It looks as if Spring has finally arrived and with it lots of short story competitions. This year I'm judging the short story competition for the Wells Literary Festival so I thought I'd write what I'm looking for. But first I must stress that all I'll see is the short list, the final 15 or 20 that make it through the preliminary rounds. That means there may be a story entered that I'd love which never makes the final round.
The short list turns up and I immediately read them all without making any notes. Then I put them away. A week or so later I get out the envelope but before I read, I make notes on the ones I can remember. Then I shuffle them up so I don't read in the same order. Then I read through again, this time making notes as I go. One final read through, and I've got a fair idea of which are my favourites. I look at the stories on different days to try and get a bit of objectivity into the process, but let's face it, a lot will depend on my mood on the time, and the stories I'm presented with. I entered a lot of short story competitions before I started writing novels and I know how many hopes go along with each entry. It's not a job I take lightly.
What am I looking for? I like story telling, so wispy little bits of lovely writing without much story attached aren't to my taste. I like stories that move me - tears or laughter, I don't mind. I like stories that stay with me. I like bravura writing, big bold ideas, I like to be amazed by the firework display but I also like the sort of story William Trevor excels in, a life summed up in one tiny incident.
I'm not keen on animal stories or sci fi, yet stories about a cat going to the vet and a futuristic traffic jam made the top 3 for the last competition I judged. The top spot went to a story about relationships, so (being contrary) I was prejudiced against it, but it was written with such style and wit I longed to have written it myself. So, I wouldn't say there are any particular genres to avoid: a good story is a good story.
And that's what it's about: writing a good story. Good luck!
In case any one is interested, I'm running a class in Bath on Friday afternoons for 8 weeks over the summer, a mix of exercises and workshopping. Contact me for more details on firstname.lastname@example.org