Writing Tips For Short Stories | NiTH Judges Roundtable #1

Is it perfect grammar or great characters that make an awesome story? Maybe it’s a mixture of both, with a few other factors thrown in as well.


Writing Tips For Short Stories | NiTH Judges Roundtable #1


I ask some of NiTH’s most active judges what they thought were the best writing tips they could offer for budding writers, as well as where they believe a lot of people go wrong.


Measure Twice, Cut Once

A recent survey of 20 authors who participated in NiTH over the last 18 months indicated that more than half the authors roughly followed a three step process:

    Have Great Idea
    Write Draft
    Edit and Submit

With one of the core reasons for editing to make it fit to the word length.

We think there’s a step missing between having the idea and writing it.

Plan It Out

If you plan 3-5 moments in your short story and the order they are going to happen, you have a framework that might just aide you in meeting the word count without sacrificing your favourite bits. Speaking of which…

(Don’t) Kill your darlings

Kill your darlings is a phrase that might be taken to mean ‘cut out your flourishes because no one wants to read that!’
Not true!
While is important to submit your best work, we want to see those flourishes.

There’s no right or wrong way to tell a story, only the good way.

Name Your First Person Narrator

This one came up alot. It seems that a lot of authors forget to give their characters names, particuarly narrators.

Alice, who has judged in 12 of our competitions over the last two years,  was quick to point out that sometimes there’s a reason for not naming your narrator, but in general, the consesus seemed to be ‘Give this gal / guy a name!”

Identify a Setting

The NiTH Writing Award generally has pretty strict word count, so alot of writers don’t waste too much time describing the setting in great detail. While we think that’s a good thing, sometimes giving place and setting a bit of attention can help establish the story a bit better.

Judge Amala thinks:

It’s not always important or even apporpriate to give every detail; month, year, city, street, latitude and longtitude! But letting the reader know it’s the Colessuem in Ancient Rome is going to provide a different context than if it’s the Colesseum in 1995


Most of the group agreed.  Subtle changes to a sentence or two can alter the reader’s perception and ground them deeper in your story. Think about these examples.

After breakfast they went shopping.

After breakfast by the lake they went to the mall


Sunday they had breakfast, then drove past the Church on their way to High Street.

All convey different things to the reader.

Use Precise Wording

There was a bit of debate as to what exactly we mean when we say ‘precise wording.’

Some of us took it to mean that authors need to break out the thesaurus or use ‘BIGGER’ words. Which is not true at all. However, clear prose is probably one of the top factors that contribute to a winning entry at NiTH. After all, you might have the most interesting plot in the world, but it won’t matter if you can’t convey it in within the word limit.

Judge Alice says:

To me precise wording might also mean ‘Word economy’

Don’t use two words when one will do, but don’t just randomly cross out words either to fit the story to the word limit.

‘Big and Strong’ for example, could be described as ‘enormous,’ ‘hulking’, ‘or ‘powerful’ depending on the context.


‘Looming over big and strong,’ is a place where potentially looming and big refer to the same thing.

While isolated in these examples this kind of writing tip might seem a little pedantic, but when you’re trying to make your killer story fit into a strict word count it can be a handy tip to know.

 Continue with Part 2 of the NiTH Judges Roundtable