--Tips for winning the Story Contest--|
Having read Monchichi's excellent tips in regards to writing poetry, and having won a Story Contest myself, I thought I would contribute some ideas that I've found helpful in the past.
Before we get into tips, let's answer the big question: why bother with the Story Contest at all? In many ways, the Story Contest is the easiest of the Culture trials. Purely from a statistical standpoint you're more likely to win, since the Poetry Revels tend to attract more entries. There are usually anywhere from 15-25 entries for a Story Contest, meaning that you have a reasonable chance to win no matter how terrible your story is! In addition, we are all natural storytellers--after all, you tell your friends and family stories every day. As a result, many people find it easier to tell a story than write a poem.
Now that we've covered the reasons to compete in the Story Contest, let's go over some tips.
1) Relax! As mentioned above, you're already a storyteller. I find that if I pretend I'm just telling a story about something that has really happened to a friend, it's much easier to get into a good flow. When you're relaxed, it'll be easier to write and it'll sound much more natural as well.
2) Write, write, write! The hardest part of the Story Contest is simply getting started. There's nothing more intimidating than a blank sheet of paper. My advice? Fill it up! Just start writing--it doesn't matter what, as long as you're putting something down. Write about how bored you are, how frustrating this is, how you'd rather be hunting; write whatever you're thinking. Once you start writing, pretend you're talking to a friend. What's the story about? What's happening? Why is it happening? Who are the main characters? Don't worry about grammar, spelling, or organization--that will come later. Just get the creative juices flowing and you'll get into writing much faster.
3) Organize! Now that we've got an idea, and we've written a whole bunch of messy ideas, it's time to organize. Once again, start talking to your invisible friend. Answer the following questions in as few words as possible (and no more than a sentence):
What is the story about? (Example: It's about a old soldier sharing his war stories with his grandson.)
Who are the main characters? (Example: the old soldier, grandson, two other soldiers, an enemy.)
What happens in the story? (Example: the old soldier is telling his grandson how his friend was killed and another friend saved his life.)
Why is this happening? (Example: There's a memorial parade and the grandson wants to know what the old soldier did in the war.)
Once you've answered these questions, you've got the skeleton of a story. Add some dialogue and action and you've got a winning entry! The reason for making yourself answer these questions with so few words is because you'll force yourself to be specific--if you're vague or you can't answer them, you know you need to focus the story and make up some more details.
4) Almost done. You've got your story organized, you know what happens, and it seems interesting. At this point, when it seems like you're finished, I like to sit back and add one final step. Wait a little while (at least an hour, but a day or two is better). Read the entire thing out loud to yourself. Make sure you pause for every comma and period, and that you read it as if you were telling the story to a room full of people. If you're stumbling, you know you need to consider that sentence. Is it too long? Too short? Too many commas? Not enough commas? Unclear sentences? Errors will jump out at you in a way that they won't when you're in the process of writing.
5) Turn it in, and win the contest! If you don't happen to win right away, be patient. Read the winning entries and see what they did differently from you. Try and try again--eventually you'll be certain to win.
Kugnae Warrior Tutor