When I'm thinking about submitting a short story to a competition, I always try and find something the judge of the competition has written, as if that will give me an idea whether she or he will choose my story for glory! However, now that I'm honoured to be on the other "side" as one of the final judges for the Brit Awards (now closed), the Bristol Short Story Prize (get your entry in before March 31st!), and the sole judge reading all the entries for the Sean O'Faolain prize (just opened), I realised something: what I love to read is often very different from the sorts of things I love to write. I thought this might be useful for those of you who are entering.
I read a short story collection per month for review for The Short Review, and, after 2 1/2 years, I can see that if you look at my reviews, you would have a hard time pinpointing what exactly it is in a short story that thrills me. I have been bowled over by science fiction and thrilled by the highly experimental, deeply moved by realist stories, and blown away by tiny flash fictions and much longer stories. If you really want to get an idea of what I love to read, check out my latest review, of Janice Galloway's extraordinary and category-defying Collected Stories, and at the bottom is a list of all the reviews I have written.
So, to sum up: I can't sum up, and I am very glad about that. Yes, I love the very short, but I will also gladly be won over by a short story nudging the word limit if it justifies its length and each word is necessary. I am grabbed by characters with strong voices that jump off the page, but also by much quieter stories. Not much has to happen to impress me. It's not about plot. It's not about sudden twists, the dead rising, major revalations.
So, this is probably singularly unhelpful if you thought I might give you a hint as to what you "should" submit. My one criteria is this: I want to read a story that only you could write. All the story collections I have loved have struck me hard as being something that, yes, may have originally taken inspiration from previous greats, as we all do, but this author told their stories the only way they could. So here's my Great Advice: just send me a story only you could have written. No more and no less than that.