Everyone likes a good story.

Recently I was privileged to judge the short story entries in a competition for members of the South Hams’ Writers’ Group.

I thought you might be interested in the things I looked for when I read the stories.

  • The overall impression. Did I feel the plot was original in some way? Was I fascinated by the concept?

  • A beginning which drew me in.

  • A middle which held my attention.

  • A satisfying ending.

  • Did the story have characters who seemed real, people who didn’t suddenly behave in an unexpected manner.

    I like surprises, but not if the really nice man next door turns out to be a chimpanzee in disguise. If that is the case, I need clues early on, so that I can look back and think, ‘Ah, that makes sense now.’

  • Personally, I like stories about human nature, stories which show a character growing and learning from his or her experience. However, this wasn’t one of my criteria. The things that were important to me were good writing, amazing ideas, and an excellent use of words.

  • I did take a few marks off for grammar and spelling mistakes. When you enter competitions, good editing is vital. It’s a bright idea to read your story aloud before you send it off, because that way it’s easier to spot errors you might otherwise miss. There’s a lot of talent out there, and you have to give yourself the best chance you can, by making sure everything is as good as it can possibly be.

This is how I ended my judging remarks:

If you didn’t win a prize this year, don’t give up. Every time you create a new story, you have the chance to learn something new about writing. Huge congratulations to the winners. Don’t rest on your laurels, because all the other entrants are coming fast on your heels.