The 14th annual Islands Short Fiction Contest (ISFC) received a boost in funding from the Vancouver Island University Department of Creative Writing and Journalism, putting the total to be bestowed at over $2200 in cash and prizes to be awarded over three categories. ISFC is a regionally-focused competition intended to highlight the work of writers in the area, and submissions are only accepted from residents of Vancouver Island and the northern and southern Gulf Islands.

The entry deadline is March 29, 2019, by 12 pm. Complete details and entry forms are available here.

The Nav asked Stephen Guppy, this year’s Islands Short Fiction Contest judge and former Vancouver Island University Creative Writing department chair and instructor, about writing short fiction and what he’s looking for amongst the submissions.

How do you approach writing short fiction?

I usually try to sneak up on it, but sometimes it sneaks up on me.

What stories that you’ve read have taught you something about the craft of writing short fiction?

I think you can learn from any story that you’ve enjoyed reading. Most of us get into writing stories because we want to create something that’s similar to the stuff we’ve enjoyed. You ask yourself, “Why did I like that story?” Did you empathize with the character? Did the conflict get your adrenaline pumping? Was the setting richly-rendered and intriguing? Did the resolution surprise and enlighten? Was the dialogue witty or the descriptions poetic? Those questions can point you toward techniques that you can apply to your own work.

As someone who’s co-edited an anthology of short stories and whose work has appeared in Best Canadian Stories, the Journey Prize Anthology, and numerous literary magazines, what makes a short story stand out for you?

I always look for strong, clear, rich prose. Some readers, particularly of genre fiction, will put up with sloppy, uninspired writing if the characters are interesting and the plot full of twists and turns, but my tolerance from clunky prose is very low.

What advice would you give to writers of fiction?

Love the process. Very few fiction writers will be rewarded with money, fame, and a gold ticket to Hollywood, so you have to enjoy story-telling. For most of us, that’s what it’s about.

Finally, what are you looking for in this year’s contest?

I’m excited by stories that grab me right away, from the first paragraph, with an engaging character and an interesting conflict. I also, as I’ve said, put a lot of emphasis on clear, creative prose writing, and I want the story to progress without digression to a satisfying resolution. I don’t expect every story to have all that nailed—it often takes a lot of drafts to get all the technical aspects of a story dialled in—but I want to see strong potential and clear intentions. I’m open to any genre: I read literary fiction, but I also like mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, romances, westerns, and so on.

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