Give your writing its best chance of success in competitions
My short story publishing career kicked off with a competition win. So did my novel publishing career. If you’re a subscriber to my newsletter, you’ll already know that I put great store in writing competitions as a springboard for emerging writers* – I publish a monthly run-down of the best competitions I can find – and if you’ve ever been in one of my classes, I’ve probably tried to persuade you to enter the Bridport, the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair, or the Mairtín Crawford Award, and possibly all three. And more besides. The thing is, writing competitions are much more of a level playing field than subbing to magazines. For one thing, your publication history has zero influence on where you place in a competition, and most are read blind. For another, an overwhelmed editing desk might very well decide that they’ve got enough strong stories in one reading period to carry them over a weaker round of submissions a month later and accept none of the fiction sent to them in July. A competition, on the other hand, will always have a winner, and probably a couple of runners up too. It’s the only submission venue where you can guarantee that someone will be successful in any given round.
How to create characters your readers can't resist
I’ve been teaching creative writing for quite a few years now, and there are three questions that come up most often when I’m talking to a new class. They are, in no particular order of precedence, how to write convincing dialogue, how to know what point of view you should write in, and how to make sure your characters are well-rounded, recognisable, and relatable. They’re all good questions, and each of these elements are important considerations, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and argue that there’s nothing more important than character when it comes to making your writing the best it can be. I’m fond of telling my students that good characters can often paper over cracks in your plot, but a great plot can’t hide half-baked characterisation. Your characters are the access point through which your reader will enter the world that you’re creating. It’s essential that they find that access point compelling, or else you’ve lost them.
But creating compelling characters does not need to be difficult. Different writers will have different processes, and, as ever, it’s important to find the approach that works for you. But the core idea is the same, no matter how you spin it out, and applying the following ideas in some form or another to your writing will help you grow your characters from a half-formed thought into someone whose story your reader has to discover.
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