Friday, 30 May 2014

Conflict in fiction writing

The Global Short Story Competition had an entry yesterday that reminded me of a recent conversation with a writer who said: “I do not like making horrible things happen to my characters.“

The story entry in question really put the character through the mill; like your characters or not, conflict is central in writing. Why? Because stories need things to happen and it is through seeing characters in conflict that we see them at their truest.

You can develop a character through conflict: the meek little parlour maid becomes the towering heroine of the story.

In addition, conflict can evoke a strong reaction in a reader and make for good drama - and if that is happening then writing is easier.

Still time to enter this month‘s Global Short Story Competition at

John Dean

Free writing tips

We hope that you enjoy our blogs on writing and are happy if you take them to use on your websites etc. Hopefully, you will be able to establish a link to our site in return.
On the subject of free, you can check out our free writers toolbox, which can be downloaded off the home page at

John Dean

SIxty up

The monthly Global Short Story Competition has announced that the number of countries from which it has received entries has topped 60.
Launched more than six years ago, the competition runs every month with a £100 first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers.
Currently approaching £12,000 in prize money handed out, the competition has had winners, commended and shortlisted stories from all over the world. Each month’s competition is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author based in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers are based.
Organiser John Dean said: “We have had stories from every corner of the world, which delights us because the competition was established to encourage authors across the planet. We wanted to encourage writers voices were yet to be heard. The fact that we have had stories from so many countries shows just what a global competition it has become.
The competition can be entered at - less than two days to enter the May comp.

John Dean

What are yoiur golden rules of writing?

I took a class the other day, during which I gave my golden rules of writing:
Write for the reader

Do not give too much information

Do not give too little information

Each word must earns its place

I asked the writers for their golden rules and one said: ’If I start repeating myself I reach for the delete key’. I’ll add that to my list. What are your golden rules?

We’re debating other people’ s golden rules at

John Dean

Poetry competition

This poetry competition may interest  -   open to all and the theme is ‘Retirement Poems’. Poems can be any length or style. The winner will be included in a new ebook collection of Retirement Poems and get a prize of £50.
The closing date is the 31st July. More information can be found here:

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The best of Oz

The 14th Australian Book Industry Awards were announced in Sydney with Graeme Simsion’s novel The Rosie Project winning the Book of the Year award.
Other winners included The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, for International Book of the Year and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, who won Literary Fiction Book of the Year.
The 2014 Australian Book Industry Awards go to:
General Fiction Book of the Year: THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion (Text Publishing)
Literary Fiction Book of the Year: BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent (Macmillan)
General Non-fiction Book of the Year: THE STALKING OF JULIA GILLARD by Kerry-Anne Walsh (Allen & Unwin)
Illustrated Book of the Year: I QUIT SUGAR by Sarah Wilson (Macmillan)
Biography of the Year: THE CROSSROAD by Mark Donaldson, VC (Macmillan)
Book of the Year for Younger Children (age range 0 to 8 years): THE 39-STOREY TREEHOUSE by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (Macmillan)
Book of the Year for Older Children (age range 8 to 14 years): WEIRDOby Anh Do (Scholastic Press)
International Book of the Year: THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton (Allen & Unwin)
Book of the Year: THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion (Text Publishing)

Industry award winners are:
Publisher of the Year: Penguin Australia
Small Publisher of the Year: Text Publishing
Independent Book Retailer of the Year: JOINT WINNERS: Pages & Pages Booksellers and Readings
Online Book Retailer of the Year: Booktopia
National Book Retailer of the Year: Dymocks
Innovation Award: Pages & Pages Booksellers

John Dean 

Caring about your characters

One of yesterday’s entries into the Global Short Story Competition illustrated what is, I think, one of the cornerstones of creating main characters. You may not like them but you sure as Hell should care what happens to them. The character in question has flaws-a-plenty but you keep reading to find out what happens to her.
Less than three days to enter the May competition at

John Dean

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

How J D Salinger got it right

I know I talk about first lines a lot in my blogs but they are so important.

One of the best ways to start a story is to instantly introduce the reader to a character who addresses us directly in a voice that is distinctive and compelling. What do I mean? Try this: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” — J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The voice is distinctive, you are challenged and want to learn more about this person. It was the same with the story over the weekend, creating a character that talked directly to the reader.

And if the character is talking to the reader, the writer has a great platform on which to work.
Still 4 days to enter our latest competition at

John Dean

Still time to enter competition

Four days to go in the May Global Short Story Comp - £100 first prize - at

So what gets your juices flowing?

I’ve been doing a lot of teaching on the idea of ideas lately and came across these excellent quotes.
People always want to know: Where do I get my ideas? They're everywhere. I'm inspired by people and things around me. (Gwendolyn Brooks, American poet)
My standard answer is "I don't know where they come from, but I know where they come to, they come to my desk." If I'm not there, they go away again, so you've got to sit and think. (Philip Pullman, English writer)
Ideas come to a writer, a writer does not search for them. "Ideas come to me like birds that I see in the corner of my eye," I say to journalists, "and I may try, or may not, to get a closer fix on those birds." (Patricia Highsmith, American crime writer)
It's very blurred, it's not clear. The plan is something which gradually evolves. Usually, I'll just start with one particular idea or certain image or even just a mood and gradually it'll kind of grow when other things attach themselves to it. (Jane Rogers, British novelist, editor, and teacher)
Anything can set things going--an encounter, a recollection. I think writers are great rememberers. (Gore Vidal, American novelist, playwright, essayist)
You can write about anything, and if you write well enough, even the reader with no intrinsic interest in the subject will become involved.
(Tracy Kidder, literary journalist)
"From you," I say. The crowd laughs. I look at the woman asking the question; she seems innocent enough. I continue. "I get them from looking at the world we live in, from reading the paper, watching the news. It seems as though what I write is often extreme, but in truth it happens every day."
(A. M. Homes, American novelist and short story writer)
My usual, perfectly honest reply is, "I don't get them; they get me."
(Robertson Davies, Canadian novelist, playwright, and critic
So what gets your juices flowing?

We’re debating this on our Facebook page at

John Dean 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Getting it right Down Under

We know that a lot of Australian writers read this blog and we regularly receive entries to the Global Short Story Competition so it’s worth a few words on writing Down Under.
The overall quality of our Australian entries is testament, I think, to the emphasis placed on creative writing in that country.
During our work promoting this competition, we have come across a number of excellent writing centres in Australia, which clearly help local writers in every way they can.
What is notable about Australian entries is the writers’ strong sense of place and how to use it to create atmosphere, allied to strong characterisation.
Many of our Australian entries have also exhibited a very clear understanding of how a short story works: how to write in mini episodes, how a short story can sometimes cover but a fleeting moment in time, how it needs to have pace and balance so that it gives you enough information but not too much.
Short story writing is an art form in itself and Australian writers, through their success in our competition (winners, commendeds and shortlistings) have shown that they know how to get it right.
* Incidentally, we celebrate Australian writing in three of our ebooks:
Global Shorts - an anthology of short stories taken from the early years of the Global Short Competition, including Australian writers

Vegemite Whiskers - a selection of some of the finest writing from Australian authors who have entered the Global Short Story Competition
Cyber Rules by Myra King. The novel by Australian writer Myra tells the story of a farmer’s wife in isolated rural Australia. Caught up on the addictive side of the Internet, she holds a secret which may prove to be deadly. 


More details on our home page at

John Dean

Go on - take on the world!

A reminder that writers from more than 50 countries have entered the monthly Global Short Story Competition since it was launched six years ago and it still runs every month with a £100 first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers.
The competition, which has had winners, commended and shortlisted stories from all over the world, is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author based in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers, Inscribe Media Limited, are based. Inscribe took over responsibility for the competition in February.
The idea has always been to encourage new writing and we have certainly done that. We’ve seen some terrific, original writing submitted down the years.
The competition can be entered at Details of the company’s ebooks can be found on the same site.

John Dean

Approaching publishers

Here’s some thoughts on getting published.
Most publishers have very specific requirements. For example, some fiction publishers want to receive a sample chapter and a brief synopsis of the plot, others prefer a full manuscript. Before you send a manuscript, it is a good idea find out what is required.
Prepare your submission according to the publisher’s requirements. Details are important, so make sure your work is professionally presented and has been proof read.
The manuscript should be double spaced, with generous margins, and printed on one side of the paper only. The pages should be numbered. It is usually best not to bind or staple the manuscript: use a fastening that will allow the publisher to photocopy the manuscript.
Sending your manuscript to a publisher
Accompany your manuscript with a brief covering letter. The main purpose of this letter is not to "sell" your manuscript, but simply to touch base with the publisher and provide them with your contact details.
You might wish to give a little bit of background about yourself, and a short description of the manuscript. It may be worthwhile mentioning your publishing history. For example, if you have won a short story competition or had short stories published in magazines. Include a stamped self-addressed envelope for the return of your manuscript.
Hearing back from publishers
Publishers receive many unsolicited manuscripts: it is not surprising that it can take some time to hear back from a publisher.
Many publishers will send you a brief note when they receive your manuscript – often a pre-printed card – to say they have received the manuscript. Most publishers will take at least a month or two to look at your manuscript and get back to you, and some will take much longer. If you have heard nothing after two or three months, and have not received an acknowledgement of receiving your manuscript, it may be worth ringing the publisher to make sure the package arrived.

John Dean

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Winners day

June 11 will be winners day when we announce the winners of our April Global Short Story Competition and our recent free flash fiction competition.

Getting the detail right

As those who read my blogs will know, I think that detail is key to good writing and often teach classes on the subject.
Here’s some tips:
* Ask questions about your character. What does your character look like? How does he/she walk or talk? What kind of clothes does he/she wear? What nasty habits etc? What beliefs? And which facts are relevant?
* Create details about your settings. What does your character's living room look like? Is it messy or is it tidy? Are there paintings on the wall etc etc? Create details that bring the settings to life. A story comes alive when the reader can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch the world you've created.
* Don't be excessive in using details. Use only what is necessary. Sometimes two or three details will do the trick, the reader will do the rest.

John Dean

Tips on comedy

We get a few stories into the Global Short Story Competition dealing with some heavy subjects, many of them doing so very well but serious for all that. So it’s enjoyable to read the occasional humorous stories we receive.

Here are some thoughts on writing comedy:
* All good comedy comes out of situations and the writer needs to observe them and work out how best they can be re-told. Such humour works best if the reader can say ‘yes, something like that happened to me’.

* Be visual. Yes, good humour is about clever word-play but it can also be about visual gags. It’s no coincidence that the comic heroes of the black and white film era remain funny today. Simple gag told in numerous different ways.

* Some of the best humour comes from over-egging things. Take a situation and make it ridiculous. Let your mind freewheel, let it take a situation to its logical if absurd conclusion.

* Don’t ram the joke down the reader’s throat. Write your funny line and move on, let them work out if it is funny.

* Do not forget the rules of storytelling. It may be a comic piece but it still needs a good story, structure, real characters, genuine places etc.

John Dean

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Helping out

A reminder that, in addition to the various free things we do, one of the paid-for services we offer is one supporting writers.
Why should you hire a professional writing mentor, though? Isn’t it enough to attend a class/workshop or a writing group? Or ask a friend or relative to comment?
Well, it depends what you want and need and bespoke mentoring from Inscribe Media can help some writers, providing the experience and expertise to -
• understand your work
• nurture you and your writing
• let you retain control of your ideas and your writing
* provide expert, specific advice about what is working and what isn’t.
We focus on major issues, such as how your story hangs together, what your characters are doing or could be doing, what is hurting your story’s momentum, what story elements are not pulling their weight.
We identify the differences between good and great and point out your writing strengths, so you become confident about what not to change.
We also give suggestions and help you establish good processes and writing goals and suggest markets for your work.
If long-term mentoring does not appeal, we run short writing courses as well.
You can find out more at

You can also access our free downloadable writing guide at and find loads of free tips on our blog at the same website

John Dean

Nine days to go

The May Global Short Story Competition has nine days to go. Begun more than six years ago, the competition runs every month with a £100 first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers.

The competition, which is approaching £11,000 in prize money handed out, has had entries from more than 50 countries over the years.
Each month’s competition is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers Inscribe Media are also based. The competition can be entered at

* There is still time to enter Inscribe Media’s latest free flash fiction competition at its Facebook page at or accessed through

John Dean

Cracking opening lines

As you know, I place great store on opening lines. They should hook the reader in. To illustrate the point, here’s some from the two anthologies we have published.

“I met Silas in a bar called The Trickster. He was the Joker. I was the Queen of Hearts.” That’s the beginning of Heart String by S J Finn, the first story in our anthology Global Shorts.

Or how about this? “On the day of my grandmother’s funeral, I stopped eating.” That’s the start of Eat, Mister by John Michaelson.

Or “I always get away with it, I’m invulnerable, I’m the man,,” he thought, and he said it loud, right into the ear of the wimp who was lying pinned beneath his foot in a remote corner of the playground” , which is the start to I Always Get Away With It by Stuart McCarthy.

Or “It’s not like anyone around here actually properly celebrates Christmas.” That’s the start to Andrew Frost’s Chrissie Lights, one of the stories in our Australian anthology Vegemite Whiskers.

Or how about this at the start of Bella Anderson’s The Last of My Line? “I am the last of my line; my eyes will never shine from another face, no one will laugh or talk like me and my memory will not survive a careless generation.”
Want to know what happened next? If you go to and key the title into the Kindle store you can buy the book and find out what happened in those and many other stories. And all for £1.48. Australian readers will have to purchase via Amazon US at

John Dean

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

It's a crime

We get quite a few stories with a crime theme into the Global Short Story Competition and one of our ebooks (Harrys Torment by Michael Beck) is a crime novel so I thought it would be useful to look at how to write a good crime story:

* The story should be strong and one that can be told in a short story (most crime stories are novels)

* Create a strong sense of place - the reader must be able to visualise where the action happens

* Create strong characters - do not stray into cliché, make our investigators real people. Your hero must not be perfect, he or she must be flawed but be careful about writing in too many flaws

* If you create a sidekick, make sure they have a job to do - passing on information, allowing your main character to react so we learn more about them etc

* Make the villain real not some clichéd villain from the movies. The best thing is for them to have appeared earlier in the story so the reader knows them. Give them a good reason to commit the crime - secrets, secrets, always secrets

* Grab the reader from the start. Here is an extract from an interview with the author Nick Brownlee explaining how to do it:
Q The opening scene of Bait features a character being gutted alive on a fishing boat. Was it always in your mind to start the book with such a gory scene?

A I have been a journalist for the best part of 20 years, much of that time writing stories for tabloid newspapers. The first lesson you are taught is that you must grab the reader’s attention with the very first paragraph, because by the third they will have lost interest in the story. It’s the same with commercial fiction – especially if you are an unknown author. In order to get published, Bait had to leap out of an agent’s slush pile and then make a publisher look twice. I needed an opening that would catch the eye. Hopefully it will have the same effect on the casual reader.”

* Even with a short story, it is worth mapping out a synopsis because crime stories are be definition complicated and you need to get it right
* Keep the story moving - nothing holds a reader better than tension creates as the pace develops. Keep it driving on relentlessly

* Think about your ending - surprise the reader, have some drama, a chase, a fight, a killing, a dramatic revelation

* Feel free to makes us think - maybe you want to cast light on human nature, or perhaps a problem in society, Do not preach but feel free to let that idea come through in your story

John Dean

Friday, 16 May 2014

Words that keep cropping up

The use of words is something dear to all our hearts. They are, after all, our tools and we should polish them with the care taken by an artisan when polishing a chisel. I recently came across a web page published by the Now York Times saying that the titles of every British book published in English in and around the 19th Century — 1,681,161 of them — were electronically scoured by American researchers for key words and phrases that might offer fresh insight into the minds of the Victorians.
The article reckoned that among words cropping up regularly were “God” “love,” “work,” “science” and “industrial”.
Makes you wonder which words we use a lot or maybe too often. I do know there are some words I use too often in my writing - murmured, chuckled to name but two - and my favourite poet Barry MacSweeney, with whom I used to work on an evening newspaper, had a thing about the word ‘argent’. And I know another writer who slips the word ‘obsidian’ into every piece she ever produced.

John Dean

Magazine seeks submissions

Stephen Baird, of Darlington, has recently setup a Kindle-based quarterly magazine publishing science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories and is looking for more submissions.
The first issue of Wicked Words in now up on Amazon (look for Wicked Words Quarterly – Issue 1 June 2014).

Wicked Words publishes science fiction, fantasy and horror themes and we are looking for previously unpublished, high-quality stories that surprise the reader and play with the genres.
So if you have stories that fit these criteria why not submit them to be considered? If you like reading short stories in this genre why not sign up to the newsletter where you will be kept up to date on how the project is progressing?
Wicked Words is published at the start of June and then quarterly after that September, December and March. They are looking at running a special at Halloween so look out for a post with more details soon.
Each Winter Edition will also include a previously unpublished Novella alongside the usual flash fiction and short stories."
More from
Wicked Words - Issue 1

John Dean

Characters that challenge the reader

I am currently teaching a course on anti-heroes so am returning to the theme in this blog.

In the days of old, especially in the eighteenth century, protagonists were heroes and antagonists were villains, and they were often depicted in stories as either good or evil, clearly delineated.

Anti-heroes developed as characters in whom the strengths and the flaws compete, making for a character that constantly engages and challenges the reader.

An anti-heros will:
have the reader’s sympathies, although sometimes their methods will make this difficult
have easily identified imperfections
be made understandable by the story events, meaning that the reader will come to know their motivations
have a starring role in the story
Occupy a grey area between good guy and bad guy
can be selfish but occasionally are good
can be motivated by self-interest and self-preservation but there is usually a line they won’t cross
When forced to choose between right and wrong, will sometimes choose wrong because it’s easier
Can embody unattractive traits and behaviours, such as sexist and racist attitudes, and violent reactions when wronged (difficult to write if you find such views abhorrent but if that‘s the way the character is…)
Can show little or no remorse for bad behaviour.

John Dean

Commonwealth prize regional winners are announced

Commonwealth Writers has announced the regional winners of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize with ,for the first time, the prizes going to women.
The Prize provides a platform for writers from the 53 countries of the Commonwealth and this year unpublished stories were entered by nearly 4,000 writers.
The winners were:
Africa Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Let's Tell This Story Properly, Uganda
Asia Sara Adam Ang, A Day in the Death, Singapore
Canada and Europe Lucy Caldwell, Killing Time, United Kingdom
Caribbean Maggie Harris, Sending for Chantal, Guyana
Pacific Lucy Treloar, The Dog and the Sea, Australia
The winners will be judged against other to become the overall winner, which will be announced in Kampala, Uganda, on 13 June.
Judges' chair Ella Allfrey, Deputy Chair of the Council of the Caine Prize and previously Deputy Editor of Granta and Senior Editor at Jonathan Cape, Random House, was quoted by the Daily Mail newspaper as saying: “In the end, the stories that impressed us the most were those that took risks – in subject and style.”

You can find out more at:

John Dean

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Of Scotland and Wales

We get quite a few entries into the Global Short Story Competition from Scotland and Wales, several of them in recent days.

It is always a delight to read them. They are often very rich in examples of the storyteller’s art.

Not that that is a surprise: Scotland and Wales have a great storytelling tradition, and have produced some of the world’s finest short story writers down the ages.
Plenty of time to enter our May competition at

John Dean

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Free flash fiction competition launched

The team behind The Global Short Story Competition has launched its latest free flash fiction competition.
The challenge to writers is to produce a story capturing ‘one of the best things in life’ in no more than 100 words.
The deadline is September 1, 2014. Prize £50 and you can enter at The team at Inscribe Media, who run the competition, will judge it.
* Begun more than six years ago, the Global Short Story Competition runs every month with a £100 first prize and a £25 prize for highly commended writers.
The competition, which has topped £11,000 in prize money handed out, has had entries from more than 50 countries over the years.
Each month’s competition is judged by Fiona Cooper, an author in North-East England, where the competition’s organisers Inscribe Media are also based. The competition can be entered at
* Our recent flash fiction competition has closed. The results will be announced in due course.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

As Dylan Thomas meant it to be performed

I can definitely recommend this performance of my favourite piece of writing if you are in Darlington, Northern England (it’s part of the Darlington Arts Festival co-ordinated by Darlington for Culture (

Sunday May 18 and Monday May 19 Darlington Green Theatre presents a Reading of Under Milk Wood A Play for Voices by Dylan Thomas (7.30pm) at Cantina/Voodoo Cafe Skinnergate, Darlington £2.00 on the door

Six decades after the first reading of this famous play, Green Theatre bring it to life once more. Under Milk Wood is a radio drama which was later adapted as a stage play and a 1972 film. It invites the audience to listen to the dreams and innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of a fictional small Welsh fishing village Llareggub.

John Dean


I am currently teaching a writer’s course on how dialogue works in different genres, including film. So how do you write a script? Here’s some thoughts:
* Read plenty of scripts and see how the experts do it - get used to how the script looks on the page. Then watch the film itself and see how the script translated when filming actually began.
* About half of the content of a screenplay should be dialogue and the other half should be visual.
* Keep camera directions to a minimum. Let the filmmakers decide how to film the script.
* Action is important you need to keep the story moving.
* Keep the story well paced - generally, one screenplay page is one minute of screen time.
* Develop true-to-life characters. Know their history and why they react to events the way they do. And keep it consistent: if they are aged fifty in one scene make sure you do not have them celebrating their sixtieth birthday in the next unless it is part of the plot.
* If it helps, focus on a few key details that tell us what kind of person your character is. Maybe the person cannot wear a tie smartly, maybe their clothes are always grubby, maybe they never look anyone in the face. And when you write your scene, ask yourself if your character would really react like that?
* Before you write your script, write a list of scenes you want to include and what happens in each one. That way you can make sure your story develops in the right way.
* And finally, keep the balance right: you don’t want the first half of the film to be all dialogue, followed by 45 minutes of car chases.
John Dean

A real rarity

We had a rarity into the Global Short Story Competition overnight - a story written in the second person.

Not often used in fiction, second person relies on the pronouns you, your, and yours and is more often used to address the audience in technical writing, advertising, songs and speeches. In fiction it would allow lines like ‘You feel uneasy the moment you turn into the street.‘

It differs from first person, which uses pronouns including I and me, and third person, which uses pronouns such as he and she.

Examples of second person slogans from the advertising world include It’s Your World. Take Control, and How Big Can You Dream?

And, of course, American president J F Kennedy famously said: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
It’s odd that it is not used more in fiction; it is a direct way of addressing the reader, putting them in the middle of the action and challenging them with every word. Maybe it’s time for it to make a comeback?

John Dean

Friday, 9 May 2014

Jobs for characters

Characters have jobs and should be regarded in that way. Understanding that helps bring stories to life and gives them depth.
A bit of theory: fiction writers employ a variety of characters and it is useful to understand the role they play. Beyond the standard definitions of protagonist (the main character) and antagonist (the main character or force that opposes the protagonist) there are four basic character types:
* Dynamic/Round Character - a well-drawn, rounded character which changes during the course of a story or novel. Sometimes a dynamic character is called a developing character
* Foil - a character that is used to enhance another character through contrast
* Static (or flat or stock) Character – a character that remains primarily the same throughout a story or novel. ie the villain
* Confidante- someone in whom the central character confides, thus revealing the main character’s personality, thoughts, and intentions.
They do overlap in some way - a flat character could be a foil as well but you could not have a character that is both static and dynamic.
The terms are useful for understanding a character and his/her place within the story. It’s all about understanding the job characters do. But, in the end, it is not about how a character can be named and classified. I do not believe writing should be hide-bound by theory. Sometimes you just gotta go with your instinct!

John Dean

In the middle of something

I often hear aspiring writers say ‘I know the beginning to my short story and I know the end - it’s the middle bit I struggle with‘.
The middle is there to keep the story going, rather than filling the bit between the beginning and the end; think of it that way and you will not go far wrong. The middle allows you to develop the plot, create tension, allow the development of layers of the story, let the characters grow. It’s not padding, it has work to do.
Middles should be as long or as short as needed, not overwritten or underwritten; unless you are given a set target, let the story dictate the length. We set a top limit of 2000 words for the Global Short Story Competition but many writers go for much less because that is all that the story requires.
Resist the temptation to pack too much intro your middle - concentrate on one story, perhaps just one or two main characters. Introduce too much, too many characters, sub-plots, and you may end up doing it all badly.
It may help to write in episodes (like short chapters) to keep the pace going and allow the story to build to the ending.
Loads of 
time to enter this month’s competition at

John Dean

Getting tough

I am always struck by the way many writers are drawn to the very toughest of times in people’s lives and it is a theme to which I return after an entry into the latest Global Short Story Competition.
Brilliantly told from a first person point of view, it went into the head of a person whose thoughts were so disturbing that they made the skin crawl.
I am always heartened when I read writing like that. Sometimes, you read a story and think, good set up, decent writing and yet something is missing. Something essential.
For me, if you are going to tackle a tough subject - serious illness, death, betrayal, separation - the best writing is the writing in which the author plunges him or herself deep into the action and drags the reader with them whether the reader wants to go or not.

John Dean

March winners named

Judge Fiona Cooper has selected her winners for the March Global Short Story Competition and writers from Wales and England have taken the honours.

The £100 first place prize goes to Minute by Simon Mapp, of Wrexham, Wales, of which Fiona says: “This story grabbed me on first reading and stayed with me. It is haunting and quirky and the style absolutely reflects the content. It is hard to convey shock in a story and this writer goes beyond many in expressing the numbness after a tragedy coming completely out of the blue. Wonderful.”

Our highly commended £25 runner up is Alex Reece Abbott, of York, England, for Scratching the Matchbox, of which Fiona says: “The imagery and emotion in this story run parallel, along the wildfire uncertainty of old age and love ripped apart by illness but managing to hang in there. The title is superb and apt, and this writer has managed to make the reader feel the helplessness of the situation while retaining a wonderfully dignified hope. Well done.”
The writers on the shortlist are:

Joao Cerqueria, Viana do Castelo, Minho, Portugal

Andy Charman, Woking, Surrey, England

Lynne King, Haywards Heath, England

Wayne Kelly

James McPherson, Glasgow, Scotland
Winning stories will be posted on Well done to our successful writers. You can enter the May competition at the same address.

John Dean

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Daring to be different

One thing that often strikes me is the quality of our winning stories, all of which lead me to contemplate what makes a successful story.

For me, there are plenty of examples of stories which are well written - well-crafted and technically competent. Often, they are very, very good indeed.

But they do not always enjoy success, be it winning competitions or catching the eye of publishers. Why?

I suspect the reason is that they do not have that extra something, that something that makes the story truly live.

Whether it be the description of a place that makes you shiver because you feel the chill air coming off the hills, or a portrayal of a character so real they could easily walk in through the door and you would not be surprised, these are stories that have something extra.

Or it might be a new idea, or a twist on an old idea, that starts you thinking, or something that gets you wanting to shout for joy or roar with anger.

Whatever it is, it these are the somethings that take a story from the OK to really good. The somethings that mean that you simply cannot get the story out of your mind.

Years ago, I presided over the judging panel from another competition in which we were involved. At the end, the judges picked a superb winner, one that would stand toe to toe with the very best writing around. It was different, quirky, heart-rending, powerful, evocative, inventive, mesmerising - I could go on.

In agreeing their citation, the panel said they wanted to say that there was a lot of ‘competent’ writing out there. It felt like damning the other writers taking part with faint praise but the judges were absolutely right.

There was a lot of stories that were OK, but there were a few that were better than that and one that was absolutely superb. It stood out above all the others and still nestles in a corner of my brain, remembered and admired.

John Dean

Intrigue intrigue

Many of the stories entered into the Global Short Story Competition show that their writers have a keen understanding of the need to intrigue the reader by creating tension.

Intrigue works in various ways and it is important if your reader is going to stick with your work.

One way of creating intrigue is something in your early lines, something that makes you sit up and want to read more. It is called The Question and it lifts the start of a story into something special. Catching the reader’s attention is crucial and a good early question does the job beautifully.

But there is another, more subtle way, and done right it can be very effective. But, for the writer, it comes with a gamble.

The idea is that, in the middle of ‘straightforward’ narrative, you drop in something, sometimes just a line, sometimes just a word, but something that nags away at the reader. Maybe they missed it first time around then go back to check.

It is like having a conversation with a friend who suddenly says: “Of course, there’s that other thing that has been worrying me.” At first hearing you might miss it but within

seconds you are going back to the line and saying “Thing, what thing?”

It is like that with writing and one or two of the stories that have arrived over recent days have done it really nicely. You can enter at

John Dean

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

With a little help from our friends

The Global Short Story Competition is into its seventh year and in that time the monthly competition has handed over £11,000 in prize money to writers from all over the world.
We established the competition to give a voice to writers seeking to bring their work o a wider audience and we are doing that on a regular basis.
We communicate with writers on a daily basis and are often inspired by the work they submit to the competition, We have had some brilliant winners, some of which can be enjoyed at our website
However, to survive we rely on income from entry fees, which is why we are appealing to you to spread the word among your networks. The competition can be entered at
But why support us? Well, here’s what we do:
Free stuff Theres loads of free hints on writing at our blog at and you can also check out our free writers toolbox, which can be downloaded off the home page at

Facebook You can check out our Facebook page with its news, views and free competitions at

Mentoring and courses For information on our online writing courses and mentoring packages at

Nurturing new talent through our e-books
As part of our efforts to support and showcase new writing talent worldwide, we have published seven e-books
Lost Souls by Roger Barnes When young women start to go missing in Africa, an International Strike Force is assembled to rescue them.
Harry’s Torment by Michael Beck Set in the fictional east coast port of Thirlston and centred on investigators tackling the heroin trade.
Cyber Rules by Myra King. The novel by Australian writer Myra tells the story of a farmer’s wife in isolated rural Australia. Caught up on the addictive side of the Internet, she holds a secret which may prove to be deadly.
Global Shorts - an anthology of short stories taken from the early years of the Global Short Competition.
Vegemite Whiskers - a selection of some of the finest writing from Australian authors who have entered the Global Short Story Competition.
White Gold by Roger Barnes A thriller by Roger Barnes taking the reader into a world of intrigue and danger set amid the poachers of Africa.
Haghir the Dragon Finder by John Dean, a comic fantasy for older children. Haghir
and his hopeless comrades are dragon slayers seeking a new challenge.
All the titles can be obtained by keying their titles into the search field of the Kindle shop at Australian readers will have to purchase via Amazon US at
* If you don’t have a Kindle, there is a free Kindle reading app for your PC at

John Dean

The importance of libraries

I have just been asked to give a talk at a local library and am delighted to do so. As you may know, I am part of the Crime Writers’ Association, which stages events in libraries to do our bit to highlight their importance in an age of austerity cuts. Talking to crime writers, one of the reasons they champion libraries is the impact that they have on children, allowing parents to give their youngsters access to books which maybe they cannot afford.

The importance of libraries’ role in encouraging young readers was further underlined in research which reveals that 98% of primary school teachers are concerned that not enough reading for pleasure is taking place in some of the nation's homes.

As part of the research, commissioned by Booktime, the national free books programme for reception-aged pupils in England, more than 1,000 parents and carers along with 200 primary school teachers explored children’s reading habits.

Teachers said that they could see a clear difference between those children who are read with at home and those who are not: 72% of teachers attributed developed language skills and more advanced reading levels to those children who regularly enjoy shared book time with a parent/carers in the home.

Encouragingly, the survey showed that reading time is on the up in some homes. And where do the parents get a lot of those books to make that happen? Libraries, that’s where.
John Dean

Indian writing

We received another entry from an Indian writer over the weekend. Indian writers have enjoyed quite a bit of success in the Global Short Story Competition over the years and their stories so often provide a beguiling mix of fine writing and powerful emotion.

That we receive stories from India is not surprising. Researching this blog, I came across an article published in the Guardian in 2009 and written by writer Anita Desai, in which she said: “By the number of manuscripts that arrive daily and hourly from India on the desks of British and American agents and publishers, I would guess no country has more aspiring writers than ours.” Here’s to hearing from more of them.



That brilliant first line

That brilliant opening line
Writing is about many things, hues and shades, subtlety and tension, hints and plotlines. And fiction needs time to develop, to tell the story. However, it is also true that if you want to impress a would-be publisher or maybe a judge in a competition, those early lines are crucial.
Why? Because a great first line can take a story a long way, hook the reader straightaway, get them intrigued, desperate to know more.
I thought about this because a short story has just come into the Global Short Story Competition which had a cracking first line. Would not be fair to mention which story - and Fiona Cooper, our judge, has to make the decision anyway - but it did get me seeking out some cracking first lines from published works.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984
I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. —William Gibson, Neuromancer
I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. —Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground
All this happened, more or less. —Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. —Louise Erdrich, Tracks
It was a pleasure to burn. —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. —Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups

John Dean

Friday, 2 May 2014

'And this is me'

Emotion is something of which some writers are wary, preferring to produce work without revealing too much of themselves.

However, for many other writers, there cannot be fiction without a sense of themselves in it. For some authors, there is always part of them peering through, their fears, their hopes, their aspirations, their take on life. They may not say ‘and this is me’ but it is there all the same.

For many authors, writing has to be a deeply personal art. That was certainly the agreement when some of students discussed the issue the other night. ‘Writing comes from life,’ they concluded.

Of course, it is not all autobiographical - many writers write characters and scenes which readers find abhorrent and use language and ideas with which readers might not agree but which need to be there because they reflect the world about us.

However, in there somewhere are also tantalising glimpses of what the writer really thinks of the world.

On the same lines

An interesting thing has happened recently in the Global Short Story Competition, namely that two writers entered stories with the same storyline.
So since the stories are similar, does that devalue them? Of course, the answer is no, they are as valid as each other. Each stands on its own merits.
The theory is that there are only a small number of stories to be told - the children’s writing centre on Tyneside, here in the North East of England, is called Seven Stories because that is the number of children’s stories, apparently.
It is the same theory as racehorses - that ever racehorse in the world is related to just three bloodlines. And yes, you punters out there, that means the hopeless nag that trailed in last with your money on their back!
What makes writing endlessly fascinating is the way writers take those stories and tell and re-tell them, infusing them with their own passions and style, giving them their own original twists and their own personal insight.
That is why the two stories that came in are so rewarding because both tell the same story in a distinctive and, in the end, deeply effective way. And that is all that matters.
You can enter the May competition at

John Dean

Scandinavian writing

One of the great things about running this competition is the way that it connects you with the great literary traditions of the world.
Entries from North America remind you that it is credited with creating the short story, tales from Australia that there has long been a thriving writing community, stories from England that the country was home to William Shakespeare (now whatever happened to that lad, did he do OK for himself?), stories from Africa that the continent has a remarkable heritage when it comes to creating compelling stories, and so on.
And stories from Scandinavia? Well, this blog started because we have had one or two recent entries from that part of the world into the Global Short Story Competition.
Scandinavia has a proud literary tradition and it is one that goes back to the very birth of stories - storytelling.
For all storytelling can be a different art - watch a storyteller hold an audience in his or her thrall to see that - there are, of course, a great many affinities with the writing of fiction.
There is the creation of characters and places, of pace and tension, of evoking strong emotions in the reader/listener, of leaving people changed even if only in a small way. Both a storyteller and an author would regard that as job done.
I tried my hand at storytelling a few years ago. I was a real novice and relied on notes the first time I did it. The kids were ok but I felt it lacked something so I threw away the piece of paper and next time just winged it and let the stories tell themselves. It was a liberating experience and I was such a success that I was never asked back!
I cannot finish this blog, though, without pointing out, as a crime novelist, that Scandinavia has produced some of the very finest exponents of the genre in recent years.

John Dean

Making characters sound different

It’s important to make characters different from one another. Why? Because otherwise, readers get confused. Characters need to be just that.

Of course, you can give one red hair, another blonde etc, but one effective way to differentiate is the voice. They could:
Use different words: Characters can have their own slang and favourite expressions

Use different sentence patterns: Let one character use short sentences, another long ones.

Use humour: Why not give a character a jokey persona?
Let a character ramble: Rambling speech or thought can be tedious for the reader but it can work if you want to create such a character, as long as it is used sensibly.

Maybe have characters pay attention to different things—some will note their surroundings, some will be oblivious. Some will notice other characters, others will ignore them ; we all know people that call people by their name all the time, others that never do. It‘s a good way of making characters sound different.

John Dean

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Encouraging support for new writers

It’s always good to see new writers acknowledged - in my opinion, the big names of the publishing world get far too much attention at the expense of those lower down the ladder.
So, I was delighted to see that the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) has announced the shortlist for its prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers with no fewer than seventeen contenders from all over the UK and abroad.
Pia Fenton, RNA Chairman, said: “As always, the list of contenders shows the incredible diversity of RNA authors and I am absolutely delighted that there is such a bumper crop of graduates from our New Writers’ Scheme this year. It shows that romantic fiction continues to go from strength to strength and that our mentoring really works."
The New Writers' Scheme has been run by the RNA since 1962 and is unique among professional writing associations. It aims to encourage fresh talent in the writing of romantic novels that reflect all aspects of love and life, contemporary or historical.
Manuscripts submitted under the scheme are from unpublished authors and are read by an experienced writer or editor who provides feedback. Any manuscript that is subsequently published as a debut novel is eligible for the Joan Hessayon Award. All eligible books are judged by a panel of RNA members who are already published authors.
The Award will be presented at the RNA Summer Party on 22nd May at the Royal Over-Seas League, Park Place, London. It is sponsored by gardening expert Dr. David Hessayon OBE, in honour of his late wife Joan, who was a longstanding member of the RNA and a great supporter of its New Writers’ Scheme.
The full shortlist for 2014 is:
Celia J Anderson Sweet Proposal Piatkus
Elaine Everest Gracie's War Pulse
Helena Fairfax The Silk Romance MuseItUp
Sue Fortin United States of Love Harper Impulse
Kathryn Freeman Too Charming Choc Lit
Jessica Gilmore The Return of Mrs Jones Harlequin Mills & Boon
Laura E James Truth or Dare? Choc Lit
Jennie Jones The House on Burra Burra Lane Harlequin Australia
Alison May Sweet Nothing Choc Lit
Teresa F. Morgan Plus One is a Lucky Number Harper Impulse
Jane O'Reilly Once a Bad Girl Escape
Helen Phifer The Ghost House Carina UK
Jill Steeples Desperately Seeking Heaven Carina UK
Jo Thomas The Oyster Catcher Accent Press
Lin Treadgold Goodbye Henrietta Street Safkhet Publishing
Susan Willis Yes Chef, No Chef Endeavour
Jennifer Young Thank You For the Music Tirgearr

John Dean