Online Learning Blog

Writing for Competitons - Our Top Tips!

Published on 27th June 2014 by Emily Ashton in Creative Writing

With only a few days to go until the closing date for The Writers Bureau Short Story Competition 2014, it seems like the perfect time to dish out some advice on what the judges might be looking for. If you’re still working away at your entry – take note! We’re giving you some of our top tips for writing a winning story.

It might seem like an obvious thing to say, but there’s no harm in starting with the basics. If you’re going to be a winner then you need to make sure your story is original, and that means avoiding common clichés. Every year we get hundreds of stories on the same old themes - abusive relationships, terminal illnesses, murder and bereavement are always popular starting points for writers of short stories - and for a good reason.

These are sensitive and serious topics, and it’s easy to see why people relate to them, but when we’re talking about a winning story, you need to make yours stand out. If you’re going to impress the judges, go beyond just the subject matter. Try a new angle and give the judges something they haven’t read before.

You also need to think carefully about the genre you pick before you start writing. As a general rule, Fantasy and Sci-Fi stories don’t do well in competitions unless this is the set theme. Fantasy and Sci-Fi rely so much on world-building, and building a whole world in less than 5000 words is not an easy task. There’s a reason there are so many trilogies and series within the genre – it takes a lot of words to build a world! This isn’t to say that stories in these genres never win, but they do need to be particularly impressive to stand a chance.

In the same way, think about where the winning story is going to be published and who is likely to be reading it. There might not be a rule against entering a story for children in a competition aimed at adults, but it would be unlikely to win. If you have a particular interest in writing stories for a particular genre or age range, try to look for a competition in that area so that you know your entry will be appropriate.

The winning formula for a Short Story is almost always a simple plot with complex characters. By nature, short stories are character driven pieces, so you need to make sure you have an interesting narrator or main character that your readers can connect with. It’s not a series of exciting events that you need to worry about, it’s how those events affect your character. Focus on their thoughts and feelings, their history and their actions, and even the simplest plot could be a winner.

The Writers Bureau Short Story Competition is open until the 30th of June 2014, so this is your last week to get your story in to us. For full details, please visit