- What are the publishers and competition judges looking for? A well-written structured story with a plot they haven't heard at least a hundred times before. So, first of all, HAVE A STORY TO TELL.
- Begin with an arresting first paragraph or lead, enough to grab the reader: make him or her curious to know what happens next.
- Did you present the story line quickly enough to catch the reader's interest or did you use up a third of the story with a long biographical preamble of the characters or with dialogue between two of them (often left confusingly unnamed)? You may know exactly who is speaking, but the reader may be left bewildered. Never underestimate the power of dialogue in conveying character, but it must contribute to the main focus of the story.
- Don't write a story as if it were a screenplay; for example, avoid writing the whole thing in the present tense.
- The story may be rejected if it is too slight in content or if the plot is too clichéd. No amount of careful padding and elaborate dialogue can substitute for a story line that is wafer-thin.
- The story may be rejected if it is 'top heavy' i.e. too much is spent on the build-up, so that the climax or denouement (as in the twist ending) is relegated to one sentence, leaving the reader bothered and bemused but sadly not bewitched.
- Don't signal the twist ending too soon!
- Your successful story whether crime, romance, science-fiction - whatever its genre, must have one other ingredient. It must satisfy the readers, who must be left with its resonance, the feeling that they long to know what happened to the characters AFTER you wrote that last word.
- If you're telling a fast-moving story, say crime, then keep your paragraphs and sentences short. It's a trick that sets the pace and adds to the atmosphere you are conveying to the reader.
- Present your story well. Readers are easily put off by bad formatting, bad punctuation or spelling mistakes.
- If none of these faults are yours, having put that story away for at least a couple of weeks, you will find you can read it with a certain amount of detachment. You'll spot any shortcomings and hopefully be ready to revise.
- Revise... and revise. Get rid of every unnecessary word, tighten all sentences, until you are absolutely satisfied that you cannot improve it any further.
Reprinted with permission from Foreword Magazine: