Review: Winning Short Story Competitions

‘Supercharged Writing Advice.’

Front Cover Winning Short Story Competitions by L. E. Daniels and C. Sawyer.

As an aspiring author, I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing. Over the years I’ve purchased numerous writing self-help books. Winning Short Story Competitions is my favourite.

While this is a book on short story writing, all techniques and advice given can be applied to any form of writing and any genre.

Winning Short Story Competitions is an exceptional book because it is brimming with decades of experience and knowledge penned by two exceptional writers and teachers. This joint effort is the work of Lauren E. Daniels, an author, qualified editor of 90+ commercially published books with a Master of Fine arts in Creative Writing, and Cate Sawyer, author and director of Hawkeye Publishing and Hawkeye Books with a Master of Arts in Writing. She’s also a former Newspaper Editor with over 30 years experience. There’s oodles of easy-to-read advice, always coupled with examples that demonstrate the magic of the techniques under discussion.

Along with the great advice comes the opportunity to practise what you learn.  The reader can methodically work their way through the book, performing the exercises as they go, or they can jump to chapters that appeal. The writing style is relatable and engaging. At times the authors are even quite witty. But most compelling of all – they know their stuff. The book is jam packed with gems.

“Good writing is about techniques, not just ideas”

Both Lauren and Cate have judged hundreds of short stories, so they know a thing or two about exceptional story telling. You won’t find two more qualified people to set you on the right course to winning a short story competition.

The book is full of support and inspiration. They feel more like mentors than just teachers.

Both Lauren and Cate remind their readers that the best way to stand out from a “legion of other writers” is to “dedicate time to learning the comprehensive craft of writing” and to let your love of words leap from the page. Then they show you, step-by-step, how to do it.

“Easy to follow advice”

Show not tell

If you’ve hung around other writers or attended writing workshops, chances are you’ll have heard about how to show and not tell your story. Many workshop teachers wax lyrical about the importance of this technique but will often give complex examples and explanations. In Winning Short Story Competitions explanations are succinct, with just the right amount of explanation. They are simply but effectively explained. Here’s an example.

“If anything important happens in your story, it has to be related dramatically; via a scene told in real time with your characters moving about—talking, acting, reacting and feeling—experiencing events moment by moment. Those scenes are always shown not told.

TELL: The motorbike sped through the pelting rain.

SHOW: Burrowed under full leathers, crystals of ice on her gloves stiffened her fingers as the wind slapped rain into her body. She gunned the bike, trying to outrun the cold.

“Learn about lesser known techniques”

While Show Not Tell is held up as a poster child technique in good writing, there are myriad of lesser known but equally important techniques, taking your writing to the winning level. Gems like, ‘Practise entering your story late, and leaving early, to avoid the foible of loaded exposition that bogs down the start or kills the ending with too much explanation.’

Each chapter touches on must-know information, such as your story title. It might seem less important, but according to the authors, “Your title creates anticipation and expectation, or conversely, disinterest. That’s a mountain of pressure to place on a few words.” It’s why you need to get it right. Then they give solid methods for tuning into great titles that resonate with readers.

Editing often elicits endless groans from writers, however, the step by step advice in the editing chapter will help ensure the story and messages conveyed are the ones readers will receive. The editing chapter comprehensively covers story structure, adverb/verb combinations, tautologies & filters, information dumps, cliché, point of view, amongst others.

“Putting theory into practice”

I love the Ten Weeks of Creative Writing Exercises to Hone Your Skills section at the end of the book. It’s one thing to read about techniques and processes but another to actually do the work and put what you’ve learnt into practise.

Reading great writing is important, but the most important thing a writer can do is write.

Along with the weekly writing exercises, you’ll get a chance to practise your writing skills throughout the book, as examples about the pitfalls of poor writing and solutions abound.

“Must add to your skills writing library”

Winning Short Story Competitions is an essential addition to your writing tool kit. I strongly recommend it to anyone from high school students, university English majors, and anyone who loves writing and wants to improve their skills. 

It’s a book you’ll love reading and working with over and over again.

Winning Short Story Competitions is available to buy here.

Read more about L. E. Daniels.

Read more about C. Sawyer.

Learn more about the Sydney Hammond Memorial Short Story Competition.

View on-site and online writing courses available at Brisbane Writers Workshop.

Reviewer’s Bio: Silvana Nagl is a communications junkie who loves hearing and writing about real-life stories. Her first short story, ‘Who are you calling Wog’ was published in the ‘Allsorts: Stories From Under the Southern Cross’ anthology.

Silvana Nagl

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