There’s no set theme for this competition, it’s completely open. We’re just looking for the work you’re most proud of and would recommend you take the time to work on polishing it to be the best it can be. (Careful editing of your work can be the difference between something good becoming something great.) To help you along, we’ve put together some inspiration and a range of resources below and linked.
What we’re looking for: Imagination, originality and a good flow to a piece of writing. Be it poetry or short story, we want to be surprised by your ideas and how you bring them to life, we want the language to be fresh and above cliche. Choose to show us with sensory detail over telling us. Let the reader make their own imaginative connections. Excite us! Make us laugh, make us cry, scare us, or maybe just make us think. Some of this might come about by careful editing to get it just right, or sometimes we are lucky enough to write something straight off with very little editing needed. Either way, after you’ve written something you think is good, give yourself time to make it better by going through this Final Edit Checklist which you can download below.
Keep reading for also sorts of helpful stuff including a big list of writing exercises. You could write 1 a day for a week and see where you end up!
Inspiration, writing prompts & edit tips!
If you’re after inspiration, check out our gallery of Photo Inspiration on Flickr and the downloadable resources, prompt ideas and further tips from sparking ideas to editing.
Flash fiction & Short Story
“A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” Lorrie Moore
(Flash fiction tends to be the name given to stories under 500 words) For short stories, whether flash or a bit longer…
Don’t get too epic! – Although 2000 words (the maximum for this competition) is quite a lot, avoid trying to write an epic tale with too much going on and too many characters. Short stories, even up to our 2000 word limit, are not novels. That means they are most effective when they zoomed into one particular scene or moment. This might be a key part in a bigger story (if that’s what you’re interested in) or the only moment that might exist in your imagination. Either way, it will be much more effective than trying to tell an epic story you don’t have the space for and relying on info-dumping the story to get it told.
There are many things we don’t have to know or that you can simple allude to where needed. William Trevor says of the short story, its “strength lies in what it leaves out just as much as what it puts in, if not more.” Trust your reader to make some connections without you spelling it out. Think of what is essential for the story you’ve written and what will bring it off the page, the rest can go.
Start in the action – as close to the end as possible, that way we’ll be jumping in at the most exciting point. Very often our first few paragraphs of writing are warming up and contain too much description and explaining. When you edit you can check if you’ve implied enough in the course of the story for the reader to understand something less important that may have at first been at the beginning of the story.
Poetry & Spoken Word
All styles of poetry are welcomed. The only thing we’re not keen on is poems written for the sake of the rhyme rather than the content of the poem. Poetry, of course, can rhyme, but the rhyme should never be forced (e.g. what rhymes with pain…sane, brain etc.) We often see more predictable and cliched language with rhymes too. That is, you can see what’s coming next (like in a greeting card message!)
Rhythm, on the other hand, and the sound of words, are important in a poem so it’s always a good idea to speak your poem out loud and listen to the way it flows when you edit it. Better still, record it on your phone and listen when you’re not seeing it written down and can just focus on the words and sounds.
You can write something more focused on it being heard or read aloud, where sound is a key part (but don’t be a slave to it), or something written for the page, where line break and stanza considerations are particularly important. Or you can write with both in mind!
Bringing ideas and concepts into the real world via concrete imagery will strengthen your poem and conjure visuals in the mind’s eye. For example, you could make grief or anger or love (abstract/concept ideas that are difficult to pin down) into an actual person and describe them: what do they look like, how to they speak, what would they say, what would they wear?
Unlike a story, a poem doesn’t need a narrative structure (although some stories have very little narrative structure) but it can also be narrative.
Read your work aloud as you edit to help tune into the ‘voice’ of the poem or story, but never try to sound like a ‘writer’, it’s your own authentic voice and perception of the world we want to hear. If you are writing in character, think about how they wouldn’t really think and speak.
Have fun and check out the below resources to help you get writing!
One of the things that makes a piece of writing better is recognising the energy in a piece or idea and running with that over anything else. If it interests you as the writer, the chances are it will interest a reader. Take risks, try things out – you never know where they might lead.
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. Robert Frost
Remember, even if it’s poetry, it’s still fiction you’re writing, not fact (whether you’re traveling to the moon or writing about real happenings and experiences, you are still fictionalising them into art). You make the rules and you can even control the weather! You don’t need to be married to the truth to tell a truth. For example, you might change something truthful like a name because it fits better.
Using the Photo Gallery: If you’re using inspiration from the photo gallery, don’t worry about where or when an image was taken – you can decide that yourself. If you end up moving it to another country, or even another planet, that’s fine too. You might also be unsure what a particular image is about, which is great because then you will interpret it in your own way. As a writer, you’re here to imagine your own conclusions about the themes and the contents of a photo and the bigger picture you can’t see.
We also run free, friendly, supportive and relaxed young writers’ groups across South Yorkshire