I’ve been judging the secondary schools short story competition for the Whittlesea Show for half a decade (or longer). There have been some brilliant stories over the years and it was fantastic to hear that the student I awarded Best in Show to in 2009 went on to win more prestigious competitions.
Some of the students write on topics set by their teachers and this year “outside the square” seemed to have been prescribed by at least two schools. Thankfully, it was a starting point that allowed plenty of latitude and generated fun stories.
The range of topics covered is always a taste of teen zeitgeist. As I blogged in 2008, the subjects can be very dark. This year was no different.
Horror x 11*
Dystopia x 7
Travel/adventure x 7
Dreams/fantasy x 6
Love/friendship x 5
Military x 4
Murder/death/kill x 4 (*The death toll in horror is high, but the setting and characters are different.)
Refugees x 3
Environment x 3
Sport x 3
Stalkers x 3
Tragedy/medical x 3
Other topics included music/talent quests, agriculture, humour, philosophy and child abuse.
I’m thinking the Twilight phenomenon might have been an influence this year, along with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series.
– At least two entries this year were plagiarised. Unless teachers have asked you to do so (and there’s no way I can know this), rewriting other people’s stories doesn’t count as your own work.
– Homophones cause a lot of kids trouble. Maybe this reflects poor use of software spell-checks – students often use words that sound correct but have the wrong meaning, with unintentionally comic results. I’m tempted to cite some appalling examples this year but will stick with one from years past, where a student used ‘delicates’ instead of ‘delegates’. Ouch.
– Using a big word backfires if you don’t know what it means. An example this year was “incendiary” which is a great word but was so, so wrong in the context it was employed.
– Fancy fonts are a bad idea.
– Proof read your work. Read it aloud and see if it makes sense to you. If you get tongue-tied or confused, you can guarantee the judge will, too.
– Younger writers seem to embrace story-telling risks more than senior students. I wonder if this is because the older students are being funnelled into the VCE machine where results might count more than imagination. I hope not.
Congratulations to the 2010 entrants. I was impressed by the quality, particular in the Yr 7 to 10 age-groups. To sign off, here’s a clip that’s nothing to do with short stories and everything to do with good writing. It’s from the dog fanciers flick, Best in Show.