Writing competitions. If you write and want to get your work published this is one of the first routes into authorship. There are some writers who excel at applying their material to the various competition topics out there, others still who tend to focus on particular genres or types, and then there’s me. I’m great at identifying opportunities that different competitions offer, in fact, I have a list of the ones I’d like to enter for the next six months sat above my desk as I type this. Yet, despite my superb organisation skill I still struggle to ever write something that I can submit.
But, not anymore. I’m determined to write at least something for as many of them as I can. My target is 50%, and considering there are an impressive twenty-eight competitions listed and I haven’t yet got a solid entry for any, I’d better get started! Here are a few of the techniques I’m going to use to help prompt my efforts:
Take it from the top
If ever I’m struggling with a competition theme I know all I really need is a first line to help start me off. Problem is, I usually don’t have one. So I’ve got a nifty way to negotiate a way around this issue: I borrow someone else’s line.
It’s simple enough – just go to a book on a shelf and pick any line from any page. Usually I’ve determined a page number and line number already, so I don’t end up in the land of procrastination by searching for the perfect line for a story I have no idea for. But, if you’re so indecisive and can’t even decide on a page or line number, choose the date – page 11, line 6 for example; or the year – page 20, line 18. So long as you pick a different book every time, you’ll have a unique first line.
After that it’s just a case of matching it to the competition theme. With a first line and a genre, I usually find the story is already there waiting and it’s just a case of teasing it out. Often my mind automatically link these things together and, suddenly, a narrative appears.
Tip: Don’t keep it as the first line, it’s just a prompt. Make sure to edit it out if you submit; you’ll likely find the resulting story needs a new opener anyway.
Read all about it
One thing I like to do is to find a news story that fascinates me and think of a character who might have been influenced by it. What was their part in it? How did it impact their lives? What if they’d reacted differently – would it result in a different news story?
The great thing about this is being able to delve into a character that already has a story written. I know what happened, now I just have to figure out what this character’s part was in it and how they felt about it. This leads to a really strong character piece that often has a believable quality in the story because it’s taken directly from life.
Sometimes I try to limit myself to stories that link with the competition theme: so if it’s travel story I look in the travel section of the newspaper, or a story about weather I search for storm related news. But, you don’t have to do it this way: sometimes the most interesting stories comes from the unexpected places.
Start with a secret
I love a story with a secret. Even better if it’s one I never saw coming. So if I have a particular competition theme that’s troubling me I brainstorm what secrets I can associate with it. Summer Garden? What if it’s a hidden garden, only certain people can access or see? Or is it a location for some illicit liaisons? Even more worrying, what if someone is planting poisonous plants in this garden to commit a murder?
All of a sudden there are lots of stories to tell, and plenty of ways to tell them – do you tell it from the point of view of the gardener, or the lover, the murderer or the victim? What if you could tell it from the perspective of one of plants?
Just jump in
Finally, if I think that I’ve got enough time I just put my butt in the chair and write. Usually it’s only loosely related to the competition theme, and typically if it is related it’s probably something that a hundred other writers have already tackled. But, if I keep writing and follow the thread that each word and sentence produce I’ll eventually come up with something that makes me raise an eyebrow and think, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.‘
Once I’ve got that tiny germ of an idea I run with it and see how far I can get. It takes up the most time, but it’s produced some of my favourite pieces of writing and ones that I’ve been praised on by some of the readers. Sometimes, though, I can forget how fruitful this method is. I just need to trust my own imagination and let myself explore the possibilities before I settle on a story idea I can be really proud of.
Do you have some techniques or methods for tackling competition themes? Share below in the comments, or tweet me.
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