How Short Story Writing & Flash Fiction Gets Judged in Competitions

This post by Zena Shapter originally appeared on her site on 7/24/14.

As some of you may know, I recently judged the Australian Horror Writers’ Association’s short story and flash fiction competition. It involved reading 154 stories and over 385,000 words. At 12pt Times New Roman font, spaced at 1.5 lines, that was 1,066 pages of writing. Whoa!

I’m so glad I read it all though – thank you for sending in your wonderful stories, everyone! It was a fabulous experience. So fabulous, in fact, that I asked my writers’ group – the amazing Northern Beaches Writers’ Group – what insights they might like to have into the judging process, what might be useful to know when writing to win. I’ve answered their questions below. Hopefully you know all this already, but if you don’t then I hope it helps in some small way.


What do judges look for in a story?

The most important thing to realise about competitions, and slush piles, and submission calls, is that the reader reading them has a heck of a lot of reading to do. They are also, generally, reading in their spare time. So sometimes I would sit down with my laptop and a glass of wine at home, and have 30 stories to read but only an hour in which to read them.

I never managed it. 10 stories per hour was my maximum. Still, in that hour I wanted to read as much as possible. Some stories made this easy for me – they flowed well, had an interesting character doing something interesting, and showed me the action happening scene-by-scene, so I thanked them for it with my scoring. Other stories made the hour hard work, with their telling and info-dumping and my struggling to understand what was going on, and they were also scored accordingly.


Click here to read the full post on Zena Shapter’s site.