It’s a bit nerve wracking. You make a cup of tea and sit down (with a biscuit!) to read through the rules and regulations on the competition website.
It’s a bit overwhelming! So many rules! Why can’t I just write a story?
You can, absolutely you can.
There are dozens of writing competitions going on at any one time across Australia and around the world, so if the competition you’re looking at doesn’t suit your style, find one that does. Some have themes or prompts and some don’t, leaving it completely open to your style and genre.
Then there’s the other extreme! The Australian Writers Centre runs a quarterly Flash Fiction Competition called Furious Fiction. This hotly contested competition has strict prompts. For example, here is the prompt for the June 2022 competition:
The first line must have six words;
Someone should be ‘served’ something; and
You need to use the words Log, Wire and Bake.
Others have a general vibe they’re going for. For example,
The Northern Territory Writers Festival competition with its theme of Into the Light.
The Forty South competition with its theme of Island.
The Tamar Valley Writers Festival competition with its challenging theme of The Good Life with a Tassie Vibe
Why should you enter writing competitions?
Pushing yourself outside your genre and your writing comfort zone can bring far more benefits than just a first prize or a shortlisting. When entering a themed short story competition or submitting to a themed anthology, some benefits include:
Writing prompted short stories helps build new writing muscle. If you’re used to writing long-form fiction (novels and novellas) in your favourite genre or not accustomed to writing to a word-limit, the idea of writing a fully formed 500-word story on an unfamiliar subject can be daunting. But this is a very learnable skill; telling an entertaining tale concisely is not witchcraft! It comes down to ensuring each word is pulling its weight and this is a skill worth honing – even 80,000-word novels need to tell their story without waffle and fillers. To get to the guts of the action without all those words in the way; to reveal a character’s inner conflicts in just a sentence or two; to move the narrative forward without losing reader engagement – this is what every good story, not just short, should do. ~ Maggie Doonan on Writers Edit
You might find a new passion! Writing in a different genre or working with a theme you would normally avoid can help you find a new favourite genre. If you’re a Romance writer, you can push yourself by entering a Thriller contest, but most themes can be interpreted to fit your favourite genre. For example, fellow GCWA member Kate Kelsen and I often enter the same competitions. She typically writes Horror and Crime, while I usually write Contemporary Women’s Fiction. In a recent competition with an “Island” theme, I wrote a story about two sisters going to Bali, and Kate wrote about two men who crash landed on an icy island and cannibalism ensued. Two very different stories from one prompt! We took the same word – Island – and wrote a story in our chosen genre.
Some new characters may waltz in and take up residence! In 2021, I wrote a short story for the Scarlet Stiletto Awards. I had never written Crime before. In the process, I ‘met’ some new characters who now live in a novel that is currently at 80k words and managed to get the editor at Allen & Unwin excited, if only temporarily!
Writing short stories is a wonderful way to develop new characters and stories without having to write a novel. As Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper says in her article, “Short Stories: 6 reasons you should write them,” short stories can work as a tester, giving you an audition with readers.
Short stories based on your current longer-form works can be beneficial in many ways. It can help clarify the direction of the larger story. Entering the story in a competition or sharing it in other ways (on your blog; on a platform like Medium, Reedsy or even Facebook) and asking readers for their feedback, can help you gauge reader interest in the story. If the story garners interest from the judges or readers, you’ll know that a longer form story has a chance of finding an audience.
Build your author biography. Getting your work out there can also get your name out there, or even up in lights! You can list the competitions you have entered or placed in on your bio. Even if you don’t win a prize, attending the awards ceremony or festival where the prize is announced or launched can be a great networking opportunity, but then I am an inveterate extrovert so maybe that’s just me…
Mostly, writing should be enjoyable, so make sure you are doing it in a way that brings you joy.
You can find more information on the GCWA short story competition here
Planning to enter the GCWA Short Story Competition?
I hope you are!
We want you to write up to 1000 words on the theme of “Writing in the Sand.” How do I do that? If you are writing Romance, you might write about a marriage proposal literally written in sand. If you are writing Horror, you might write about a monster that devours those who stumble on a deserted island. If you are writing a Thriller you might write about someone who goes missing in the desert or a writer who moves to a beach shack to write their book and see something they shouldn’t have seen…
One last thing… One of the rules for this competition is *Please don’t use the Theme (Writing in the Sand) as a title. Why? Well, we want you to exercise your creativity to its full extent and as the three top stories will be published on our website we just don’t want them all having the same title!
For some inspiration, visit the winners page of the Queensland Writers Centre monthly flash fiction competition Right Left Write. Read Christine Betts’ winning entry for the November 2021 Knock, Knock theme here. Read Kate Kelsen’s winning entry for the January 2022 GenreCon “Tarot” theme here. Visit the Queensland Writers Centre monthly prompted short-story competition, Right Left Write and have a go!
Christine Betts is an Australian writer. Christine trained in education and the visual arts.
She spent many years creating Australian-made gift ware and art for interior design projects.
Writing took centre-stage in 2017 when she left her management position with a market-leading art-seller and packed up her brushes.