Oxford University Press Story Writing Competition
The Short Story Writing Competition is held annually by the Emirates Literature Foundation for school and university students.
The inspiration for 2024 is ‘Beginnings’.
‘Beginnings’ are very important for books and stories. They set the scene for what is to come and hook the readers in. They invite readers to stay and read till the end – making ‘beginnings’ count is crucial for an author.
‘Beginnings’ are also very meaningful in life. We cannot start new life adventures unless we take that first step and begin!
This theme encourages you to explore any experience that you/your character(s) may have had with ‘beginnings’.
‘Beginnings’ are different for everyone, tell us what is yours?
Registration opens on 12 June 2023.
How the Competition Works
Write your story – use your imagination and creativity to the full, but do remember that your inspiration is ‘Beginnings’.
You may choose your own title in keeping with the theme.
Complete all sections of the online entry, attaching your story as a Word document. Entries can be in Arabic or in English. To submit your story in Arabic, please click here.
You should submit under the appropriate age category, which relates to your age by 31 October 2023. Please note the word limit for each category:
- Ages 11 and under (maximum of 500 words)
- Ages 12-14 (maximum of 1000 words)
- Ages 15-17 (maximum of 1500 words)
- Age 18-25 (maximum of 2000 words)
Participants must be full-time students in schools, colleges and universities.
Registration opens on 12 June 2023.
The deadline to submit your story is 31 October 2023.
Story Writing Competition: Tips and Guidelines
‘Beginnings’ are very important for books and stories. They set the scene for what is to come and hook the readers in. They invite the readers to stay and read till the end – making a ‘beginning’ count is crucial for an author.
‘Beginnings’ are also very meaningful in life. We cannot start new life adventures unless we take that first step and begin!
This theme encourages you to explore any experience that you/ your character/s may have had with ‘beginnings’.
A good story often encompasses the outcomes of struggles, which are an essential element in any story. Observe the environment around you and ask yourself questions that can assist you in identifying exciting and valuable experiences! You can always approach the story from different angles: What new insights have you gained as a result of your new experiences? What effect did it have on your life?
There is no one way to approach a story, remember to always use your creativity to tell your story. This year’s theme will allow you to share and express your vision of friendship! Have fun with this theme and be as creative as you can!
Make problems for your characters
Which of these storylines is the better story?
- Person 1 and Person 2 drive off into the sunset
- Person 1 and Person 2 are driving off into the sunset when a masked man suddenly appears…
Which story would you rather read? Most likely, you will want to read Story B. Why is that? Because Story B has a problem, something that may stop the characters from achieving what they want. Can they overcome it? How? What happens in the end? This is the basis of the plot. And if the characters and the plot are interesting, the reader will want to know how it ends.
All stories must have a problem or conflict. Check it out – take any story or film or TV series you already know and find the problem. (Longer stories may have several problems to be solved.)
Ideas for stories are always about asking questions:
‘Beginnings’ is the inspiration for this year’s competition, so the questions you must ask are varied:
- What does ‘beginnings’ mean in the context of your story?
- How will you use ‘beginnings’ within your story?
- Do the specific ‘beginnings’ you have created cause any constraints that affect your plot?
- How would you use ‘beginnings’ as a metaphor?
… And finding answers:
In a short story, it is sensible to only have one problem and a maximum of 3 characters.
This will make asking and answering your questions more straightforward.
- What actually happens in the end? It is always good to know how the story ends when you start writing.
- Don’t be afraid to write more than one draft or to discard bad ideas (or even good ideas, if they don’t fit – they might end up fitting another story!)
- ‘He woke up and it was all a dream’ is NOT a good ending! Think about what the ending means:
- Is it satisfying for the characters, and for the reader?
- Is the ending earned, or have you taken the easy way out?
- If you can’t think of a good ending, go back to your plan and find out what’s missing – or sometimes, what is complicating things and can be removed.
- Keep the storyline simple.
The smaller the word limit, the simpler it must be. However ambitious you want to be, making the story over-complicated and rushed is never a good answer.
Plan: Write a brief 5-point outline for your story.
The better the planning, the easier the writing. A plan also helps with paragraphing.
Here is a very simple example of an outline:
Section 1. In her new home, unhappy Jane explores the attic & finds a parcel with a baby’s tiny gown and shoes.
Section 2.Jane is curious. Why is that the only thing left in the house? Who was the baby? Where is the family now?
Section 3. Asks the neighbours and gets a negative reaction from everyone. Why? What is the secret? She is even more determined now.
Section 4.Goes to the library. Gets the same reaction. Jane is frustrated. An old man in the library overhears, ‘accidentally’ bumps into her and whispers the name of the local newspaper and a date. Jane checks it out and learns the truth. Finds the name and address in the online phone directory.
Section 5. Jane takes the parcel to the owner, hears the full story. Both are now happy and Jane makes her first friend.
Now write your story.
Let your reader imagine making that journey with your character.
Use a mixture of good description, action and dialogue so they can feel, see and hear, even maybe smell and taste what your character can. Let the reader know what the character is feeling.
Show, don’t tell.
Which one of these makes you feel the fear?
‘He was afraid.’
‘He could not speak, his heart was beating wildly in his chest and his feet felt glued to the floor.’
Don’t spell emotions out for the reader, instead let your characters’ words and actions describe whether they are happy or not with life and the way things turn out. The idea of ‘Show, don’t tell’ is particularly important when creating new worlds within your story, as your readers need to feel they can see, hear, touch and even smell the world to believe in it properly.
Well done, you’ve written your story. Now you have one more very important thing to do.
Read and Edit!
It helps if you wait some time before you read your story. That way you will read it more like a reader than a writer.
- Read your story carefully.
Read what you actually wrote – not what you think you wrote. Find and correct the mistakes (the red and green underlines on your word processor can help, so don’t ignore them, but also don’t accept bad advice from a computer!)
- Read your story aloud.
Hear where the pauses are. Have you used correct punctuation? Have you used speech marks and new paragraphs so your reader knows who is speaking now? Does it sound like real speech? If you are unable to say it, your reader will not be able to read it.
As you read, look out for the following:
- Have you used a good variety of sentence structure and the best words to do the job?
- Are there sections you should cut or places where you need more detail?
- How did you want your reader to feel or think? Have you achieved your aim?
- Have you followed the rules about word count, and used Times New Roman, point 12?
Respect yourself and your readers and you will please the judges.
Enjoy! Submit! Good luck!
Frequently Asked Questions
To help aspiring writers as they consider story ideas, draft, revise and edit, the frequently asked questions and answers below are organized according to the different stages in the writing process:
Does brainstorming have to be done in steps?
No, brainstorming is a very free process. Many writers jot down any and all ideas that come to them in no particular form. Then they go back and consider which ideas they like. You can also make mind maps to help in brainstorming.
Can you take inspiration from other writers?
Inspiration, yes. Exact ideas or words, no. Use your imagination or your own experience to come up with creative ideas of your own.
What do you think is the best genre of stories for the competition—fantasy, science fiction or realistic fiction?
All genres are fine for the story writing competition, but whatever genre the story is, it must fit the theme for the year.
Can we write a story about something that has already happened?
The keyword here is ‘fiction’. The story can be about something that seems realistic—something that could happen in real life—but the story competition focuses on fictional stories. You could create a fictional version of something that actually happened though.
Does the scene of the story have to be expected or unexpected? Does a story have to have a plot twist in order to be successful?
Either expected or unexpected scenes are fine, but many short story writers like to use unexpected story elements such as plot twists to keep readers interested and surprise them at the end.
Can the narrator be a part of the story and narrate the protagonist’s story?
Writers can choose if they want the narrator to be a part of the story, writing about himself or herself with ‘I’ (the first-person point of view), or writers can have a narrator who is outside the story and writes as an observer (the third-person point of view).
Does the story have to follow the shape of the plot diagram of the story structure, or can we switch between the stages?
Although some writers like to experiment with story structure, writers generally follow the standard plot diagram. Some writers might stop when they reach the climax of their story to leave the readers wondering what happened, but most writers like to show readers how their conflict is resolved. As far as the beginning of the story goes, the writer might not have much exposition to introduce the characters and setting so that readers have to guess, but there still needs to be some sort of exposition, or readers will not understand what is going on at all.
Can you share an example of a good start to a story?
Stories can begin in many ways, but some suggestions for starting a story are the following: begin in the middle of an action or conversation so that readers are curious about what is going on and want to keep reading, ask a question, or talk about the setting.
If a story is serious, what does it have to start with?
Serious stories, like other stories, can begin in a number of ways. Look at the answer to the question above for some ideas.
Can we start with ‘Once upon a time’?
Unless you are writing a fairy tale, you probably should not start your story with ‘Once upon a time’. Even if you are writing a fairy tale, you might want to come up with a more imaginative opening.
What is the meaning of ‘figurative’?
‘Figurative’ refers to symbolic or metaphorical meaning. For example, ‘Her daughter was her sunshine’ includes a figurative use of ‘sunshine’. The daughter is not the sun, of course, but she brings happiness to the mother like sunshine after a dark night.
What is the meaning of ‘evocative’?
‘Evocative’ refers to creating pictures in the mind of the readers so they can feel the experiences and memories of a character or setting. Using sensory description (e.g., writing about what can be seen, heard, smelled, touched and tasted) and figurative language often helps writers to create evocative stories.
Are we allowed to copy phrases from different books that fit the theme of our stories?
Generally, it is not allowed to copy other writers’ words and use them in your own story. If you really like what another writer has written and think it fits your theme, perhaps you could put that sentence at the top of the first page, before the beginning of your story, with the writer’s name clearly shown to show how you are thinking about the ideas in your story.
How do you come up with good story titles?
Try to come up with a fairly short, catchy phrase for your title to attract the readers’ attention. For example, you can create titles related to your story theme, the setting, a character, an important event or mystery in the story. You can also use one line from your story, or make your title a question.
Why do we have to revise what we write? Is it because we might have some mistakes or something?
Many writers say they spend most of their time in the revising stage of the writing process because when they write the first draft of the story, they are focusing on what happens and do not think enough about how all the events fit together or how interesting their language is. It is always good to think about how you can make your first draft better. A writer’s tip: Leave your first draft overnight before you start to revise. The next day you will see your story with ‘new eyes’ and be able to identify what needs to be improved.
Is quality better than quantity?
Focusing on quality is usually better than focusing on quantity. Advice given to many students is to ‘write more about less’, that is, write in detail about a smaller incident and fewer characters to make a situation come alive for the reader. Short stories normally have one main conflict, only a few characters, and a limited setting.
Sometimes while writing in detail, we exceed the word count. How can we work on this?
If you have too many words, you can use three strategies. First, remove any repeated words or ideas. For example, do not say ‘a tiny, little boy’ because ‘tiny’ and ‘little’ have very similar meanings. Second, get rid of any extra connecting words that are not required. For instance, you can take out ‘that’ in the following sentence: ‘The boy that I remembered sat on the bench outside the school’. Third, look at your content, and remove any description you think is not necessary to make the events in the story clear to the reader. It can be difficult to remove passages you like, but a story is often better when the language use is concise and well-focused.
Is using the power of three or more adjectives and adverbs useful?
Writers’ opinions vary on this question, and people who wrote 100 or 200 years ago tended to use more adjectives and adverbs than today’s writers do. Nowadays, it is generally considered better style, for example, to rely on active verbs than adverbs to communicate your message.
Are there limits to the use of punctuation marks?
You should just follow the normal rules for the use of punctuation marks. As far as using too many, it is better not to write double punctuation marks such as ‘??’, and not to use a lot of semi-colons (;).
If we have already submitted a story, can we submit another one?
Yes, of course, you can submit multiple entries.
Is it fine to rewrite our stories? Is it allowed to re-submit?
Yes, just make sure you re-submit before the deadline. Also, we would suggest that you include ‘updated’ in brackets after the title of your story so that we know that this is the latest submission of the older version of your story.
How many stories can we submit?
As many as you want.
Do students have to type the story or hand-write it?
Students should type their stories. Stories should be submitted in a legible font, size 12-point, 1.5 line spacing.
Is it alright if the word count exceeds the limit by 3 or 4 words?
Yes. You are allowed a 10% extra word count from the final word limit. You do not necessarily have to count the title of your story within the word count.
How do you write a clean copy?
The term ‘clean copy’ refers to a story that has no content or language errors, no highlighting, and no notes written on it. A clean copy should also be in a clear font (size 12) with proper paragraph spacing. Basically, a clean copy of a story is a copy that is ready to be read and published for others to see.
If it is a true story, can we mention it in the story?
The idea is for you to refine your creative writing skills and to write a fictional story. You can most certainly borrow some ideas from real life. However, there is no need to mention that in your story.
What are the criteria that our stories are judged on?
Judges look for an interesting and well-organized plot; fully developed characters; an evocative setting; a vivid and imaginative use of language; and accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation. They also consider carefully whether the story fits the story writing competition theme for the year.
For some more advice on how to write an effective short story please watch our story writing workshop with author Christopher Edge, below.
Winners will be honoured in a prize giving ceremony during the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in February 2024.
The winners from each age category will receive:
- A plaque
- Five copies of the anthology of published stories (A PDF version of the book will be available on our website to download and share)
- The opportunity to attend a Festival session
Terms and Conditions
- Participants must be full-time students in schools, colleges, and universities – and a resident of the UAE. Submissions from students homeschooled in the UAE will also be accepted.
- The competition is open to students of all abilities.
- Copyright of material submitted remains with the Emirates Literature Foundation.
- Do not submit work as your own when part of or all of it has been done by someone else; this includes material found online. It must be entirely your own work, and any stories found to contain non-original content will be disqualified.
- The winning entrants agree to the Emirates Literature Foundation’s and Emirates Airline Festival of Literature’s use of their name and photographs in relation to related publicity material and activities. Schools and students should be aware that they might need to obtain parental consent for this.
- Stories should be submitted in a legible font, size 12 point, 1.5 line spacing.
- Stories should be unpublished and not previously submitted to any other competition.
- Stories should be no longer than the word limit (entries exceeding the word limit assigned for each age group will be disqualified).
- Entries must be received on or before the closing date of 31 October 2023.
- Judges’ decisions are final and no correspondence will be entered into with regard to these decisions.
- Participation in the competition is not open to employees (and/or members of their immediate families) of the Emirates Literature Foundation.
- All participants will receive a Certificate of Participation upon submitting their stories.
- Only the winners will be notified in advance by email or telephone, in December 2023.
- In accordance with normal conventions for writing competitions internationally, entries which do not adhere to the said terms and conditions will not be considered.
Please check that you have followed and agreed to all the terms and conditions before submitting your story.
The Prize Giving Ceremony will take place during the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, held in February 2024.
Enter the Competition
We look forward to reading your entry!Submit Your Short Story