10 Tips From a Flash Fiction Judge

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I’m a judge for the wonderful Mash Stories, a keyword-based flash fiction competition that focuses on showcasing new talent, and I love it. The ideas, the language, the brilliant pieces — I’m honoured to read our submissions, let alone help decide the winner.

But it’s not all good news and happy faces. I’m a judge, and that title comes with a horrible responsibility: rejecting stories. As I said in my last post, I hate rejecting stories — I’ve been there before myself — but I have to say ‘no’ sometimes. And after six months of dishing out my ‘no’s and ‘yes’es, I’ve got a pretty firm idea of what makes — in my opinion — a good piece of flash fiction. I know what I want to see in a winning story.

And what’s the point of keeping that information to myself?

From titles and last lines to when to submit, I’ve got an insider’s opinion on what makes a short story great. So whether you’re thinking of submitting to Mash or another competition, you were rejected and don’t know why, or you’re just looking for some general writing advice, here are my top tips for snagging a spot on that coveted shortlist — and possibly winning the grand prize, too.

Let’s do this!

(TL;DR? Check the bullet point summary at the end.)

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The Other Side of Rejection

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Being on the receiving end of rejection sucks. It really, really sucks. I’m a wannabe novelist and I’ve had my mystery MS — my baby, my pride and joy, my masterpiece — rejected by over sixty agencies and countless more competition judges. I’ve been overlooked in Twitter contests. I barely scraped through the Pitch Wars agent round. I’ve received ‘NO!’s from agents whose wishlists asked for my book. So trust me, I know rejection.

But I also know what it feels like to do the rejecting. Continue reading

2015 — The Year I Failed

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2015 will for ever be the year I tried — and failed — to get a literary agent. 2015 was a year of failure.

It’s hard to write that. Not because I’m sad and it hurts, but because I generally like to be optimistic. Upbeat. I went into 2015 with a polished manuscript and a shiny query letter, hopeful — no, certain — that I’d be leaving it with a top literary agent and a publishing deal.

What an idiot, right?

Well, yes and no. I was definitely foolish to think a funny mystery about a beautician-turned-sleuth would take the publishing world by storm, but my heart was certainly in the right place. And that’s important. Continue reading

The First Rejection

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What was your first ever rejection?

I can remember mine perfectly. I won’t say it’s etched into my memory, because that would be a lie. It doesn’t dwell in my mind or my brain. It was cut into the soft, unsuspecting flesh of my heart. When I reach inside for the moment, I feel the jagged ridges of scar tissue beneath my fingers.

“But, I don’t understand… Why would anyone want to read this?” Continue reading

Homecoming Queen – My First Shortlisted Story

HOMECOMING QUEEN

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After six posts dedicated exclusively to writing advice, I was starting to feel like ‘Lucy Goacher’ had no place in ‘Lucy Goacher’s Blog’ – so I’m reclaiming it. I’ll still be posting my usual weekly/monthly advice guides with Scrabble piece headers, but with extra posts a couple of times a week to document my experiences, accomplishments, and setbacks as an aspiring novelist.

And the first of these, my friends, is an accomplishment!

Amid querying and subbing my mystery novel BEYOND THE CALL OF BEAUTY to agents both in the UK and the US, I had a go at the Mash Stories flash fiction competition. And I got shortlisted! Not bad for someone who sucks at short fiction, eh? Continue reading

Said, Said Quietly, Whispered – Know Your Dialogue Tags

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Pick up any novel from your bookshelf and flick through it. What do you see on the pages? Indentations; gaps; short, sharp sentences; one-word responses; speech marks.

Dialogue.

Books aren’t just 300 pages of description and storytelling – they’re built on conversation.

A single scene of dialogue between characters can achieve almost anything. It can show us a relationship, reveal some backstory, reinforce the plot, tug at the heartstrings, and even save the day. I said in my previous post on character description that plot is shown through the action taken by the characters – well, that all-important action often comes in the form of dialogue. So don’t mess it up.

There’s plenty to discuss in terms of improving your characters’ dialogue – realism, slang, accent, syntax – but, for a lot of writers and critics, there’s one key issue that can make or break your story: dialogue tags.

So grab your quotation marks, pull up a speech bubble, and let’s do this.

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Character Description: Beyond Stick Figures

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Novels are made up of three main elements: plot, character, and action. The plot or storyline of a work is shown through the action taken by the characters. Try to imagine Harry Potter without the wizards, or Lord of the Flies without the school kids. Nothing would happen. Characters are important – and unless you’re working on some kind of abstract, post-modernist masterpiece, your novel is going to have lots of ’em.

So write them right.

In this guide to visual character description I’ll be covering everything from shopping lists to stereotypes to help you create characters who are striking and memorable. The days of 2D stick figures are long gone. Don’t flood your story with chunks of heavy description and endless empty details – instead, fuse looks with personality to make one sentence do the job of ten. Use fewer words, but make every word count.

Your characters and readers will thank you for it.

[NB. If you’re prone to feelings of ‘TL;DR’, skip to the end for a bullet point summary. You lazy lot…]

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