Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Third Year 500-word comp Round 5 – Jan 2020 winners announced

We are delighted to announce the top three stories from January’s entries are (in alphabetical order):

  • Going Places
  • Made with Love
  • Number 16

The theme for January was ‘sweet and sour’.

The three top stories will now go through to the final judging and the top ten prize-winning authors (not necessarily the same as the top ten stories as no author can win more than one prize) will be announced at the 2020 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 11th July. As with most months, there were more than three stories that could have made the top three but those that did were either closer to the theme or stronger (provoked more of a reaction after reading) so don’t be disheartened if yours hasn’t been mentioned.

If your story for this month isn’t listed in the above three, you are welcome to do whatever you like with your submission hereon in. If your story is listed, it’s possible that it could be placed in the ultimate top ten* which will be published on this website (and on http://www.beaconlit.co.uk) next July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the literary festival.

If you have requested, and paid for, critique, this will be with you in the next few days.

*

Gareth’s feedback on the stories received this month:

Another good range of stories, with people doing clever, creative things with “Sweet and Sour”.

Some people are making political points. Others are simply telling stories; or making observations about relationships and hinting at people’s troubles. One story had a revenge denouement that I don’t think even the Kray brothers would have sanctioned.  I also liked a clever allegory about worms, neat and straighforward, like a parable.

All in all, there are some really inventive and chilling stories here.

People seem to have taken to heart earlier injunctions about over-use of exclamation marks, and punctuation errors.

But I would still ask people to look closely at specific words. Are they quite what you meant? One writer refers to the “evolution” from one season to another when perhaps what was meant was “transition”. I can see where evolution would be right, but that would imply a sudden change, not what was meant here.

Sometimes, with a little bit of thought, you can find a better word.

After all, once you’ve written the 500 words, and the plot, structure and the development are right, you can afford to look at keywords and descriptions and refine them if necessary.

And be brutal with your editing. Somebody’s hand is “trembling slightly”. Do you really need the “slightly” ? After all, you’ve already said the person was nervous. No need to underline it. with only 500 words available. Be as sparing as possible. Maybe change “The nervous contestant placed the dish in front of her, his hands trembling slightly”, to “the nervous contestant, hands trembling, placed the dish in front of her.” Two words saved.

Having judged this competition for five months now, I get impatient when people overdo descriptions. For example one writer spends five sentences describing Chinatown in Vancouver. The description is well done, but it’s a bit of a luxury in a story of 500 words. Chinatown is just the setting for the action. I got the point after two sentences. What is described does not add to the story or explain anything. Use the words freed up here to give me a little more of a hint of what is behind the mystery illness.

There is no need to strain for effect. But if it’s your specialist subject, by all means use it, although still sparingly. A number of writers describe food and drink very well, and it is, presumably, something they know a lot about. The descriptions are convincing.

But sometimes just a few colourful adjectives will do. So one person refers to red shoes for instance (they don’t do anything; they are just red, but a nice touch). Another refers to a person as a butterfly, summing up her qualities in one evocative word.

There are a few places in the stories where I am not absolutely sure what the writer means to say. It’s not serious, because you get the meaning from the context. But It’s worth putting yourself in the place of the reader. Will he or she be confused here? If the answer is yes, or possibly, play safe and try it another way; or maybe split a long sentence into two shorter ones. Things can happen quickly in a short story of 500 words, and it’s important to get those transitions right.

Again, be careful with words. One writer uses the Irish and American spelling of whiskey, when the person referred to is undoubtedly Scottish and would surely be drinking whisky without an “e”.

It seems like a mistake, particularly as it’s repeated, not some subtle message. I’m not being pedantic. The spellings are very specific. They matter.

I came across one use of 60’s. Standard use is 60s. I hold with the general rule that apostrophes for contractions and to indicate possession, not plurals.

There are just a couple of cases of unnecessary punctuation, such as “championing any cause, that needed a”. No need for a comma here.

And a capital G for “gillie”.  It’s just a noun, so lower case.

And be careful about names.  In one story I would have given made “Baby worm” “Baby Worm” – it’s a name, just like John and Jill.

This is just an aside from me, but two writers attributed “sweet and sour” to women.  Isn’t this a rather sexist stereotype – can’t men or boys be sweet and sour as well? However there is one example of sweet and sour being a boy and a girl.

*

Although Gareth judges on the impact of the stories and the quality of the writing, it’s always disappointing when there are simple spelling mistakes or even simpler errors that should have been picked up during the editing process. Please do read your stories carefully before submitting and ideally show them to someone you trust for their opinion.

*Should you get through to the longlist of 27 stories (three per month over nine months), it doesn’t necessarily mean that your story won’t be chosen if it slips out of the top ten. No author will appear in the top ten twice so a story that came eleventh (or twelfth, thirteenth…) could be bumped up where there are author duplications.

And now you can also receive feedback on your story / stories at £5 per story with the optional critique service (given by the judge, Gareth Davies). This option is detailed on the main 500-word Competition page with an option to select critique within the entry form.

N.B. All the profits from this competition go to BeaconLit funds for the local libraries. No one involved in the competition charges for their time (including the judge!). Good luck!

Author:

Writer of 'dark and light' (crime / chick-lit) fiction since 2005, WordPress blogger since March 2011, freelance editor (£2-£7/K) since March 2012, and creative writing tutor since January 2014. Also judge for H.E. Bates, and BeaconFlash / BBC Radio 2 / Althorp Lit Fest 500-word comps.

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