by Gwen Gardner
I’m always impressed by the quality of writing in the Insecure Writers Support Group anthologies. To me, it’s a prestigious compilation of stories by respected members of this growing community of writers. When I won top spot in the third anthology, Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime, I was sure someone made a mistake. I mean, I write cozy mysteries. Cozies are gentle reads. They are clean, low key, and low action. Any violence happens off stage and sex is never mentioned.
So how did a cozy mystery story win the top spot in the anthology? First, I went back to the basics that every writer knows: hook, strong verbs and dialogue, quirky characters with flaws, a grounded setting, show rather than tell, and edit, edit, edit. We all know the drill.
I always knew the competition was tough. That much was apparent once I’d read all the stories in Tick Tock. But now that I’m a judge of the next IWSG anthology, it’s become even more apparent. The margin of excellence is so narrow between the remaining competitors that it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite. As a judge, how do I pick my top three favorites when they all deserve to win? What is that extra something you can do that gives you the winning edge?
Go back to the guidelines:
- Keep your eye on the theme and genre. In Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime, the theme was time/clock and the genre mystery/crime/thriller. When I won, the title I submitted to the contest was, A Stitch in Crime. It’s a play on the old saying, “A Stitch in Time”. So you can see I used both the time theme (through a play on words) and the genre (crime) in the title.
- Continue the theme throughout your story. In my story, time was running short to reunite a little girl with the nun who raised her.
- Come full circle by tying the ending of the story to the beginning. In the beginning of my story, my main character was learning how to cross-stitch. Towards the end of the story, a cross-stitch panel ends up being the clue that solves the mystery.
How do you stay up on the writing craft?
Any tips or tricks you use?
She thinks there’s nothing better than a good mystery (being an excellent armchair detective herself), unless it’s throwing a ghost or two into the mix just to “liven” things up. Don’t worry, though. Ghosts may be difficult to keep in line, but they’re harmless—mostly. And it turns out they’re pretty good sleuths, too.
Gwen adores travel and experiencing the cultures and foods of different countries. She is always up for an adventure and anything involving chocolate – not necessarily in that order.
You did tie it all together nicely.
And yes, the top stories are all so good. Good luck picking!
Thanks, Alex. I worked really hard on it and tried to cover all the bases. I feel so blessed and honored to have won a spot. I saw how tough it was to choose between stories as a judge. It comes down to nitpicking!
I loved your cozy story!
I didn't enter this anthology competition (life went completely sideways for a bit) but the story I started for it has potential and is nagging at me to finish it! It must be tough to find the top 3 stories in what I bet is a wonderful pile of writing!
I loved your story (and the character) and your play on words with the title. It was perfect.
It was so tough to choose! Like I told Alex, it came down to nitpicking. They were all so good!
Great tips. I thought you had a great story too. Happy IWSG Day.
Thank you, Diane, I really had fun coming up with it too :)
Thanks, Juneta, you've been so supportive of the anthology, You Rock!
Good luck on judging! I had to trim 1,200 words out of my story not only to get it down to wordcount limits (which then gave me room to add in 900 new words), but to put the meeting of the couple much earlier, without so much lead-up.
Carrie-Anne, cutting and rewriting is part of the process! I'm in the middle of a short story that I've been struggling with. I was trying to fix it, but it's just not working. So rewrite, here I come!
Your story was awesome! Such great tips here.
All the stories were awesome! The next anthology is excellent too. I’m excited for the winners to be announced.
thank you for sharing
Great tips, Gwen! BTW, I love how you've woven humor into your bio with the reference to running away if you ever meet a ghost :-)
You're welcome, my pleasure :)
Thanks, Ellen. I had fun with my bio, LOL.
Good post! Yes, keeping the themes and requirements in mind is important, as is keeping the story tight! I like the point about bringing the ending back around to the beginning, too. I'm not as good at that. I'll have to think about it more!
Keeping it tight is probably the hardest part. That's why cutting is important too. But it's hard!
Your short story was, indeed, a very enjoyable read.
Thank you for the tips.
Thank you, Angela. Your input as my critique partner helped me to make it a great little story!
Those are fantastic tips, Gwen! And it can be terribly hard to judge stories. Sometimes it's the smallest of things that make one story a winner over another, and, even then, it's all subjective.
I judged Write Club one year and came out with a much better sense of why writing was so hard- there is tons of talent for us to compete with.
These are great tips. I enjoy a tight story.
Great tips! So helpful not just for contests, but story-crafting in general. And I can only imagine how tough it must be to judge countless amazing stories like that!
You’re so right, Cherie. Subjective is the key word. And it can change on any given day.
So many talented people these days!
Judging was eye-opening for sure. So much talent that I had to keep revisiting the stories and what I liked about them in order to choose—a nearly impossible situation!
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