For me, there are plenty of examples of stories which are well written - well-crafted and technically competent. Often, they are very, very good indeed.

But they do not always enjoy success, be it winning competitions or catching the eye of publishers. Why?

I suspect the reason is that they do not have that extra something, that something that makes the story truly live.

Whether it be the description of a place that makes you shiver because you feel the chill air coming off the hills, or a portrayal of a character so real they could easily walk in through the door and you would not be surprised, these are stories that have something extra.

Or it might be a new idea, or a twist on an old idea, that starts you thinking, or something that gets you wanting to shout for joy or roar with anger.

Whatever it is, it these are the somethings that take a story from the OK to really good. The somethings that mean that you simply cannot get the story out of your mind.

Years ago, I presided over the judging panel for short story competition. At the end, the judges picked a superb winner, one that would stand toe to toe with the very best writing around. It was different, quirky, heart-rending, powerful, evocative, inventive, mesmerising - I could go on.

In agreeing their citation, the panel said they wanted to say that there was a lot of ‘competent’ writing out there. It felt like damning the other writers taking part with faint praise but the judges were absolutely right.

There was a lot of stories that were OK, but there were a few that were better than that and one that was absolutely superb. It stood out above all the others and still nestles in a corner of my brain, remembered and admired.

 

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