Well, the closing date for our short story competition is fast approaching. We’ve had a good response so far – but perhaps you have still to submit the winning entry?

In previous blogs I’ve given a few general tips on writing and then some more specific ones on putting together a short story. For this third and final piece I’ve attempted to address three common writing questions. Hopefully there will be some pointers here to help you.

Which Point Of View should I use?

Well, it depends. If the story is a very personal one then first person can work well. Everything is seen through the eyes of the narrator and it is easy to express emotions and reactions. But you are limited to describing only what the narrator can see, feel and understand. The reader is left to fill in any blanks.

A story told in the third person (using he or she rather than I) can be more straightforward, with an outsider looking in on the story. You can use third-person omniscient, where the thoughts all characters are open to the reader, or third-person limited, where the reader enters only one character’s mind.

When you have a good outline idea worked out for your entry then the best point of view will probably be fairly easy to identify.

What does “Show don’t tell” mean?

Simple statements can convey information. But to give the reader a better picture of a person or a situation you should let them experience it or hear about it from your characters. Rather than stating that a person has a short temper, have them blow up for no reason. Don’t just say that it was raining. Instead describe a character’s feelings about walking in the rain. It makes your story much more real for the reader.

What do judges of a competition look for?

Now this is the big one, isn’t it? And if it was just three simple things then everyone would do it. Actually there are many different factors that give a winning entry the edge and judges will look a variety of qualities.

For a start, it has to be well written, typed or written legibly, with no spelling or grammar mistakes. There has to be a structure, a plot or storyline that flows from beginning to end. It has to create clear images in the mind. A good story allows the reader to picture the scene. And it must excite or shock in some way – there has to be a wow factor. We all love an ending that we didn’t see coming. But there can’t be any loose ends left hanging.

The best pieces of writing are the ones that have something original or different to say, or a new viewpoint on a subject. They stand out. And they are fun to read too.

“Gordon Johnston is the Chair of Bipolar Scotland and one of the judges for the Writing Awards. His first novel, the Glasgow based psychological thriller Calling Cards, was published in February 2014 (Ringwood Publishing)”

Ready to get started? Just download the guidance and entry form here and get stuck in!