My story Excessively Repetitive won the Living Springs Baby Boomers plus competition! The prize is $500 and the story will appear in their next anthology. The title is appropriate, by the way, but I must admit I took childish pleasure in being able to say things like ‘my entry for your competition is excessively repetitive’.
I painted some little flower pots for Mum’s birthday (shh – it’s still a few days away!). Light sanding, coat of gesso and away we go. The artistry is not great, but it’s a few years since I gave her anything home-made for her birthday. (Don’t worry, I have got some other items!)
Here are the writing competitions with deadlines in August that I might enter – though to be honest I have reservations about a couple.
- Grindstone wants stories of up to 3,000 words; the entry fee is £12 and the top prize is £500 – deadline 1 August.
- Then the mighty Costa competition is back. As always, there are two rounds. The judges pick three stories and then the public votes to decide the winner. The word limit is 4,000, and the top prize is £3,500 plus immense prestige. Best of all, it’s free to enter – but the deadline is 2 August, so we need to get moving.
- Future Folklore also offer free entry for stories up to 2,000 words, and offer a top prize of $400. The story must be ‘cli fi’ – fiction about climate change. My impression is that they’re looking more for optimistic views of how we might deal with the problems, rather than anything bleakly dystopic. We’ve got until 8 August.
- Gival want chunky sized stories – 5,000 to 15,000 words. Entry is $25 and the prize is $1,000, with a deadline of 8 August.
- Arena fantasy magazine asks for up to 3,000 words inspired by a picture (of a medieval army in action). Entry is £10, but the top prize is only £100, which doesn’t seem a very generous ratio.
- The VS Pritchett competition run by the Royal Society of Literature, no less, is for stories up to 4,000 words; entry is £8 and the prize is £1,000. The deadline is 20 August.
- The Val Wood prize has the theme ‘Now and Then’, intended to mark the end of lockdown and reflect times of positive change. Stories can be up to 2,000 words long, and it’s free to enter, with a prize of £100. The deadline is 28 August.
- The Masters Review asks for stories under 6,000 words. The entry fee is $20, the top prize $3,000, and the deadline is 30 August.
All the others have a deadline of 31 August.
- Aesthetica, that bastion of intellectual art and design, wants stories of up to 2,000 words. The entry fee is £18 and you could win £2,500 and a consultation with Redhammer Management (which I believe is Peter Cox of Litopia).
- Blue Mesa has a generous word limit of 6,000: entry is $12 and the prize is $500.
- The Exeter Story Prize has the same limit, and the same fee and prize, except in pounds instead of dollars; you’re allowed up to 5,000 words.
- NAWG wants stories up to 2,000 words, with an entry fee of £5 and a prize of £200.
- SaveAs, of Canterbury, allows up to 3,500 words, on the theme ‘horizons’ in honour of TS Eliot (no, I don’t really get it, either). Entry is £4 and the prize £200.
- Seven Hills asks for up to 3,000 words. The entry fee is $30 and first prize is $150 – an even meaner ratio than Arena’s! They have a lower fee for members, however.
- Finally, if you have a whole collection of stories, running to between 130 and 180 pages, St Lawrence would like to see it. $27 is the fee and the prize is $1,000.
There’s an interesting discussion here of the oft-quoted rule for writers ‘show, don’t tell’. It means, for example, don’t write ‘Emma felt sad’, write something like ‘Emma’s lip trembled. She raised one hand to the tears that had begun trickling down her cheek’. Why is that a good way of doing things? First, it may be more vivid and engaging. Second it guards against a fault of poor writing in which emotions are simply pasted on like labels, characters being assigned feelings without the writerly groundwork being done.However, to treat it as an absolute rule goes much too far, as with over-zealous application of rules like ‘no adverbs’ and ‘no passive mood’. Nothing is totally forbidden when you’re writing, and direct description of thoughts and emotions can be very valuable. Take this passage from Jane Austen’s Emma.
Emma’s eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched—she admitted—she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!
Emma’s realisation that she has loved Knightley all along is brilliantly done, the turning point of the novel and I think, one of the great moments in English literature. How could it be done by just ‘showing’? What outward behaviour on Emma’s part would convey the same thing? I doubt it could be done at all, and if it were it would surely be long-winded, vague, clumsy, and give none of the pleasure the actual text delivers.
Austen, like most great writers, often does some telling. Indeed, if she didn’t she could scarcely have pioneered the use of ‘free indirect’ style, the last great achievement of nineteenth century literature, in which the characters thoughts are voiced by the author. For example, the last sentence in the passage above could just have been ‘Mr Knightley must marry no-one but herself’ (I’m not suggesting that would have been an improvement.)
I would in general say to people who want to advise writers – show us things we can do, don’t tell us about things we mustn’t!