For people like me whose short stories come few and far between, one of the bugbears is getting the word-count right. Now that my new baby is down to 2,750, nearly all the upcoming competitions want 2000 max. – and there’s only so much editing that can be done before the thing loses its character. Delving in the drawer yields a couple of likely 1000 worders: snappy enough, but probably not going to cut the mustard amongst meatier competition.
The answer, of course, is to write more short stories and to vary the length so as to always have ‘one I made earlier’ ready to hand. Until I manage this state of grace, I’m stuck with a stable that falls mainly between 2000 and 3000. Luckily there’s the Bristol Prize to go for (3000) and I’m grateful to the Frome Festival (where I had success two years ago) for allowing 2,200 this year. I can probably find one that will just squeeze under the wire.
Generally I think word-counts are decreasing. Mslexia this year also went down to 2200, and only the ‘biggies’ (Bridport and Fish) are holding out for 5000. It would be nice to think there is a literary rationale behind this, but one suspects the saving in time (for judging) and paper (for printing the winners) might have something to do with it. For really short stories (under 1000) the future is brighter. The short form is ideal for reading from the screen and so there are lots of outlets on the web. This month The Yellow Room Magazine also has a special prize for a story under 800. In fact its main competition is 2,500 and it will accept up to 5000 for other submissions. It’s good to see one of the smaller players offering real variety.