Tuesday 17th April was a momentous day – it was our official launch of the Olga Sinclair Open Short Story Competition 2018. We held a gala to mark the occasion, as we do each year.
We were treated first to a fascinating talk by Frances and Michael Holmes on the history of the Norwich Market. Norwich market has undergone some astounding changes and is currently the countries largest and oldest outdoor market.
Then we welcomed Kristina Fox, manager of the Norfolk Markets, gave a brief talk about how the market is run today.
Finally, our adjudicator Alison Bruce explained what she was looking for and gave some helpful tips:
The theme of this competition is markets but you will also need to consider the theme of your story – the message you want to get across – write an aim and put it above your desk.
e.g. By the end of the story:
- Dave will find inner peace (redemption)
- Anna will be reunited with her lost family (healing)
- Jim and Laura realise they’re in love (romance)
- Alex takes revenge and regrets it (hate)
You don’t have to spell it out, make sure you’re clear on the theme and it will come through in the story.
A single conflict
- Don’t compress a novel into a short story!
- Know your characters well.
- Have a character that the reader can empathise with.
- What is your character’s greatest strength?
- Greatest weakness?
- Greatest desire?
- Greatest fear?
- What is the line they will never cross?
Narrative Arc: Planning Your Story
- Identify your protagonist.
- Identify the type of conflict they face.
- Write one sentence for each of the five points on the narrative arc.
A good short story opening should:
- Pull the reader in immediately.
- Introduce the character(s) and conflict.
- Establish point of view.
- Set the mood of the story.
- Suggest the setting.
The Four Laws
- All stories must have tension, struggle or conflict.
- All conflict must be of vital importance to the character.
- The consequences of failure must be disastrous (to the character).
- There must be change, development, realisation or growth by the end.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Avoid adverbs.
- Avoid repetition.
- Don’t use unnatural language.
- Be concise.
- Have a break before you edit.
- Follow the guidelines for formatting.
- A new paragraph each time someone speaks.
- Check for spelling and punctuation.
- Read it aloud and amend before you submit it.
- Make sure you have follow the specified submission guidelines and rules outlined on the competition page before sending your entry.
Feel free to explore the theme using any fiction genre you see fit. Alison enjoys a vast range of genres. Don’t write a crime story just because she’s a crime writer and you think that’s what she’ll like – it won’t increase your chance of winning. Instead focus on writing a good, strong story regardless of genre.
Alison then quoted Margaret Murphy:
“When you’ve written your stories (and set them aside and edited them and read them again and re-written them) submit them – to competitions, fanzines, magazines, collections – whoever will read them and give you feedback. You might even win a prize, but even if you don’t – especially if you don’t – you should listen, really listen to what they are trying to tell you. You will understand more with each submission, and will grow as a writer.”
Finally, we would like to offer one final piece of advice. Every year, we get emails from entrants asking about how to interpret the theme. The short answer is that it is entirely up to you. Your entry doesn’t have to be about Norwich Market, or even a literal, physical market. For example, your character could work on the stock market, or you could weave a narrative about the job market. There is no limit except your own imagination. Just be sure you consider the theme and explore it as best you can. It might help to think ‘What does the word ‘market’ mean to me?’ and work from there.
If you’re still not sure, you can always check our anthologies to see how winning entrants explored previous themes.