How to Write Short Stories (and Win Writing Competitions)

ghb comp
ghb comp

Want to win the Beyond the Stars Short Story Competition and be published along with Eoin Colfer, Judi Curtin and Derek Landy? Or simply want to find out how to write a brilliant story? Then read on.

1/ Before you start writing, think about your story and your characters. Go for a walk and mull it all over in your head, then grab a notebook and start scribbling down some ideas.

2/ You could start with your own memories or things that have happened to you or a friend – as this is what will make your story different. For example: Is there a favourite place you love to hide? Do you have a tree house or a club house? Have you ever had a fight with your best friend?

3/ Or try using a traditional story as your starting point and re-write it in a new or unusual way eg an Irish or English (or Welsh or Scottish) Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, based in your home town. You could re-write a traditional legend using modern characters and setting.

4/ Your characters can be children, teenagers, giants, talking animals or astronauts – the sky is the limit. But make them realistic and give them carefully thought out names that suit who they are. Think of Matilda, Charlie and James in Dahl’s books. The Harry Potter books are full of great names, as are Cathy Cassidy’s books.

5/ Once you have mapped out your main characters (for a short story don’t use too many main characters – two or three is plenty), and your plot, give your story an exciting or intriguing opening. Start at the point where the action begins – you don’t need to add back story. Avoid any long descriptions, readers will be eager to learn what happens in the story, not what the sky looks like.

6/ Think about the setting of your story – where will it take place? And add details – icicles, food. Use your senses to add depth to the tale – smell, taste, touch. What does the forest/back garden smell like?

7/ Conflict is vital in any story. Without the Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood wouldn’t be a very interesting story. Think of the favourite traditional tales – Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, even Pinocchio – they are full of larger than life characters and HUGE emotions. Love, hate, revenge . . . think big and don’t be afraid to use strong emotions.

8/ Keep rewriting the story until it’s as good as you can make it. I rewrite each of my Ask Amy Green books many times before handing them over to my editor. And finally, ask a trusted friend to look over your work before you submit, a second pair of eyes can make all the difference.

Good Luck!

Yours in writing, Sarah XXX

(Editor of Beyond the Stars)

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.