SECOND PLACE: The Merry Frogs of Windsor, by Julia McInnes
THIRD PLACE: Angela’s Secret, by Terry Sandy
The Crystal Glow, by Gary Kuyper
The Whistling Snake, by Nanette Kleinhans
From Jeffrey’s Bay, With Love, by Angelique Pacheco
Confessions of an Elderly Gentleman, by Anthony Bacchus
Alice and Bob, by Erica Penfold
I was delighted to encounter humorous stories in the 2019 entries. Also, some original ideas, which was very encouraging. The quote below is one of my favorites, and is appropriate here:
“Creativity is seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.” (Source: Ideas magazine, author unknown).
Congratulations to those who entered multiple entries, in particular Angelique Pacheco (8 entries!), Nikki Olivier (3), Terry Sandy (3), Gary Kuyper (2) and Terisha Govender (2). When it comes to success in writing, there is no substitute for hard work and persistence in the face of rejection.
However, hardly any stories captured the current South African zeitgeist. What a pity!
There has never been a better time for reading short stories. I suggest you acquaint yourselves with the stories of one of the recently highly acclaimed short story writers (link below) Her work will show you how exciting, challenging and all-round wonderful the contemporary short story can be: Carmen Maria Machado. Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado.
The first entry I read was littered with spelling and grammatical errors! Please use the default Spell Check feature of your MS Word programme.
Please edit your work before submission. You must find someone else to read through your story, prior to submission. They will pick up grammatical errors and plot inconsistencies that you simply do not see. This applies especially to writers whose first language is not English.
The maximum word limit was 3 000 words. There was no minimum limit. However: if your story was below 1500 words it obviously could not compare with the stories in the 2 500—3 000-word category. You should pay close attention to the competition requirements. As Judge, I most certainly do!
Fantasy/Speculative Fiction writers should avoid Info Dumps of chunks of scientific or philosophical info into their stories. Short stories are intended to entertain, not serve as lectures on quantum physics.
Fact Checking, or the lack of it. If you use a specific reference, e.g. name/place/object/colours (and you should include specific details in your writing) please check the accuracy of your example in terms of your story context. Especially if you are writing Historical fiction.
Avoid hauling out your Soapbox and haranguing your readers about your passionately held views on contentious topics, e.g. ecology.
SECOND PLACE:Save the Trees, Kill the Children, by Angelique Pacheco
THIRD PLACE:Wagner Mansion, by Brigid McCleary
RUNNERS UP – HIGHLY COMMENDED
A Driving Energy, by Patrick Coyne
A Sprig of Sweet Thorn, by Wendy Greeff
Gang Related, by Rodney Jackson
Gone, by Angelique Pacheco
Ring of Fire, by Angelique Pacheco
Hello, SAWC, and heartfelt thanks for inviting me to adjudicate the short stories submitted this year!
Hello, dear writers! I am your Reader. Thirty-one stories entered the 2018 Annual Short Story Competition, so it was an immensely enjoyable task to read through a diversity of genres and an exciting variety of topics. Your thoughts flew freely and you had to organize them into a maximum 3 000 word piece.
I was delighted to notice the high standard of your writings, which kept me under the spell of the stories for days, making it incredibly difficult for me to make a final decision about the best. Writing is a beautiful form of self-expression and I appreciated the sparks of energy each story showered. The main themes approached this year were social injustice, healing after trauma, death, time travel, dark forces, forgiveness, love, friendship, the energy of nature, crime and punishment, childhood.
My field of academic expertise covers Literary Studies and Film Studies and, when it comes to writing fiction and writing scripts, the intended purpose is two-fold: to entertain and to move readers or viewers. It is easy to write an entertaining story, yet shaping a story which takes the reader on an emotional roller-coaster is something else.
Your task as writers is to shape an enticing imaginary world, so I assessed your stories with a critical eye on plot construction, character development and stylistic features, in view of drawing your attention to what makes your story great and what you might want to add to your next story to make it shine.
Your second task is to hook your readers from beginning to end and invest them emotionally in each action, with each line you write. This is the second aspect I looked at and graded, your craft in making me feel exactly what you wanted me to feel.
I’ll focus my advice on helping you understand me, your reader and finding the right balance between writing about what interests you and keeping your reader emotionally invested.
As you decide what your next story will be about, make sure you’re writing about something that fascinates you or intrigues you, a topic which stirs a wave of emotion in you. If you feel strongly about something you’ll definitely find the right story to tell and strike the right chords in the reader.
First and foremost, your stories should entertain, should be plot driven to generate the reader’s interest and excitement about what happens to the characters. Sometimes the message of a story gets lost in a convoluted plot, overcrowded with characters who are hastily presented in action and described by the uninvolved narrative voice. Trigger voyeuristic emotions, make the reader curious about what happens to characters in the next passage. Pick the main message you want to keep invisible, lurking beneath the story, break this message into the most important facets and you’ll come up with the right number of characters you need to populate the story.
Secondly, your stories should energize the reader, with a complex, yet fluid plot construction, conflictual situations and throat-grabbing climatic scenes. We read stories and watch movies with bated breath, waiting for the most intense passage or scene, which lets us find out why we have been reading or watching. A story cannot generate emotion unless you allow suspense, tension and conflict to accumulate and overwhelm the reader in the climax, which is the ultimate test of reader empathy. Some of the stories were good, yet lacked a climax. Write your next story thinking about your reader more than about giving free reign to your thoughts on paper. Insert events which activate visceral emotions, aim for the reader’s physical thrills!
Thirdly, your story should fascinate and make the reader return to it. If you can give a clear answer to the question: ‘What is the UNIQUE HOOK of the story I wrote?’, you have the key ingredient for a story which leaves a lasting impression on the reader, intellectually and emotionally. The main character and the antagonist must be complex and feel real to the reader, so that the story generates vicarious emotions. Shape the characters by adding layers – from opinions, attitudes, values to core-beliefs and self-image- showing how the characters change and grow from one action to the next. Some of your stories had a main hero, people of action who the reader looks up to. Heroes are a great choice if you want to trigger the reader’s admiration and spur his/her motivation to act in real life. Other stories had the lost soul type as the main character, a morally defective figure, who is the perfect vehicle to generate the reader’s guilty fascination. Many of you centered the conflict in the personal universe of the average Joe/plain Jane, which directly ensures the reader’s empathy and moral self-assessment. A few stories brought the underdog into focus, a most inspired choice, because it fuels the reader’s compassion, keeps the reader edgy about the character’s ability to get by and draws the reader’s admiration if the character changes.
After splitting hairs, the stories I selected to shine this year are:
FIRST PLACE- CARTE BLANCHE, by Gary Kuyper
This enticing uncanny story has it all: a deeply meaningful title, mesmerizing descriptive passages and a complex plot which sweeps the reader beyond the realm of the visible, to the troubled past of a preying ghost and back to the cozy atmosphere of a present-day pub. There are only a few characters populating the story, yet the writer’s skill ensures the reader loves and hates each of them. The dialogues give a story a dynamic rhythm and the witty exchanges between the mortal and the ghost are rife with allusions and puns which one cannot have enough of. The story has a very short ending sentence which resonates and triggers sensory representations of the woman’s physical and emotional development.
SECOND PLACE- SPRING DIVA, by Angelique Pacheco
This fresh and inspiring story engaged me emotionally from the opening passage, with amazing descriptions and direct address. The arrival of spring becomes a dynamic show where the reader witnesses the last-minute preparations from behind the scenes, where many things go wrong. There are many characters, all necessary to help the reader understand why Mother Nature is moody. Dialogues move the plot forward and show the character’s emotional turmoil, while the playful tone and shifting narrative perspective are very entertaining. The ending creates anticipation and excitement as the seasons are about to change soon.
THIRD PLACE- WAGNER MANSION, by Brigid McCleary
This story mingles horror with terror in the right dose to keep the reader distressed and curious to learn more about past and present characters populating a seemingly haunted place. Setting enhances the psychological vertigo engulfing the main character, while subtle changes in perspective give the reader clues about facets of mental instability. I loved the choice of adjectives and evocative verbs used to make the space palpable. The ending is complex, providing closure to one thread, yet leaving questions unanswered.
HIGHLY COMMENDED AWARD- A SPRIG OF SWEET THORN, by Wendy Greeff
This deeply moving love story brings individual loss to the foreground and develops collective tragedy in the background. The limited subjective perspective keeps the reader glued to the main character and successfully builds the reader’s allegiance and deep compassion. The style of this story is exceptional, figurative language abounds and the plot is both character and action driven. The ending is closed and powerful.
I urge you all write on, never forgetting that you are in control of our emotions if you let yours loose. The resources on your imaginative palette are endless, so allow you stories to color our experience. Congratulations to the winners and great compliments to all participants!
Eliza Claudia Filimon
Senior Lecturer in Media and Translation Studies Department of Modern Languages and Literatures Faculty of Letters, History and Theology West University of Timisoara
SECOND PLACE:Old Fool’s Gold, by Angelique Pacheco
THIRD PLACE: The Mirror Box, by Glenda Jager
RUNNERS UP – HIGHLY COMMENDED:
The Secret Soul, by Anje Mienie
Highway Queen, by Eleanor Lemmer
Uncle Rob’s Potato, by Lourens Durand
Drowning Among the Raindrops, by Tasneem Moolla
A Private Investigation, by Wendy Greeff
Hello writers, and warm thanks to SAWC for allowing me the privilege to judge your short stories during the Winter Holidays. Forty-eight submissions entered the 2017 Annual Short Story Competition and I had the pleasure to read through a diversity of genres, as the contest theme was ‘open’. You poured your soul into a maximum 3 000 word piece and made my task immensely enjoyable as well as incredibly difficult. I can only hope that my comments make a difference in your future creative writing tasks.
Coming from the academic field of Visual Media and Literary Studies, I strive to back up my subjective comments with constructive criticism carried out along objective criteria. This time I was your implied reader and formal assessor. What mattered most to me was the initial impact your story had, whether it had me in tears, stitches or left me wondering for days. This I later approached formally and graded from the perspective of literary nuts and bolts. The structural elements I particularly focused on were the title, the opening and closing passage and the climax. Character development was analyzed in relation to narrative perspective, both facilitators of reader engagement. Language accuracy and complexity of style were graded, as they shape the general mood. So here are my comments on the contextual warp and weft of your wonderful stories.
The contest brief stated the word limit you, writers, had to conform to. Most of you did. But stories shorter than 4 pages stood no chance in terms of complexity and depth, despite a good start.
WHAT? (the subject)
Themes such as loss, love, death, revenge, trauma, addiction, spiritual redemption blended harmoniously in a mélange of genres including psychological, space and time travel, caper, detective or sentimental, addressing the adult age bracket. A few stories conveyed their message in the form of stories for children, framed as fairy-tales or adventures in the animal kingdom. Life experiences were shaped in musical intervals in one story or as visceral battles in others. The best stories, in my opinion, were those which first moved me emotionally or made me laugh, and then made me think about the underlying theme.
HOW? (the plot)
A beautiful story with an interesting theme can easily be ruined by its plot. A well-weaved plot can make a familiar story memorable and engaging. The complexity of the plot, reflecting the ability of the writer to include relevant parallel sub-plots, is one key ingredient of a good story. Fluidity is the second. Similar to editing in film, the flow of narrative is an almost invisible art which makes a complex story shine. Many stories submitted in this context were simple and linear, pleasant to read and easy to assimilate; an equally large number were complex, yet intricate or confusing in terms of transitions between sub-plots; the best ones did great in complexity and fluidity, with clear distinctions between time references, logical connections between events and engaging peaks and troughs.
WHO? (the characters)
The long line of characters populating your stories included adults in the throes of inner conflict, older figures recalling happier times or confronting present dangers, children and adolescents on the edge. Each story had interesting main characters who acted pro-actively, re-actively or reacted to life-changing events. The chosen narrative perspective, however, was not always the most appropriate, as it often seemed too detached and made me lose interest in the character’s conflicts. Some stories shifted carelessly from third-person omniscient perspective to limited omniscient; others included abrupt changes from first to third. Some stories had interesting focalizing characters, such as a dog, a bird or a hotel room. The best ones kept me physically and morally glued to the characters so that my allegiance set in smoothly and kept me transported to the last word.
Language accuracy was another criterion I used in grading the short stories. Sometimes vocabulary and grammar errors affected the coherence of the story and in very few cases made comprehension impossible. Punctuation in complex sentences was occasionally faulty without impeding understanding. In your next creative writing pieces pay extra attention to grammar and vocabulary if you want the reader to absorb your ideas instead of correcting errors. Most stories had a good balance between dialogues, narration and descriptions. A few, however, neglected one or another; even if, as writers, you feel comfortable writing dialogue scenes or narrating past events in short sentences, remember that over-reliance on any of the above-mentioned aspects takes away from the stylistic complexity of a story.
Remember to use complex sentences in alternation with short ones and give energy to your descriptions with periodic sentences and figures of speech.
Beautiful descriptive passages were used in the introductory passages or throughout the stories to sharpen the atmosphere and make the setting palpable to the reader. Even if the setting is a background element in fiction, you should strive to give it more complex functions, such as backbone of a story or symbol of character development. The best stories used sensory vocabulary and made me see, hear, feel the settings and understand their importance in the story.
The stories I considered the best had all these ingredients and that extra spark that will keep them close to my heart for a long time. My top four picks are:
FIRST PLACE- REQUIESCAT IN PACEM by Mary Lee
This elaborate story about death, broken promises and true connection of the souls sweeps across past, present and future from the perspective of a ghost. The perfect choice of selective omniscient narrative perspective keeps the alienated soul close to the reader as well as in suspense about solving a mystery that would bring eternal peace to the spirit and financial security to its descendants.
SECOND PLACE-OLD FOOL’S GOLD- by Kate David
This is an exceptionally complex story with a highly engaging and fragrant beginning. The main character’s childhood and adulthood are reflected in key moments of loss, war and love. The third person limited omniscient perspective endears the main character to the reader and smoothly changes into third person omniscient and first person to move on to other generations. Descriptions are amazing, dialogues are emotional, and there is suspense built into the family’s migration and the secret of the hidden treasure.
THIRD PLACE- THE MIRROR BOX by Gwen
This story elicits smiles with its first and last lines and takes the reader on a most unusual and thrilling experience. First person perspective is the perfect choice to reflect the character’s unease in a futuristic society under threat. Apart from sustained alertness, descriptions are given plenty of attention and relevance.
HIGHLY COMMENDED AWARD- UNCLE ROB’S POTATO by IM Trying
This highly amusing and hugely entertaining story sends a strong message about ‘organic’ vegetables, with a most original twist. Children and adults would truly enjoy this story. Major and minor characters are dynamic and complex, the plot is very intricate and fluid and the attitude of the main character, with his doubts and convictions, is wonderfully conveyed in first person perspective.
I hope you find my individual comments useful and motivating. Congratulations to the winners and great compliments to all participants! Keep your pens dancing across the page and inspire us all!
Eliza Claudia Filimon, PhD Senior Lecturer in Media and Translation Studies Department of Modern Languages and Literatures Faculty of Letters, History and Theology West University of Timisoara
All competition submissions must be in English.
Entries may not exceed 3000 words.
Entries must not have been previously published nor been placed in any competitions.
The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entertained.
Entries will be judged on literary merit, use of imagination, and ability to enthral.
There is no age restriction to entrants; all entrants are judged in the same category.
Entries must be double spaced.
Provide a cover page for your entry. This must contain the title of the work, your pseudonym, and the number of words (excluding the cover page). The author’s actual name or address must not appear on the cover page or anywhere in the submitted work. Your name should only appear on the entry form (see below).
Attach an entry form with each entry.
All entries must be e-mailed to the Competitions Manager at email@example.com.
All payments must be by EFT (ELECTRONIC FUND TRANSFER)
The SAWC can no longer accept cash deposits made at an ATM or at the bank.
EFT payments must include a reference (minimum of the first three letters of your surname plus your first initial and AC (for example, SoaJ-AC).
A copy of the EFT payment must be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Winners will be announced on the SAWC website, Facebook, and in the SAWC Newsletter.
Prizewinners will receive their prizes at the SAWC Annual Awards Lunch, if they are able to attend.
1st PRIZE: The Frances Bond Trophy, R1000, your story published in the SAWC Newsletter (Write Now), SAWC pen and certificate
2nd PRIZE: R500, SAWC pen and certificate
3rd PRIZE: R250, SAWC pen and certificate
5 HIGHLY COMMENDED ENTRIES: SAWC pen and certificate