Posted in competitions, critique, literary festival, writing

BeaconLit Fourth Year 500-word comp Round 2 – Sept 2020 winners announced

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

  • Coffee Break
  • Ultimatums
  • What if there’s another lockdown

The theme for September was ‘When September Ends’. 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 2021 BeaconLit literary festival on Saturday 10th July (fingers crossed!). The results will also be listed here and on the main website (link below) and the winners contacted.

There are often 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) in July so please do not send it elsewhere until after the final results are announced.

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:

There have been a number of good pandemic stories since April – although can one even use “good” and “pandemic” in the same sentence? – and some writers pursued the theme again this month, either in passing, or addressing the subject full on, featuring people, still scarred and raw, six months after the spring peak. One, full of raw, awkward detail handled it did particularly well.

There are also some nicely-turned relationship stories, which even this reader, who would normally turn away from standard romantic fiction, found interesting. It’s that simple truth: it doesn’t matter what the story is about, provided it is well told and engages the reader.

In some stories I was looking for more inventive scene setting. Not the same old description we have all read hundreds of times. The plots are interesting enough. It’s just those first scene-setting paragraphs lack bite, in some cases.

And why not use the Internet to put names to those delicious cakes on the counter in a cafe, for example?

We know they look delicious – they always do; they are cakes. If we knew they were Pandoro Veronese, or Panettone, or Millefoglie, wouldn’t that add a flourish to the story? (And it tells me, wow, this person has bothered to research everything.)

Do look for something fresh to say about a familiar location or thing, if you can.  The scruffy kitchen has been described millions of times – dirty plates, half full coffee cups etc. One writer here has tried, with some contemporary detail. referring to boxes “unfit for recycling with the stuck on red- tinged cheese and bits of mushroom.” This is a detail of lock down which many of us will recognise.

It’s worth pausing and pondering over a word or a line, and attempting something different. I like things like – “He’s childishly plaintive”, referring to an older man being given instructions by his children.

Repetition of a word is always a problem, particularly when you have 500 words and not enough space to dilute those repeated words, or hide them. So if it’s a word like “waitress”, give her a name when she is introduced – “Hi, I’m Millie, your waitress.” Thereafter she can be Millie, or “the waitress”, or simply “she” when it’s obvious. When there are only two people speaking, you can dispense with “she” or “he said” altogether, when it’s obvious. You save words and you can be less clunky. Some have done this well.

And be careful with the adjectives you use. A waitress described as young and blonde. The fact that she’s blonde contributes absolutely nothing to the story. If she had blue hair, it might have suggested a certain flamboyance, but even then I’m not sure what. Use “blonde” in a longer story, which might help with recognition if the protagonist comes back another day; but when words are so precious, make that one word work harder elsewhere in the story.

Some writers could make their stories flow better by giving some thought to these points.

I wish people wouldn’t be afraid of cutting a long sentence in two, or three, rather than extend it through clause after clause. In the 500 word story confuse the reader with the plot, by all means, but not with a convoluted sentence that he or she has to reread just to get the meaning,

One writer boldly breaks with convention, which is that the story doesn’t have to be 500 words, but will probably not be a great deal less. So if you can tell it in 152 words, as this person does, by all means do so. He or she is making one main point, and another at the end, and it works well enough.

The problem is that by writing short you don’t include imaginative twists and turns which might make the story better, or the colour and description that might further satisfy the reader. On the other hand, with so few words there’s no padding, and the message is strongly conveyed.

One or two small points but they are important. If Zoom, as in online communication, is used in a story, it has to be with a capital “z”. It’s a tradename along with Hoover, and Apple.

Do study the punctuation, and check if you are not sure. There’s an abundance of help sites online. This month I’ve seen commas used where they shouldn’t be, and not used where they would have been a help. It detracts from some good stories.

There is some good descriptive writing. My advice is quit while you are ahead, and don’t add that extra adjective just because it sounds good to you. And, pedantic as it may sound, one writer puts bluebells on a Scottish island. I doubt it. Harebells, maybe? If in doubt, look it up online. There are lots of “true” facts about flowers and birds in a particular location. People do notice these things and silently approve when you get it right.

*

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 30 stories (three per month over ten 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.

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 (fees minus PayPal charges) 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, editor since March 2012 (more recently just for Bloodhound Books), and creative writing tutor since Jan 2014. Also judge for H.E. Bates, and BeaconFlash / BBC Radio 2 / Althorp Lit Fest 500-word competitions.

2 thoughts on “BeaconLit Fourth Year 500-word comp Round 2 – Sept 2020 winners announced

  1. Lots of tempting themes for aspiring writers, and the competition entry fee (£3) supports a worthwhile cause. Gareth’s feedback for this month’s stories (above) is a tutorial in itself – full of sound advice. Thank you to the selfless BeaconLit team who do it for love, not money!

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