Competitions And Critiques

The February 2011 (yes, really!) issue of ‘Writers’ Forum’ magazine is just out and I have a story on page 40. I entered the magazine’s monthly competition back in October and I was really pleased to come third (that’s two ‘thirds’ I achieved in competitions this year. I’m going to try to move up the rankings in 2011!).

One of the nicest things about being placed in a ‘Writers’ Forum’ competition – apart from the cheque and seeing your story in print – is reading the analysis of the story in the judge’s report. Sue Moorcroft spotted some themes in ‘My Very Educated Mother…’ that I hadn’t even realised I’d included! I also got a little ‘by-line’ and a chance to plug my blog, so all-in-all, it was well worth the £3 entry fee (£6 if you’re a non-subscriber) – oh yes, and the £5 for a story critique.

When you enter the short story competition in ‘Writers’ Forum’, you have the option to request a critique of the story, for an additional £5. Mine came back very quickly (by email) and although it was only 200 words long, it was very useful and I agreed with the critical bits completely.

It won’t mean a lot to you if you haven’t read the story, but if you’d like to see what you get for your £5, here’s the critique I received from Lorraine Mace, at the magazine (and just so it’s not completely mystifying, the story’s rather weird title ‘My Very Educated Mother…’ comes from the mnemonic for remembering the planets in the solar system: ‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles’ – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars – you get it, I’m sure!)

‘My Very Educated Mother…’Thanks for entering the Writers’ Forum competition.
Presentation: Opening paragraphs (including those signalling a change of scene) shouldn’t be indented. The punctuation in the following sentence is a bit awry – it contains a double comma and a double full stop. My Very Educated Mother.. Mercury, Venus, Earth.. Mars. When a family title is preceded by my/your/our/his/her it doesn’t take a capital, so it should be my mum and not my Mum.
Title: Good title – it’s apt for the story and also intriguing enough to draw the reader in.
Opening: Although the point about the little things getting us is brought in again later, the elephant/mosquito line didn’t quite work for me in the intro. I would suggest introducing it a little later in the story when the narrator is better established and it fits the voice better.
Dialogue: Very good – it drives the story onwards and aids characterisation.
Characterisation: This is, in my opinion, the strongest aspect of your writing. All your characters came to life on the page – even the mad (but now lesbian) ex-wife.
Overall: You have a lovely style and I enjoyed reading your work very much indeed. I’m short-listing this story – congratulations! Should the story move forward to the top three, someone will be in touch to let you know.

Many competition organisers will, for a small fee, offer you feedback/a critique on your entry and if you can afford it, I think it’s well worth considering that option. At least then, even if you don’t win, you’re learning something from the process and not just sending a story off into a big black hole. And it might just bring you nearer to winning next time!

Mslexia are charging £45 for what they call ‘a professional critiquing service’ which I think, on top of the £10 entry fee for their 2011 short story competition, is expensive, but of course, it depends what you’re getting for your money. I’m afraid I don’t have any further details but I’ll see if I can find out more.

It’s all about ‘investing in your writing’. Alex Gazzola has a great post about this on his blog, which you can read here.

As it’s ‘New Year’s Eve Eve’ and you might be starting to think about some New Year’s writing resolutions, how about putting this one into the mix: how are you going to invest in your writing in 2011…. ?! Let me know!

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