From a short story contest judge

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Pamela Jo

Full Member
Oct 26, 2021
Wexford, Ireland
Sounds a lot like popups.

After reading 230+ short stories (up to 4k) as a first reader for a national UK comp here's what I learnt about what seems to work and what doesn't in #shortstory writing (just some thoughts not set rules

1. First words, first lines, first paragraphs matter. I'm not convinced there is time for much scene setting. I love nature but pepper in details to evoke a sense of place rather than start off with a chunk of description. Cut your fanciful beginnings!
2. That said the external environment needs to relate to the story's interiority rather than be a stand alone piece of description. Otherwise it becomes superfluous. I read lots of clever imagery to describe a blue sky that just had nothing to do with the story itself.

3. A detailed character description is not a story. Readers want to learn things about your character but remember this can come through action, dialogue (both what is said and isn't) etc... We do not need a full history before or after this moment.
4. And a short story is a moment. It doesn't need to be a huge moment but it does need to significant for your character/s. Otherwise what distinguishes it from say an extract of a longer piece?

5. It's obvious when something has been lifted from a longer work. A short story usually has fewer characters (maybe just one or two), a limited POV, restricted timeframe and space, doesn't feel expansive in the way extracts do.

Show don't tell. Most people seem to mistake this instruction for something it isn't. You do not need to describe the action as well as state the emotion. I read lots of stories written like: She was nervous. She paced the room.

7. That brings me to POV. Not a big fan of third person/ omniscient narrator for a short story. It just doesn't give me the intensity that I want but this is very much a personal thing. If you choose third person POV get as close to the main character and action as you can

8. Dialogue. Please use it. When done well it really lifts a scene and pulls a reader into the story. But ensure you use subtext too. Lots of dialogue goes awry because writers feel the need to explain. Exposition is painful to read and weighs the story down.

. On the same note, you should always be moving forward in the story. Sometimes I was left wondering if the story had any sense of purpose and/or direction.

re are so many amazing contemporary short story writers. Learn from the best. My faves include





. Not a full list but I do curate one annually at

On the same note, many prizes



publish anthologies of past winners. Buy and read them. Study the craft. Keep playing, keep writing - good luck!
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Do please join us in the Opera Group (SiG)

November deadline extended!