So, the first round of Create50's Twisted: 50 Vol 1 reading is done and judging is well underway ... Hadn't heard about #Twisted50?? FOR SHAME. Make sure you CLICK HERE TO JOIN OUR THUNDERCLAP in announcing the finalists on January 20th, 2016. I was a reader on this brilliant initiative to find 50 writers for one twisted, freaky volume of grotesque, unnerving, evil and downright WICKED tales! Twisted: 50 is represented by Blake Friedmann Literary Agency and Amazon have ALREADY ordered a Volume 2! (So WATCH THIS SPACE to see how you can get involved with the second edition, later this year). I read approximately 120 stories of the 500 (approx) that were submitted to Twisted:50 initiative, so here are some thoughts from reading them:
1) The Boring Stuff
First up, the boring stuff like punctuation, grammar, spelling etc: I'm happy to report this was mostly very good. There were some obvious typos here and there, plus a couple of the Non-native english speaking writer made classic errors this ex-TEFL teacher spotted. But overall, I saw very few stories that were absolute shockers on this front, so I guess writers are taking advice on board about this at last. Yay!
2) Start late, finish early
Now, some bad news. Many of the stories I read spent an absolute AGE in set up, outlining the storyworld and characters for us before the real "meat" of the tale. But just like screenplays, short stories have to hit the ground running. Some of the stories recovered from being "top heavy", but most of them didn't, so it's really worth getting up to speed on this.
3) Show, not tell
Another classic writing problem. Rather than involve us in WHAT is going on and WHO is doing it, some stories laid out in full technicolour absolutely every single little thing for the reader. But good prose INVOLVES the character (and thus the reader), and is VISUAL - so actually, studying screenwriting can help you with this.
4) Describe “around” the subject
I found some of the description a little frustrating in that it described "around" what was supposed to be going on: writers placed events "away" from the reader, often via the tense they were using, or by including waffley, filler-phrases like "seemed to be". Be DIRECT and then you CONNECT to the reader. Everyone wants a good yarn, well told - not a trip round the houses!
5) Clarity is an issue
Some of the stories were unclear for me; I simply didn't "get" what their twist was at the end, or even what they were about altogether! I discovered - perhaps unsurprisingly - that many of the best stories I read were those who had had several drafts ON the Twisted Create50 site itself. This will undoubtedly be because those writers who'd utilised the full Twisted experience will have discovered how to use feedback effectively and how to communicate with their audience.
6) Dialogue is an issue
Dialogue was sometimes an issue in the submissions I read. This was usually because characters said absolutely everything they felt, so their words felt "on the nose". Sometimes however there was a complete lack of dialogue and that didn't ring quite true either!
7) The five senses
Unlike screenwriting, prose is NOT "what you see is what you get". The best prose writing makes use of the five senses: not just sight and sound, but smell, taste and touch, too. The best Twisted stories I read brought forth the tangible, especially the icky, painful, disgusting and torturous to name but a few.
8) Sudden endings
Quite a few of the Twisted submissions I read ended very suddenly. I guess this was for impact, but I wasn't always sure of the significance of ending at that particular time. This is undoubtedly linked to point number 2 on this list: writers finished TOO early after setting up too long.
9) "Signals from Fred"
A Signal From Fred is basically the author's subconscious giving away the fact an element in a story is going awry. Script readers like me come across these all the time, the most popular being a character saying, "This doesn't make any sense!" because, quite literally, the story's plot doesn't make any sense. And yes, there *were* Signals From Fred in the Twisted submissions I read. “This doesn't make sense” was top (as ever!), but followed by the runner up: "Am I supposed to believe that??"
10) Popular themes & elements
I've written a lot about what I call "zeitgeist stories" - those themes or elements that different writers come up with, at the same time. This has happened with every single competition or call I've ever worked on and Twisted:50 was no exception. I noted the following as turning up in my pile more than three times (some in the same story!): - Modern takes on relationships & social media - Contagion and apocalypse - Young girls in night dresses - Sexually motivated tales - Psychological terror & madness - Witches, especially witches with one brown eye and one green eye (which is mad specific!!) - Of all the classics that were invoked, the most obvious influences in the Twisted pile that I spotted were obviously going to be Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, but interestingly, The Greek Legend of Sisyphus came out on top by a country mile. Lastly (and weirdly!) I discovered more protagonists called Lucy than ever before, too!
The best stories I read took on universal fears and disgust - ie. parasites, job interviews, exams, childbirth, etc - and TWISTED them. A couple made me actually want to vom a bit. I soon learnt NOT to read the submissions whilst eating anything *just in case*, so thanks for that, guys!
12) Not twisted ENOUGH!
Remember, the book is called TWISTED, plus the website talks of tales that are "evil, wicked and paranormal". So imagine my surprise when I read a fair amount of submissions that simply didn't feel "twisted" at all. Sometimes there was *a* single twist to the tale, usually at the end ... Sometimes they had a single paranormal element ... But they were neither evil or wicked!! In other words, these stories were completely and tonally, OFF. One look at the Twisted:50 website could have confirmed we are looking for DARK tales - if not via the brief itself, than by its pictures, too. Le duh!! As a result, as good as some of these stories were, they didn't advance in the competition. ALWAYS, ALWAYS GO WITH THE BRIEF, MY PRETTIES. THIS ARTICLE about Horror screenplays actually has some good advice that can apply to prose, too.
By the way ...
I loved this idea of this initiative so much I even paid my own £5 and threw my hat in the ring! You can read all FOUR drafts of my story, The Retribution Of Elsie Buckle on the Create50 site, still. But don't worry! I don't get to judge my *own* story - that's up to the other readers, of which there are MANY.
@Bang2Write (Lucy V Hay)