It Was the Best of Times for a Short Story Writer

Article excerpt

It's time again for The Florida Times-Union's Holiday Short

Story Contest.

A few people are already working on their stories, judging by

telephone calls looking for the guidelines. Some have just begun

and some have been thinking it over since last December, coming

up with fresh yarns or re-writing entries that didn't make the

cut in years past.

Many teachers use the competition as a learning tool and will

work up English composition and creative writing lessons aimed

toward helping each student produce a short story to enter in

the competition.

We'll receive, read and judge hundreds of entries before the

winners are selected.

Part of the Thanksgiving ritual at a few of our houses has

become, along with turkey and the University of Florida/Florida

State University football game, the reading of the holiday

stories.

The way it seems to work every year is that, in the first

weeks, we get nervous that nobody is entering the contest this

year.

Then, all of a sudden, we get nervous that everybody is

entering the contest this year.

But, experience teaches the judges to have faith. In 17 years,

writers have not failed to come up with good, entertaining

stories as winners of the Holidays Short Story Contest.

A few hints for writers might be helpful.

Remember, it's a short story contest, not an essay or memoir or

poetry contest.

The mark of a good short story is conflict. The conflict can be

big, or little, dramatic or comic. It can be a person against

nature, friend against friend, or friend against enemies. It can

be a person in conflict with himself -- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

-- as, perhaps, a character decides whether to give his

Christmas money to a good cause or to buy a bike.

Pauline Bloom writes, in Handbook of Short Story Writing

(Writer's Digest Books, $12.99), that "A good short story is

essentially the history of a conflict. It starts with the

realization of it, and, as it proceeds, the conflict grows,

until a climax, the highest point of interest in a story, is

reached. Then the conflict is resolved to end the story."

Remember, don't make things easy for the characters, even if

you did invent them. They need problems to solve, plenty of

obstacles to overcome.

Stories can't wander all over the map like real life.

They need a beginning, a middle and an end.

The beginning should introduce the main characters, tell us a

little of the circumstances of the story, set up the conflict,

set the tone -- Comic? …