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Perfecting your story: tips for crafting your prize submission

Use these tips to submit a winning story to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Posted on 04/08/2023
By Commonwealth Foundation

On 1 September 2023, writers from across the Commonwealth will begin to submit their carefully crafted stories to the 2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

The prize attracts thousands of authors from the Commonwealth’s 56 Member States. Each year, experienced writers vie for the prize with some of the world’s best emerging literary talent. So how can you stand out from the crowd and succeed in the prize?

This article contains some timeless guidance for writing and editing your work that will help you impress our expert judging panel.

We’re grateful to poet, short story writer and academic Funso Aiyejina for inspiring this article.

Start strong

Your opening is crucial. Experiment with different beginnings and find one that immediately engages the reader, leaving them eager to discover what lies ahead.

Find your voice

A compelling narrative voice is the heartbeat of any great story. Ensure your storytelling voice remains consistent throughout the piece, reflecting the mood, tone and style you intend to convey. This helps immerse readers in your world and make them feel connected to your characters.

Embrace your protagonist

Whose story are you telling? Identify your central character or protagonist, and keep the focus on their journey, desires and struggles. Avoid introducing too many characters too soon, as a crowded story can confuse your reader.

Find the right sequence

Maintain your reader’s interest by thoughtfully sequencing events in your short story. Connect the beginning, middle and end in a way that keeps the narrative flowing seamlessly. Remember: details in the middle should relate to the beginning and end, ensuring a cohesive and engaging storyline.

Consider conflict and obstacles

What is the central conflict in your story? Clearly define what your character wants or needs and the obstacles they must overcome to achieve their goals.

Use clues and mysteries

If your story involves an element of suspense or mystery, place clues appropriately throughout the narrative. Your aim is to pique the reader’s curiosity and keep them invested in the unfolding plot.

Show, don’t tell

One of the golden rules of writing is to ‘show, don’t tell.’ Rather than plainly stating what happens, use descriptive language and actions to allow readers to experience the story first-hand.

Find a satisfying resolution

As your story nears its end, ensure the resolution is organic and well-integrated within the context of the narrative. Avoid forced or unrealistic conclusions and beware of relying on narrative resolutions that defy the internal logic of the story.

Develop your characters

Consistency in character development is vital. Ensure your characters’ actions and changes align with their experiences in the story, maintaining emotional and intellectual coherence.

Experiment with literary devices

Experiment with literary devices such as similes, metaphors and powerful imagery. Identify which stylistic elements work well with your narrative and employ them carefully to enhance your story’s impact.

.. but use them sparingly

Avoid overusing literary devices. A fine balance ensures your writing remains evocative without becoming overwhelming.

Edit for clarity and brevity

Evaluate the relevance and appropriateness of every word, sentence, and paragraph. Avoid unnecessary words and background information, particularly at the beginning of your story.

We hope these writing tips inspire you to submit a winning story to the 2024 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Remember, submissions open on 1 September and close on 1 November. We can’t wait to read your story.