So what makes a contest-winning story? The same things that make a sellable story. Character, setting, plot, good writing. You know, that stuff. At this point I don’t know who all the other judges are going to be, but here’s what I look for in a good story:
Character: All story comes from character. Who your main character is will drive your plot. How your character changes is how the plot affects your character. If you know your character well, then everything they do will make sense to the reader.
Action: This is different from plot, in that how your character acts and reacts will drive the plot.
Plot: The structure of your story. At the most basic level, it’s about what happens, but it’s also why things happen, and the results. Every action has a reaction.
Setting: It’s good to have one, and especially have your character(s) react to your setting, whether it’s out in space or in a fantasy alternate reality. Again, your character makes things real.
Theme: Don’t worry about this. This is for English class. Theme has no place in writing.
Good writing: Again, at the most basic level, please be competent with grammar and punctuation. The Elements of Style, also know as Strunk & White, is your friend. But good writing goes beyond good grammar. Take a look at your favorite author. No, I mean really look at the way they write. I often point to Chapter 6 of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone) as an excellent example of the unfolding of plot, character, background, and setting. Everything you need to know about Harry, Ron, and Hermione and their classmates is presented in an engaging, clear, and well-written style. You can learn a lot from that chapter.
I am looking forward to seeing everyone’s entries! Good luck, and see you at the con in a few months.