Monday, February 6, 2012

Writing 101 – Is Your Fiction Writing Any Good?

What experience have you had with fiction? Have you taken fiction writing classes? Do you have a critique group that tells you your writing is wonderful? Well, test it before writing that novel, or, test it while writing that novel.

In my experience, I have found short story writing an excellent way to sharpen writing skills. And what better way to evaluate what you have learned than by writing for a short story contest. Contests give you a word limit which helps you tighten up your verbosity—chop out non-essential words—and then chop out even more. You quickly learn to axe those beloved adverbs and adjectives when you have to count every word.

Some say they can’t write short stories. Why? Because they're long winded? Because they don’t want to let go of the adjectives? Because they can’t think small? It is an excellent way to challenge yourself as a writer.

If you decide to give it a try, where do you find those contests? And more important, how do you choose the right ones for you. Some of my fellow writers don’t agree with me on this, but I won’t submit to a contest where I don’t get something in return. I strongly believe an author deserves to get paid for his/her work—especially if someone else is going to gain from it. Some contests are seeking stories to be included in an anthology, some are for monetary gain (usually small amounts, but not always), some are for a trophy or certificate.

I think if there is a local writing club or organization that is having a contest for a certificate, it is fine to begin there (you can always use that story again later).

When our small group of writers decided to find contests and submit, we used the term guerilla marketing coined by Sunny Frazier (see a few articles back for Sunny’s guest post: Now the term has morphed into other meanings. After we had been to several conferences/conventions and talked on panels, another author wrote a book with that title. I don't think that book was about short stories, but it certainly expresses the way to individually approach short story contest writing and submitting (commitment, consistency, aggressively apply to contests, continue to improve, don't give up, etc.)

It was quite effective to think about attacking short story writing contests with a guerilla mentality. We met together and charted our progress and successes like a horse race (we actually used a progress board with our individual horses showing our progress). We shared contest information, listed our contest attempts and celebrated our successes when published.

Mord zwischen Messer und Gabel. 34 Krimis, 99 RezepteOne of my early wins was for inclusion in an anthology of short stories of culinary crime created by members of Sisters in Crime in Germany, translated as Murder Between Knife and Fork (Andrea Busch). For years, that anthology was reissued and when I met Andrea at a Bouchercon Convention (, she shared that she read my story at dinner readings in restaurants throughout Germany, always with great reception. 

That one story taught me a great lesson, although it was only about 600 words. Small does not mean menial. It can have great value to your self esteem. I did continue to get residuals on that story for years—not enough to retire on, ha!—but certainly enough to build my self confidence as a writer.

Next time on part 2 of Writing 101 I will talk on how to choose a short story contest right for you and how to avoid pitfalls. Meanwhile, here are some sites on writing short fiction and some contests to check out:

Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Contest—deadline May 1st

Elaine Pillay host to Anthony Ehlersshort story writer from South Africa.

Kate Thornton-Writing the Mystery Short Story

Short Mystery Fiction Society

Coppola’s Zoetrope--All story short story contests:

10 best short stories of all time

Anybody out there knows about the law? Here’s a good legal fiction contest coming up in March—judged by major authors:

For those who aren't writing short stories, visit Kristen Lamb's blog for really great advice on completing your novel and avoiding the pitfalls of a critique group:

Have you written/submitted to short story contests? Share what you gained from the experience? 


April Plummer said...

Thanks for this post. I have a hard time with short fiction, though I love prompts. I just have a hard time wrapping up a story...shortly. LOL. I'll have to check out those other links you posted.

Cora said...

I just added Kristen's post today. That might help with focus, though short fiction is unique and not like a novel. You have to have a simple idea and tie it up quickly. I'll keep your comments in mind when I write part 2. Thanks for commenting.

Barbara Forte Abate said...

Every once in awhile I think about trying to write short fiction, but because I always seem to be working on some 400 page tome, (and since WANA -- a lot of blog posts!), short stories always go onto the back burner. Your post is very motivating, and I think maybe ... after I get through my WIP ... I just might give it a serious try.

August McLaughlin said...

Hi Cora, I had to type your name—it's my sister's, too! :) I've written a number of short stories, but haven't submitted many. My first novel began as one. I suppose that tells you where my strength and tendencies lie. Glad I came upon your blog!

Liv Rancourt said...

I love writing short. Haven't done too many contests, but I've been working with Still Moments Publishing. They're a new-ish publisher of romances - they used to do a print periodical but recently got into ebooks. Every month they have a different topic, and they pick 4 short stories to go out in an anthology. I've been in one and will have another come out in March. It's been a great way to learn about writing and about the process of publication.

Cora said...

What type fiction do you write? There are so many contests and places to submit.

Cora said...

I hope to include some places to submit next post. Maybe one will be right for you. What type of stories do you write?

Cora said...

You are so right about short fiction being a great way to learn about writing and publication. Congratulations on getting into an anthology. What is the name of it?

Traci Douglass said...

I passed the Liebster Blog Award on to you Cora! :D (Details at my site:

Thanks for your great, insightful posts and for the support you've given a newbie like me. I really appreciate it.

Enjoy your award! :)

Unknown said...

A few years ago I won't have touch short stories with the proverbial barge pole. But now, with ebooks I find I'm attracted to reading them often over full length novels. I'm hoping that contests and anthologies won't be the only forum for these, that readers will begin to choose them on their e-readers because they suit that format very well. (Along side novels of course!)