Heads Up

After a couple of years of entering writing competitions and becoming disillusioned with the whole set up, the only writing competition I am now prepared to pay to enter is The Bridport Prize.  It is open to everyone over 16 and is for poems of up to 42 lines and short stories of up to 5000 words. The entry fee is £6 per poem and £7 per short story and the first prize is £5000. The top 26 stories and poems will be published in an anthology. I have the anthologies from 2006 and 2007 and as well as enjoying reading the winning pieces, I have found the judges’ reports illuminating. Here are a few tips on writing for the Bridport, which I have assembled after reading what previous short story and poetry judges have to say:

Short Story Competition

1. Make it funny. “Humour was in short supply and so was beauty, human or divine.” Jane Gardam, 2006

“Sorely missing from the entries was humour.” Tracy Chevalier, 2007

2. Avoid writing about death, bad parents and religious faith if you can help it. Instead choose an uplifting theme for your story. “There was a grim uniformity about the worlds (the writers) described. I felt that if I were a Martian I would not want to continue with any space-probe that might take me anywhere near planet earth; a place of malaise, disillusion, infidelity, malice, cowardice, madness, cruelty, marital discord, damaged children with ghastly parents, drugs, booze, child-abuse, war, massacre, suicide and scant religious faith or hope for the future.” Jane Gardam

“It was fascinating, if not a little dispiriting to find out what subjects people choose to write about these days. Certain themes recurred with almost monotonous regularity: ageing and problems with elderly parents, suicide, road kill (yes, really!), illness, religious faith.” Tracy Chevalier

3. Nail the characters. Make them memorable and real. “It is character that is at the heart of everything…I decided to give my judicial self a rest, live my life and see which of the characters would continue in my mind.” Jane Gardam

“(short story writing) does have a purpose beyond entertainment, and that is to explore what it means to be human. I was very impressed by the many examples of good writing and the confidence and economy with which entrants established character, voice and scene.” Tracy Chevalier

4. Don’t rush the ending, spend time on getting it right. “Too many times I thrilled to a story, only to be bitterly disappointed on reading the last page. The reader demands the impossible (from an ending): to be both surprised and satisfied. Too often entrants didn’t give me either option.” Tracy Chevalier

Poetry Competition

1. Writing beautifully is not enough. ” There’s a lot of dead poetry about. Some of it is beautifully made. I’ve dismissed poetry that is beautifully made and nothing else.” Lavinia Greenlaw, 2006

“Lots of poems here sound like poems, and often very beautifully – but…they have no great imaginative or dramatic proposition that makes me excited about the prospect of reading them again. I want a poem with an interesting argument or point to make, or a compelling story to tell.” Don Paterson, 2007

2. Make it surprising and imaginative. “The things I was looking for as I made my way through the entries were… surprise, precision, imagination and risk.” Lavinia Greenlaw

“Too many (of the poems) afforded me no surprise – which is the reader’s only test that the writer has themselves been surprised or excited or moved in the actual making of the poem. The poems I have in the final pile all have a sense of having built their own little imaginative planet.” Don Paterson

3. Pay attention to technical details.  “I was looking for…a proper attentiveness to and use of cadence, lineation, enjambement, metrics etc.” Lavinia Greenlaw

“There are three things that I really wish poems would not withhold or muddle or fail to signpost, through incompetence or misjudgement: these are literal context…, dramatis personae…, and chronological sequence.” Don Paterson

So now there is no excuse for not writing a bloody good entry for the Bridport. The closing date is 30th June so that gives you a little more than a month to get your piece ready. What are you waiting for? Get cracking!


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