Are you submitting a short story, or one of the other types of entry, to our competition?

Writing a short piece can actually be more difficult than, say, a full length novel. You only have a very limited number of words you can use. So you need to be focussed. There’s no room for tangents, or repetition. You can’t have long descriptions or lengthy dialogues. In short, your writing needs to be tight.

But your story also needs to be entertaining. It has to grip your readers’ attention and make them want to find out how it finishes. And it has to stir some sort of emotional response within them, such as horror, empathy or humour.

So how do you do all that in just a few hundred words?

Well, it’s not easy. If it was everyone would be doing it. But there are some basic elements of a story that you will need to think about when planning your entry.

» Theme. This is the easy one because it is set in the contest rules. The theme is Power. But where will you take it? One person’s power over another? Your own superpower? The power of an idea? Be creative and stretch your imagination.

» Conflict. There is always some sort of conflict in a story. It can be between characters or within the main (or only) character. The conflict or struggle is what drives the plot forwards.

» Plot. What actually happens? Even a very short story has a beginning, middle and end. You have to set the story up and also to find some sort of resolution or conclusion to finish it.

» Character(s). Who is doing all of this? What are they like? Think about their appearance, if that is important to the story, and their attributes. Is this a good person, a moral person, or someone with a darker purpose? Do they have strong views or particular experiences? What drives them?

» Setting. Where and when does the story take place? In a city or the countryside? Is there a journey involving different places? A good description will give the reader a vivid mental image – but don’t go overboard. Remember that word limit. Are we in the present or is your story set at a time in the past or the future? Make sure everything is consistent with the timeframe.

Every story will involve these five elements. But there are an endless number of variations and twists that you can come up with to make your story different. And it is a competition – you are trying to make your entry the one that catches the judges’ attention.

“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 keep an eye out for more expert tips from Gordon next week.