Writing Tips - What We Are Looking For

There are no rules for writing short stories. But I thought it would be useful, especially for newer writers, if I provided a few tips about writing for Stroud Short Stories.

  • SSS is a performance/audience event (even when it's on YouTube) so it's best to avoid dialogue involving a large number of characters, and narratives that keep moving back and forth in time.
  • Our audiences do like actual stories - ideally with at least a middle and an end and often a beginning too. Make sure that your story has a narrative arc.
  • Funny or quirky stories are always welcome, but we love all styles of writing.
  • If your entire story is simply a build-up to a single event or revelation in the last line it probably won't find favour with the judges.
  • We don't like stories that pretend to be about one thing then reveal in the last sentence that they are about something else. What's the point in reading/investing in the main story in the first place, just to be tricked by the author at the end?
  • We have had a couple of brilliant folk tales and re-told fairy stories at SSS, but if you're writing one please ensure it's fresh and interesting. Stories about fairies, pixies, elves and gnomes are unlikely to find favour with the judges.
  • Entice the reader with an arresting opening sentence.
  • Don't pad out your stories. Get in, write the story and get out.
  • Avoid mundanity, the obvious, sentimentality, tweeness, repetition and cliches.
  • Don't include lines from published poetry or song lyrics in your story unless they are out of copyright.
  • Ensure that your characters' and narrator's voices are a) appropriate and b) consistent. 
  • We love a beautifully turned phrase or two, but a metaphor or a simile every other line will give your story an unattractive artificiality.
  • For stories written in the third person, dialogue will always enliven the narrative and bring your characters to life - so long as the dialogue moves the narrative forward or reveals something about a character (or both).
  • Good endings are tough to write. Spend as long on the ending of your story as on all other parts/aspects of your story. We see many stories that flounder at the end. My practical tips about writing endings are in this two minute video I made for The Phare website.
  • Ensure that your story delivers at the end what it promises to at the beginning.
  • Read lots of short stories by well known authors and lots of short stories by little known authors and work out why you like some more than others.
  • Edit, edit, edit, edit your story and make every word count.
  • Read the Rules and How to Submit before submitting. (You'd be amazed!)
  • And finally, please be aware that you might do all the above and still not have your story selected. Your story simply might not engage the judges. That's because, even though we do all we can to counteract it, judging is a subjective process. I have written stories which have won prizes but been completely rejected earlier by other competitions. Obviously it can be disappointing, but try not to take it too hard. And keep writing. And go again next time with another submission to SSS.
I hope this helps, folks. There is no formula for success - as you'll see if you read one of our anthologies! We are looking for a range of approaches and writing styles.