Sunday, 27 April 2008

Back to Cadenza competition reading...

It's such a different thing, reading flash work and reading full length short stories. The first needs a concentration rather akin to that used when you read poetry, seeking out the essence...and the short story needs something allied but different.

So after spending the best part of last week on the Fish One Page Story shortlist, and loving every moment, it's now time to return to reading ALL the Cadenza short story competition entries. Good, bad and middling. Not for us the luxury of only reading the cream of the crop!!

It makes me realise what a privilege it was to just be served the Fish shortlist, whittled down by a team of readers from over 900(seems like) entries, through longlisting, sifting, sifting, until a nucleus of very good pieces is reached, and this forms that shortlist.

The Cadenza entries are read by both the editor (Zoe King) and I. We read the whole lot separately, meeting up to discuss the short lists if possible, towards the end. But it is lovely to report that in the vast majority of cases, we agree on both initial sifts and in the final placings.

We both tend to use craft element analysis as we go, and read everything blind. We each allocate a 'grade' and then swap the complete lists and comments to see if we've agreed.... trying to split them into three groups, A B and C, with subdivisions B+ or B- for example.

The A group is no trouble. It will be very small, and very good. A dream to read.

The B++ B+ ones are great too, but may have something flawed in the construct, or a craft element less than strongly developed. B and B- need care... they will always be looked at with extra care on the next read, to make sure the decision is not a purely subjective one.

C is easy, and always the biggest group, sadly. Often the writers won't have really done their research.... and I wonder if this means they have never even read a single copy of Cadenza? C will contain badly written anything. Genre, in particular. We find a lot of cliche-ridden work in this category...stereotypical characters, meaningless yarns, twist in tail plots. 'It was all a dream'!

And this last group always makes me wonder... where are the writers getting the impression that the work is suitable for a competition run by a literary short story magazine, albeit a small one? Worth punting a fiver on?

Is it the courses they are on? Or the courses they are not on?

3 comments:

Emerging Writer said...

It would be interesting if you could somehow distill what you found into a 'what not to do' and/or a 'what to do' list for potential entrants.

Vanessa G said...

I can do better than that... I posted a distillation of an excellent list of just such advice, following the Willesden Herald debacle. I can't better Stephen Moran's list...

http://vanessagebbiesnews.blogspot.com/2008/02/how-not-to-win-literary-competitions.html

here's my precis. Check out Willesden herald archive for the whole thing..

Vanessa G said...

OK it didnt like the link... check back for what I posted in early Feb. Search on 'Willesden', that will narrow it down.