Thursday, 18 September 2008

What Makes A Good Short Story?

I came upon an interesting blog post today which followed on from last year’s Willesden Herald short story competition. For those of you not familiar with the story (she said pompously, as if she had known about it all along), the Willesden Herald runs a short story competition each year but in 2007 no prizes were awarded as the judges felt that the quality of the entries was too poor. There followed a big hoo-ha in the literary press, fuelled by much outrage and bile, in which this decision was discussed at length and few conclusions were drawn, and the judges’ opinions were not swayed.

The most useful thing to come out of all of this fuss was, from my point of view at least, this rather wonderful blog post which analyses exactly what was wrong with the submissions. It’s written by Stephen Moran, one of the judges of the competition, and his views mirror my own experiences when I was editing, and the many editors’ comments I’ve read over the years. Overall, the writing just wasn’t good enough. You can’t argue with that. Although, of course, if you read the comments and the news coverage, people did: which didn’t improve the quality of the writing one jot.


Sally Zigmond said...

Thanks, Jane. Steve Moran's piece is comprehensive and and just about covers every no-no in short story writing. I have judged several short story competitions and read countless short story submissions when I worked as assistant editor of QWF and have seen them all.

And as usual, someone commented that his tone was arrogant and patronising. Why is that those who have experience and therefore know what they're talking about are vilified by those who don't? There is a personality type that seems very common amongst what Steve Moran calls tyro writers; those who refuse to listen to those who can teach them something valuable but soak up misinformation from others who know no more than they do themselves. Very odd.

Anonymous said...

I entered that competition.

Should I have mentioned that?


Sally Zigmond said...

I once entered a competition after which the judge wrote that apart from the 10 stories he'd shortlisted, the rest of the entrants were 'dross.' My story wasn't shortlisted.

It's happened to us all. And remember he was looking for highly literary stories and listing the worst common faults. There will have been a wide variation in the standard of entries. Some will have been total rubbish, some will almost have been there and many, like yours no doubt, BFL, will have just failed to reach his idea of a great story. Personal taste can't help but colour a judge's opinion.

The problem is that a judge can't quote extracts from the really bad stories and use them as illustrations of bad writing. If he could then I'm sure you'd see just how bad some stories can be. You can't believe it until you've read some.

There, BFL. Does that make you feel any better?

Anonymous said...

No, not really. Can you try again?


Nicola Slade said...

I'm judging a short story comp in November and I think a tactful precis of those points might come in very handy. Thanks, Jane.