to know what natural dialogue sounds like, quit talking and listen. Eavesdropping will become your best friend. Eavesdrop everywhere you go. Restaurant talk is fabulous. That is conversation at its best!

Can you hear what your character would say in your mind? If you can’t, you don’t know them well enough. Make a list of 50 things about your character, and you will know him/her inside out. When you can hear them speaking in your mind and can view them as real people, it will be easier to hear their normal conversation.

Always address the following questions:

  • Does the dialogue reflect the speech of real people?
  • Does it bring the reader into the emotion of the scene?
  • Does it flow naturally?

The most common failing of authors is to write meaningless, or too much dialogue. The reader’s mind requires frequent rests to absorb the action and for that reason, you need to break the dialogue into groups and sprinkle short scenes of settings throughout. You can do this with just about anything.

Avoid conversations that are one or two-liners, like this:

“How are you?” Jane asked.

“I’m doing good,” Jack said.

“So, what’s new?”

“Not much.”

This kind of conversation is boring and has no purpose. Dialogue should provide backstory, add to the character, reveal a clue, further the plot, or introduce new material. If your dialogue is there just to make conversation, edit it into something useful.

What is your favorite way to use dialogue? Let us know in the comments below!

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