Only one tip matters: and that is to remember there are two people involved in any story, the writer and the reader. It is far too easy to forget the reader when you are struggling to get the words together and to put in the last full stop.
What interests readers are the characters in the story and how they deal with the events as the plot line unfolds. You do not go to the theatre to look at the scenery you go to see the actors. Similarly, In a story, especially a short story, you only need to sketch in the background, let the reader fill that in for you. For example, if the action takes place in a kitchen just say ‘in the kitchen’ and the reader will create their own kitchen. Concentrate your words on the actions and behaviour of the characters and on moving the plot forward
You want your reader to empathise with the characters, to care about them and want to see what happens to them as the plot unfolds. If the reader doesn’t care about the characters they will not read on. So, give your characters attributes the reader can relate to, give them emotions, make them laugh, cry, shout, be angry….. make them live. I am sure you have been told before, but it is worth emphasising, the easiest way to do this is to use dialogue, let the characters speak for themselves. How you make characters show themselves is by their reactions to the events unfolding in the story line. Let them show the reader how they react.
Of equal importance is the plot line. Judges are always looking for originality, a new theme or a new take on an old theme. The plot line needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end, sounds obvious but… The beginning paragraph and even the first sentence are crucial. In a short story you need to gain the reader’s interest immediately. You can see examples of this in newspapers where first lines in stories are specifically written to grab attention. The middle section is where the main work of plot and character development, the heavy lifting, is done and the ending is set up. The ending, as the beginning, is crucial. The reader wants to see closure to the story. Try to avoid obvious endings. Not all crime fiction stories need a murder nor do they need to start or finish with a dead body. Try to surprise the reader with an ending they are not expecting.
Characters and plots are crucial but other aspects are also important. Writing technique alone cannot make a good story but poor technique can ruin one. Use analogies and metaphors to bring wording to life, try to find new ways of saying something. Then, when you have done all this edit, edit, edit… Every sentence counts. If it does not move the plot forward or develop the characters why is it there? Are you just painting the scenery?
Now the ending, sorry no surprise, it just comes back to where we started. When you have put in the last full stop step into the reader’s shoes and read your story from their point of view.