Hedley’s Books and Wairarapa Times-Age are running a short story competition for Wairarapa’s budding writers.
Entries open from 15 January to 23 February 2024. The story must be set in Wairarapa and be no longer than 3,000 words.
All winners will be published in the Times-Age, including any very highly commended entrants.
First, second, and third prize winners will also receive book vouchers provided by Hedley’s Bookstore:
- First prize: $500 book voucher.
- Second prize: $300 book voucher.
- Third prize: $200 book voucher.
The judges will assess short story entries against these criteria:
- Story, plot: originality and engagement, compelling, with a recognisable arc of conflict, crisis, and resolution.
- Theme: a dominating theme that is well integrated into the story.
- Characterisation: believable and memorable characters that are fully developed and change over the course of the story.
- Voice: unique voice, word choices, sentence structure, tone, with deftness in handling point-of-view in a way that enhances the story.
- Setting and atmosphere: historical and geographic details developed to provide a setting that can be visualised.
- Passion: that engages the reader’s attention and their emotions in the telling of the story and the development of the characters.
- Mechanics: spelling, grammar, paragraphing, punctuation.
Submitting your entry
During the period 15 January to 23 February 2024, entries must be emailed to [email protected] to be eligible:
- Entries must be attached to the email in a WORD document.
- The covering email to your entry must include your:
- First and last names.
- Phone number and preferred email address.
- A statement confirming you have a residential or business address in Wairarapa.
- A statement confirming the entry is your original work, and AI has not been used in the creation of entry
Terms and conditions
Entries for the short story competition open on 15 January 2024 and close on 23 February 2024.
Stories must be set in Wairarapa and can be any number of words up to the prescribed limit. That limit is 3,000 words.
The competition is for adults, but budding teenage writers are welcome to give it a go. There’s no lower age limit.
- Employees and their immediate families of the Times-Age, Hedley’s, or the judges are not eligible to enter.
- Entrants must have a Wairarapa residential or business address.
- No more than one entry. Once an entry is submitted, it is final.
- Entries may not contain any photographs or illustrations.
- Stories must be the original work of the entrant alone, and no entry may be published or broadcast elsewhere, or submitted for publication or broadcast elsewhere, or entered into any other competition until after 30 March 2024.
The judges for the Hedley’s Bookshop-Wairarapa Times Age Short Story Competition are all Wairarapa locals involved with writing and with books.
Angela is a Times-Age features writer and a novelist. Visit her website www.praxeum.org and click through to her social media profiles and to Amazon which sells her novels.
[Who writes and publishes as Melissa Crosby]
Carterton writer, Pia Buck, publishes women’s fiction and romance under the name Melissa Crosby. Visit her website www.melissacrosby.com and click through to her social media profiles and to Amazon to buy her novels as e-books or in paperback. You can also find her work in local bookstores.
Rawiri, Ngāti Kahungunu, is a former English teacher, turned writer of short fiction and poetry. He is a natural storyteller, practised in the art of weaving mātauranga Māori and environmental knowledge.
Key things any short story needs
Neil Gaiman, a famous English novelist, short story writer, and comic book author, says that: “short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
The website www.masterclass.com says that fiction writing in general, but short stories in particular, need to feature:
- A clearly defined mood or feeling. This can be a genre (e.g., humour, romance, horror) or an idea (e.g., adultery, childbirth, life lessons) or an emotion (e.g., loss, grief, joy). Or it can be a combination. Every sentence must build towards the mood you choose.
- Clear, descriptive language that sets up the concept of the story quickly and without being superfluous.
- A small cast of well-developed characters, including a main character and supporting character[s] who must serve a vital role in the story.
- A strong point of view. Know from the beginning what it is you want to say with your short story. Ask yourself: what do you want people to feel or think as they read your story? Make sure this point of view is clearly reflected throughout the story.
- A strong opening that places the story in the middle or nearer the end of the action. The very famous American writer Kurt Vonnegut said we should “always start a story as close to the end as possible.”
- An ending that lands. When writing the ending of your short story, focus on the mood you’re trying to create and ask yourself: what would be the most satisfying way for the ending to capture this mood? Does the ending follow naturally from where the story began?
- Experimental elements. Short stories don’t necessarily have to stick to traditional storytelling techniques, which means that you can feel free to play around with certain conventions. Don’t feel shy about breaking a few rules and see what works best for you. “The imagination is a muscle,” Gaiman says. “If it is not exercised, it atrophies.”
Spend some time away from your story and go back later with a pair of fresh eyes. Read your short story back at least three times, paying attention to how plot, characters, dialogue, scenes, and settings all work together toward one common goal. Note any inconsistencies and fix them—or get rid of them. Strike anything which feels superfluous or slows down the pace. Edit, edit, edit.
Gaiman’s most famous quote is, “the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So, write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” Visit www.neilgaiman.com.
Using point of view in your writing
Point of view is the ‘eye’ or narrative voice through which you tell a story. When you write a story, you must decide who is telling the story, and to whom they are telling it.
The story could either be told by a character who is involved in the story, or from a perspective that sees and knows all the characters but is not one of them.
The website www.masterclass.com describes three primary approaches to point of view.
First person point of view
In first person point of view, one of the characters is narrating the story. This is generally revealed by the “I” sentence construction, such as “I went to work.”
First person narrative can provide intimacy and a deeper look into a character’s mind, but it is also limited by the perceptive abilities of the character. The character is confined to report only what they would realistically know about the story, and they are further confined by their own perspective.
Second person point of view
Second person point of view is structured around the ‘you’ pronoun e.g.: “you thought you could do it.”
Second person can allow you to draw your reader into the story and make them feel like they’re part of the action because the narrator is speaking directly to them.
Third person point of view
In third person point of view, the author narrates a story about the characters and refers to them with the third person pronouns he, she, and they: “he was hungry,” for example.
The third person point of view is generally either ‘third person omniscient’ or ‘third person limited’.
- Third person omniscient: the omniscient narrator knows everything about the story and its characters. This narrator can enter anyone’s mind, move freely through time, and give the reader their own opinions and observations as well as those of the characters.
- Third person limited: when an author sticks closely to one character but remains in third person. The narrator can do this for the entire novel, or switch between different characters for different chapters or sections. This approach allows the author to limit a reader’s perspective, and control what information the reader knows. It’s used to build interest and heighten suspense.
If you feel daunted by where to start, take heart from Anne Lamott’s writing advice in her bestseller Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She tells an anecdote from when her older brother was 10 years old and was trying to write a school report on birds that he’d left till the last minute.
“He was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.” Their father said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Lamott also says: tell the truth, jump in, and write your memories.
In fiction writing, according to www.masterclass.com, character development is the process of building a unique, three-dimensional character with depth, personality, and clear motivations. This includes the changes a character undergoes over the course of a story.
Characters, like people, are imperfect. They don’t need to be likeable, but they must be interesting.
- Develop characters who reflect your interests. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your characters, so the fiction rule “write what you want to know” applies to them as well.
- Reveal their physical world through detail. Different writers focus on different details to evoke character, such as physical appearance, food, clothing, or mannerisms. Whatever details you choose, it’s important for you to know your characters’ physical world intimately, and how they relate to it.
- Give them the right skills. Your characters should have skills that will allow them to function in your setting. If you’ve chosen to set your novel on the moon, for example, then make sure your character has a space suit or learns how to use one.
- Create memorable characters. When creating important characters that the reader is going to meet more than once, be sure that they’re memorable in some way with a quirk or quality that can be used later to help readers recall who they are. This could be a title like the Chief of Police or a physical attribute such as ginger hair.
- Give the reader access to their inner conflict. One way to create intimacy with your reader—and to get them to care about your main character—is to use internal monologue. This means letting the reader see a character’s thoughts as they happen, which exposes that person’s inner conflict, motivations, opinions, and personality. It’s also a great way to convey information about your setting, events, and other characters.
- Subvert your reader’s expectations. The most interesting characters will surprise your readers.
In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, American writer Anne Lamott says about characters: “you also want to ask yourself how they stand, what they carry in their pockets or purses, what happens in their faces and to their posture when they are thinking, or bored, or afraid. Whom would they have voted for last time? Why should we care about them anyway? [And] what would be the first thing they stopped doing if they found out they had six months to live?”
Carterton-based writer, Pia Buck, who publishes as Melissa Crosby, told the Times-Age that she goes online and chooses a photo of famous person who fits the type of looks and personality she’s going for in each character. She keeps those images in mind as reference points as she writes.
Finding your voice
Les Edgerton (recently deceased) was an American short story writer, screen writer and novelist who published many books on how to write including one entitled Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality into Your Writing. One of his chapters talks about the elements of personality or voice including tone, vocabulary, imagery, and rhythm.
Tone is important. Edgerton writes: “Tone can take many forms. It can be ironic, sad, matter of fact, melodramatic, understated or muted, boisterous, droll, excitable, serious, disrespectful … in short, tone echoes any number of emotional stances directed at the material by the author.”
One of Edgerton’s tricks for getting into the emotional state a writer needs to be in to capture or recapture the tone she or he needs, is to look at pictures or artifacts we know will trigger a certain mood. The mood that helps us find the right tone of voice for what we’re writing.
K.M. Weiland – an author of historical and speculative fiction who also teaches writing – says, on the other hand, that your voice is like ‘you’ in several ways:
- It already exists.
- It’s a living evolving thing. It’s not the same as it was five years ago, and it won’t be the same in another five years.
- It just is. You can’t create it and you can’t banish it. You can only refine it.
She suggests that instead of worrying about authorial voice, worry instead about creating great character voices.