Here are some tips from Joe Craig, author of the Jimmy Coates spy series, about how to write a winning story. To read the entire article, go to THE GUARDIAN website.
Don’t start with weather. It’s too easy and common: “It was a dark and stormy night. It was rather chilly with a brisk easterly wind..” Start with people and conflict. Those two things are the essence of any story. People and conflict will drive your story forward. The only possible reason to start with the weather is if your story is about the weather – perhaps it’s a disaster story about a big storm, or a survival story.
Don’t write a “spooky story”. It’s very hard to come up with anything spooky that hasn’t already been done a million times. So how can you make your story unpredictable? Spooky things are usually spooky because they can’t be explained – the ghosts and ghouls from beyond our world… So once you reveal what’s behind the spooky stuff it feels like an anticlimax. And if you don’t reveal what’s behind your spooky stuff, what do you end with? You end with dot, dot, dot of course, with no resolution and no explanation.
There’s always a better way of SHOWING your story rather than just TELLING the reader what to imagine by using an adjective or adverb. Vivid writing grabs readers’ attention and draws them into your story. Use dialogue, dramatic action and specific descriptions.
Challenge every word; the best stories are the most re-written stories. The more you re-write, the more you’ll stand out from every other entry in a creative writing competition. Find the best bits of your story and hone them to make them better. Find the weaker parts – cut them. Cut and rewrite furiously. Make every line count – for the story, not for its own beauty. Challenge every word.