Using Literary Magazines (And Contests) To Guide Your Fiction

Thursday, February 06, 2020
Last year I wrote a flash fiction piece that never felt finished to me. I would change certain elements of the story, but nothing ever felt complete. I had no connection to the core element of the story (and I wasn't even sure what the core element was). I didn't feel like I knew the character or what was supposed to happen.

Until I came across a contest with a literary magazine. It was a contest where you start your story with the first-line provided. Then everything clicked. Thanks to this first line, I suddenly knew who my character was (actually, this contest led me to changing my character from female to male and that changed the whole dynamic of the story).

Thanks to this contest, and another one that recently inspired me, I think I have discovered the answer to all of those unfinished pieces. You see, sometimes I will write the beginning of a scene that doesn't seem to take off into a story. Or it is a complete story but I have no connection to it and it feels incomplete. 

Now I pore over recent calls for submissions and look for various themes and contest prompts that inspire me. I don't always have a story that applies to the various contests and themes, but this has become a very fun exercise to revamp a story that never got off the ground (or never got completed).

So, I encourage you to keep your eye out for those contests and calls for submissions, especially ones with themes or prompts. When you read over the theme or prompt or element they are asking you to have in your story, ask yourself, "How can I use this in my story?" And don't just think of polished pieces. Think of half-finished pieces or scenes you enjoy or characters that light up the stage or plot lines that need a star character. Those pieces can suddenly have a new breath of life thanks to the new perspective this contest or theme gives you.

Also, if you aren't too aware of where to find calls for submissions and contests (outside of Submittable), here are a few newsletters I subscribe to: (this lists writing jobs AND calls for submissions).
Published To Death
New Pages
Funds for Writers
Writers HQ 

Has a writing contest ever guided your stories or writing in any way? 


Yvonne Osborne said...

Thanks for the links!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I second the thank you for the links. I will definitely have to look at calls for contests and submissions as inspiration to rework unfinished pieces. Like all authors, I have dozens and dozens of pieces that have never taken off.

Renee Roberson said...

I've written things specifically for contests in general, but only once did I use the them of the contest as inspiration for a new work. I love this idea, though, and will see about using it in the future for inspiration! I look forward to checking out those links.

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