One of the things short story competition judges bemoan the most is that they hardly ever see an original story, or a really original idea. Yet being original is one of the fastest ways to get into the shortlist. Providing you can also write well, of course!
Is there actually such a thing as an original idea?
Maybe not. But there are a lot of things you can do to make your story stand out from the crowd. Especially if the competition has a theme. Here are my tips for finding an idea that’s different:
For the purpose of this exercise we’ll assume the theme of our imaginary competition is Loss.
So the first thing you should do is to write down all the ideas that spring to mind when you think of the theme loss. These are mine. Some of them might be yours too.
Loss of job
Loss of spouse
Loss of child
Loss of house
Loss of pet
Loss of life
Loss of bag
There is a good chance that everyone else will think of these ideas too, so unless you have a really original slant, move on and list some more.
Loss of limb, finger, toe, eye
Loss of liberty
Loss of memory
Maybe we’re getting a few ideas that are a bit more lateral. But let’s go on.
Loss of an identity (Alzheimer’s or another reason)
Loss of a parrot – or another unusual pet, think snake or hippo, or how about something mystical, a unicorn
Loss of a generation
Loss of a culture
Loss of a precious artefact
Hopefully there won’t be many stories with the above losses and I’m sure you can think of lots more. But let’s make it a bit more unusual.
What if you used a different structure as well? What if you used a diary structure, for example. I read a brilliant story recently (in a competition I was judging) where the author had used a diary structure, but, just as in the Time Traveller’s Wife the dates weren’t chronological.
Or you could tell your story entirely through taste, or smell, or perhaps dual viewpoint.
Or you could link the scenes with the same setting, for example the sea.
The diary story won the competition I was judging by the way!
Food for thought!