Clarity of Night contests focus on technical skills writing first. If you earn your place in the Forties Club with a score of at least 40 out of 45 points, I believe you've "won." (See HERE for scoring information.) HOWEVER, there are those of you who say the Forties Club is nice and all, but I want to WIN, damn it!! Okay I hear you. We're talking about the second level judging here. The much more subjective part. So I'll give you some guidance.
#1 BE ORIGINAL
During this contest, I expect to have read more than 1,000 entries over the course of my contests. Yeah, that's a lot. I can't help but get excited when I read something original and wilt a bit when I read the opposite. I definitely see patterns in certain common themes. Based on past experience, be wary of the following story concepts:
- The police have cordoned off the crime scene and the detective has just arrived.
- The abused wife is finally leaving (or killing) her husband
- A body is being picked by scavengers.
- The Earth is being invaded.
- The knowing detective is guiding/mentoring the less talented sidekick or pretty girl.
- A passing-to-the-other-side death scene.
If you chose one of these storylines (or something else done many times), that's okay, but make sure you're bringing something fresh to the concept.
#2 HAVE AN IMPACT
Make sure the story has a reason for being told in 250 words. What was is it's point? Is it memorable? Did it leave an impression?
Here are some things that don't have a huge impact:
- An introduction to a character or a situation which never really goes anywhere, especially if it feels like the beginning of a much longer work.
- Regurgitating something already famous. Yes, you can recreate the destruction of the Death Star, Rambo's rampage, or Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, but we're much more interested in something that can only come from you.
- Stock scenes, such as The Interrogation, The Discovery of the Body, the Final Defeat of the Bad Guy. If you're doing a stock scene, make sure it's fresh and unique.
#3 MAKE US BELIEVE IT
If you are writing something that's outside of normal reality, you have to sell it to us. It has to live. So, if you're putting us on a spaceship orbiting planet Popcorn, we need to totally buy it. It can't just be one of those scenes-you-always-get-on-the-bridge-of-a-spaceship. If the scene is something that happens in real life, make us believe that too. It's just a little easier to get there, because you've lived a lot more normal life than you've visited planet Popcorn. (Hopefully.)
#4 YOU HAVE A BETTER CHANCE IF THERE AREN'T MANY STORIES LIKE YOURS
I do try to have a mix of stories in the winners circle. I believe it would be a drag if one or two genres dominated. Therefore, a contestant who wrote a unique story has a better chance that each of the ten people who wrote generally equivalent murderer/stalker stories.
#5 HUMOR AND IRONY AND SATIRE CAN WORK TOO
The story doesn't have to be a serious portrayal. Many offbeat and humorous pieces have won. Just make sure it's a story and not an essay.