So, you’ve put your chip on the table and you’re ready to spin the wheel. If you’re looking to game the system and win the cash, you’ve come to the “write” place!
At Not Quite Write, we believe in transparency in the judging process: we want to give our entrants the best chance of winning based on merit, not luck.
After judging the July 2023 Not Quite Write Prize, we got together to analyse what made certain entries stand out from the crowd. We also worked to understand our own personal biases so we could share these with you in advance.
Based on this analysis, here are our top five tips for how to win the next Not Quite Write Prize for Flash Fiction:
Entries that established a compelling character did best. Five of the six shortlisted entries in the July 2023 competition were character driven. This theme extended down to the longlist, where character showed itself time and again to make or break a story’s chance at success.
Flash tip: Introduce your main character in a characteristic moment and have them drive the action.
For more ideas: Google “characteristic moment”
Focus on action not reflection
The judges tended to prefer stories that described the scene unfolding over the stories in which a character merely reflected on past events. Four of the six shortlisted entries in the July 2023 competition were centred on action. Another exclusively relied on dialogue, which provided a similar sense of immediacy.
Flash tip: Think of your piece of flash fiction like a movie scene, then work to describe the action. Try to get out of the character’s head as much as possible. Instead, show their thoughts and feelings through their words and actions.
For more ideas: Google “Show don’t tell”
Given the tight word count, entries which focused on a single, specific scene tended to do better than those which offered a bird’s-eye view of an entire life, love story, or journey. Five of the six shortlisted entries in the July 2023 competition “zoomed in”. Tighter timelines allowed the judged to connect more deeply with the characters as individuals rather than viewing them as faceless archetypes.
Flash tip: Focus on the pivotal point of the character’s story where something significant, unexpected, or intense dramatically shifts the narrative.
For more ideas: Google “shattering moment”
Respect the prompts
Entries which were clearly written in the spirit of one or more of the competition prompts were generally better received than those which merely treated the prompts as an aside. The judges tended to prefer entries which took a well-executed and unique spin on the prompts. In the July 2023 winning entry, for example, the “crossing the line” prompt was taken literally, and the main character “crossing” the blue line of their romantic counterpart’s skirt became a central component of the plot.
Flash tip: Don’t just run with your first idea. Brainstorm the prompts until you land on one you feel excited to write about. Then give it your own personal twist.
For more ideas: Get together with a friend or use ChatGPT to brainstorm the prompts. If using ChatGPT, remember others will be doing the same so try to avoid running with its first response.
Don’t forget: The Competition Rules state that you can use ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas, but you cannot use it, or any other AI platform, to write any part of your entry for you.
Savour the details
The judges were impressed by the overall standard of writing in the July 2023 competition. So, for writers to stand out, they needed to bring something extra to the table. Often, a beautifully crafted sentence or a couple of evocative details were enough to tip a story onto the longlist.
Flash tip: Use a couple of small, poignant details to set the scene. Try to express these details in a fresh, new way without venturing into “purple prose” territory.
For more ideas: Google “sensory writing”
Of course, there is no one way to write flash fiction, and the next success story may follow only some or none of these tips to succeed. After all, writing is more than craft: it is art.
We invite you to consider these tips in the context of your own creativity, and to challenge yourself and us with your own unique take on the next batch of prompts.
Need more inspiration? Read the July 2023 winning and shortlisted entries and listen to the ‘How to Win the Not Quite Write Prize’ bonus episode of the podcast, in which the judges discuss their personal biases in detail.
Our next Not Quite Write Prize for Flash Fiction kicks off in January 2024 with a AU$1,000 first prize!