CrimeFest’s ‘Flashbang’ Competition 2013 and Sarah Hilary’s Five Top Tips

FlashBang2013

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 2013 Flashbang Flash Crime Fiction Contest is now underway and you have until 1 March to get in your entry.  Started by Sarah Hilary in 2012, the competition is going from strength to strength and this year we have small changes such as a £2 entry fee.  It’s still a 150 maximum word count and the first prize is two free passes to CrimeFest.  But new for 2013:  the shortlisted authors will be invited to attend CrimeFest’s Crime Writing Seminar on Thursday 30 May 2013, at which the winners will be announced.

Being the generous lot we are, Sarah has drawn on her experience of overseeing this competition in 2012 to bring you some key tips for 2013.  Just remember to read and keep the tips to yourself, if you want to win.  No tweeting of this post to share the info!

Over to Sarah:

  1. flashbang3Make every word count. Judges are on the lookout for wasted words, or waffle. Decide on your story and stick to it. If you find yourself heading off on a tangent, ask yourself if the tangent is the story you really want to tell. Layers are great, but clarity is vital; if we can’t see the story for the words, then it hasn’t worked. When it’s written, read it through. Can you tell the story in fewer words? If you can, do. For Flashbang 2012, we rejected an entry that used half the word count on the names of train stations. Don’t do that. We want your 150 words, not someone else’s.
  2. Get your title right. It’s the first thing the judges read. Is it eye-catching? Does it intrigue? If it’s one word, does it have at least two meanings? The best titles complete the story, by holding or revealing its secret. Good writers will spend even longer on the title than they do on the story, especially if it’s flash fiction.
  3. Do your research. Read the winning stories from previous years. Find out what the judges like. Don’t imagine every story will suit every contest; please don’t send romantic prose poetry to a crime writing contest (it happens). Flashbang’s judges have been good enough to say what they’re after in a winning story, so check this out. It’s gold dust.
  4. Follow the rules. If the contest says stories in the body of an email, don’t send an attachment. Ditto all other formatting and submission guidelines, which exist to enable the admin team (usually volunteers) to manage the mighty task of judging the contest fairly and on time. This applies even if you’ve put a nice covering note in the email explaining why you’re breaking the rules. Oh and check your entry for errors. If we find typos in 150 words, we don’t put the story through. Simple as that.
  5. Break the rules. Look at the story that won Flashbang 2012: Search History by Iain Rowan. It doesn’t follow a narrative format. It doesn’t use punctuation. It looks odd on the page. It’s risky (there was a second there where it looked like spam in our in-box, but luckily we read it twice and realised it was genius). It won.

Good luck!

Sarah Hilary lives in Bristol, where she writes quirky copy for a well-loved travel publisher. She’s also worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. An award-winning short story writer, Sarah won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012 and the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize in 2008.  But here’s the most recent bit of BIG news for Sarah: her debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, will be published by Headline in February 2014.

4 thoughts on “CrimeFest’s ‘Flashbang’ Competition 2013 and Sarah Hilary’s Five Top Tips

  1. Sarah Hilary

    Many thanks for posting this, Rhian. It’s already getting a lot of ping-backs so people aren’t following your advice to keep the tips to themselves…! Which is great, as far as I’m concerned.

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