Tag Archives: character description

Launch those end-of-year ships!

Waiting for my ship to come in...

Veterans of this blog will know that I liken sending out my short stories(to magazines, publishers, employers, residencies, grants, competitions and contests) to launching ships.

Some will sink without trace, others will come back home with just token cargo (such as a shortlisting) and occasionally they flow into port laden with gold (a win). I have two such golden returns this year (the HISSAC and the Molly Keane Awards) and two further publications and a host of minor treasure besides.

But over half my fleet sunk. I tell you that not to dishearten you, on the contrary. When a ship disappears, you’ve got to brush yourself off and get on with it. Send more out and the more you send, the less you’ll bother about those you’ve lost. If you keep at it, you”ll get there.

Here’s a list of end-of-year comps – go on, launch a ship!

 

Roanoke Review

Deadline: November 8, 2011

Entry Fee: $15

Prize: A prize of $1,000 and publication in Roanoke Review

Website: http://www.roanokereview.wordpress.com

**

Winter Anthology

Deadline: November 15, 2011

Entry Fee: $11

Website: http://www.winteranthology.com

Prize: $1,000 and publication in the Winter Anthology

**

Writer’s Digest

Deadline: November 15, 2011

Entry Fee: $20

Website: http://www.writersdigest.com/competitions

Prize: $3,000

***

Tennessee Williams Contest

Closing Date: November 15

Prizes: $1,500

Entry fee:

Website: http://www.tennesseewilliams.net/contests

**

New Millennium Writings

Deadline: November 17, 2011

Entry Fee: $17

Website: http://www.newmillenniumwritings.com

Prize: $1,000

**

Cheer Reader

Closing Date: 30 November 2011

Prizes: €100

Entry fee: €5

Website: http://cheerreader.co.uk

**

Mary Gornall Memorial

Website: http://www.ashbywritersclub.com/

Prize: £100

Deadline: 30 November 2011

**

Ink Tears

Closing Date: 30 November 2011

Prizes: £1000

Entry fee: £4.50

Website: http://www.inktears.com

**

The New Writer

Closing Date: 30th November

Prizes: £150

Entry fee: £5

Website: http://www.thenewwriter.com/prizes.htm

**

Fish Short Story Prize

Deadline: November 30, 2011

Entry Fee: $28

Website: http://www.fishpublishing.com

Prize of 3,000 euros

**

Glimmer Train Press

Deadline: November 30, 2011

Entry Fee: $15

Website: http://www.glimmertrain.org

Prize: $1,200 and publication in Glimmer Train Stories

**

Narrative Fall Story Contest

Deadline: November 30, 2011

Entry Fee: $20

Website: http://www.narrativemagazine.com

Prize: $3,250

**

Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown Writing Fellowships

Deadline: December 1, 2011

Entry Fee: $45

Website: http://www.fawc.org

Fellowships for a seven-month residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown

**

Willesden Herald

Deadline: 16 December 2011

Entry Fee: £3

Website: http://www.willesdenherald.com/competition/rules.php

Prize: £300

**

Ruth Hindman Foundation H. E. Francis Short Story Competition

Deadline: December 31, 2011

Entry Fee: $15

Website: http://www.uah.edu/english/hefranciscontest

Prize of $1,000

**

Boulevard Contest

Deadline: December 31, 2011

Entry Fee: $15

Website: http://www.boulevardmagazine.org

Prize: $1,500

**

Literal Latté K. Margaret Grossman Fiction Award

Deadline: January 15, 2012

Entry Fee: $10

Website: http://www.literal-latte.com

**

Francis McManus

Closing Date: Friday 20 January 2012

Prizes: €3,000

Entry fee: None, but must be Irish or resident in Ireland

Website: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/francismacmanus/Francis-MacManus-Entry-Form.pdf

 

Good luck!


Sheila-na-Gig Delivers

And a ship comes home….

 

A Sheila-na-Gig

Just received a cheque for twenty pounds sterling from ‘New Writer Magazine’ who have published my story ‘Sheila-na-Gig’ in their Autumn edition. Okay, so I’m not jacking in the prison job just yet but twenty quid in writing payment is like two grand in normal people’s money. Now, what to blow it on… All suggestions gratefully received.


Are You a-Mused Yet?

Get Your Muse On

There are writers feel story and character ideas are fed to them from “somewhere else”. That “somewhere else” is a very vague concept and means different things to different scribes. Nonetheless, writers who hold such beliefs say it is very important to allow your mind to be open to receiving these ideas – wherever they come from.

Personally, I’ve had moments when I felt plugged into a conduit, receiving stories, characters and ideas- though I hesitate to say if this was a spiritual event or just the  way the brain works in creative mode.

And it is a rare enough event – I can never conjure ‘the writing rapture’ but if I write often it’ll roll around every now and again. And when it does, it’s a  magical moment when stories and characters come swimming to me, all done-up, pre-packaged and ready to go.

All we can do is sit down to write every day- most days you’ll get coal but if you keep at it, the diamond muse will show up sooner or later.


It’s Show (and Tell) Time!

“Show, don’t tell” is something of a mantra for fiction writers.

Here’s an example of both:

Telling: “Close the door,” she said nervously.

Showing: Her cigarette trembled in her hand: “Close the door.”

Telling: Peter was a fussy, neat sort of man.

Showing: Every Monday, Peter ironed and folded his towels into perfect squares and stacked them in the airing press, according to size and colour.

“Showing” your reader what your protagonist is thinking/doing, encourages your reader to engage more with your book/story/play, to interpret and  picture what is going on. Showing also allows for more atmosphere and lends insight into character. Conversely, “telling” tends to deliver all the information neatly wrapped and can deny the reader all the fun of involvement and imagining.

Therefore, rather than telling the reader, ‘Bob was depressed,’ you might describe what Bob was doing and saying and the reader will also get a greater sense of ‘Bob’ if you do so.

Having said that, if the writer “shows” every inch of their novel it may bore the reader and slow the pace. There are times, for the sake of speed and economy, the writer needs to “tell”, so they can quickly move on to the next stage of the story.

If I could suggest a rule of thumb, it would be “show” the most important parts/events of the story and “tell” the minor linking passages. It’s your judgement call as to when and where to show or tell, but do give it thought.

Finally, please bear in mind the general consensus is that you always avoid telling via adverbs in speech attribution: “he said arrogantly”, “she shouted defiantly”, “we mumbled apologetically”. Instead, try to think of ways you could show this arrogance, defiance or apology.


Mona was a waitress and she was in trouble. Big trouble…

Telling stories in the third person…

Shift over, she was beat. Checking her phone, Mona saw Detective Daxter had called again...

The third person (he/she/it) is the most common narrative point-of-view. The third person observes the main character(s) from a distance, describing how others might see/consider your protagonist. In other words, it gives the narrator greater scope and view privileges than the first person narrator.

If you are writing an extended piece of fiction, you might find it easier and more accommodating to work with a third person narrator. The following are some varieties of this narrative point-of-view

* Nowadays, it is common to have a third person narrator that observes your main character whilst simultaneously looking over his/her shoulder and seeing the story almost from his/her point of view. This ‘over-the-shoulder’ third person narrator can provide some of the advantages of the first person without the drawbacks – however, it is somewhat limited as you are largely viewing events from your character’s POV. For emerging writers, this third person narrative may be a safer bet if wanting to attract an agent.

* You may want your narrator to be quite separate from your character, however. In which case, you could have your narrator follow him/her from a distance, observing actions as if a camera and not directly informing the reader of the character’s inner thoughts.

* Or you could have an omniscient third person narrator – a ‘God-like’ storyteller who sees all and knows all.

The “It” narrative

This is an unusual form of third person narration that tells a tale from the point of view of an object or an animal. An “it” narrative might conceivably be the story of a ring, told by the ring, as it recounts its many owners etc…

Multi narrators

Some books/plays/films are narratives told from various POVs. More common in Victorian prose than in contemporary writing, multi narrators allow for a vigorous description of a community and is useful if the author wants to concentrate on the interconnectivity of a place.

Whichever variety you choose, it is important to be style consistent throughout your work (or if you aren’t, have a reason for that).


A Question of Character

What is his favourite joke?

If you want to hook your readers, you’ll need a character that leaps off the page. A good character is believable and interesting. Firstly, be careful your character is not of music-hall-cliche stock (dumb blonde, greedy banker, uber-organized German, upper class twit etc…) – the problem here is that the reader will have met your character far too many times before to find them interesting now. As usual, turning the cliche on its head can be a good place to start getting ideas (chess-master page three girl, a banker who secretly gives away money etc…)

Also, don’t focus on describing what they look like from head to toe. In fact, their general physical appearance is not so revealing – the key is often in the interesting quirks and blemishes. Moreover, you ought to climb inside your character’s skin, get to know them intimately and let the reader see how they tick. It  is  good if there is something unusual about them. Here’s a sample list of questions you could mull in order to give your character depth:

Rather than describe the colour of their hair and eyes, write instead about their height, posture and walk.

If you first met this character, what would strike you most?

What is their natural scent or preferred perfume or aftershave.

What sort of diet do they have and what has been the physical impact of this regime?

What does their best friend think of them?

What happens when your character gets drunk?

What does your character have in his/her pockets/handbag?

What is your character’s favourite joke?

Also, to make your character particularly memorable, give him/her/it a singular physical attribute your reader will long associate with them. Think of it this way, if you were going to a costume party dressed as Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Havisham or Liesbeth Salander – what would you need? My guesses are, respectively: a lightening bolt scar, a deerhunter hat and pipe, an old wedding dress, and a dragon tattoo. Try to imagine what you’d need to be recognizable as your character.