3. Don’t write a “spooky story”
Spooky stories are wonderful. But for a writing competition they give you a lot of problems. First, everybody thinks they can write them. But you should want to stand out. Second, it’s very hard to come up with anything spooky that hasn’t already been done a million times. So how can you make your story unpredictable?
But the biggest problem is going to be your ending. Spooky things are usually spooky because they can’t be explained – the supernatural curse, the face at the window, the ghosts and ghouls from beyond our world… So once you reveal what’s behind the spooky stuff it feels like an anticlimax. And if you don’t reveal what’s behind your spooky stuff, what do you end with? You end with dot, dot, dot of course.
Almost two in three stories by young writers that I read for competitions are spooky stories that ‘end’ with a thrilling moment of danger and then… that’s it. No resolution, no explanation, no fun of seeing how the character fights back (or fails to) just the dreaded dot, dot, dot… I can usually guess from the first line whether a story is going to “end” with a dot, dot, dot.
Dot, dot dot is not an ending. It’s a beginning.
Joe Craig, author of the Jimmy Coates spy series and judge of the National Short Story Week young writer competition, has some tips for budding young writers on avoiding common creative writing pitfalls and how to stand out from the crowd.