Every time Faith Wilson looks back on a piece of work she’s written, she finds something to change.
“Keep revisiting it and reworking it,” the poet and writer says when asked for her top writing tips. “Every time I read something that is mine with fresh eyes, I find something new, something to open, a word to change, a sentence to delete.”
Wilson is the new judge of the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Awards, and will read and select the best emerging Pasifika writer. Wilson directssaufo`i Press, which is dedicated to publishing Moana Pacific poetry and creating a platform for Pasifika authors.
Former writer and editor of The Pantograph Punch and 2022 Michael King Writing Resident, she completed her Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2014 and was also awarded the Biggs Poetry Prize.
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No pressure, news writers.
But people considering entering the awards, which have a $1,500 prize for the best emerging Pasifika writer and a $7,000 prize for the overall winner, need not be in the dark about what looks like good news and how to do it.
Wilson is more than happy to share her thoughts. What does she look for in a new winner?
“Writing that isn’t afraid to be different or to experiment. Writing that trusts its own skin, its own voice,” she says. “Strong and believable characters. I want to feel totally absorbed in the story world and the people in it.
“I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for audacity, something that makes me take a step back, writing that delights in the use of language. I’m looking for something that moves me – whether through laughter, tragedy, frustration, fear, grief – I think the best stories get your emotions moving in some way.
It can be tension, surprise or intrigue.
“As all writers know, there’s no formula for a winning story, so ultimately I guess I just hope to be surprised, intrigued, bowled over!”
The Short Story Awards are now in their 39th year and this year’s judges include an esteemed literary panel composed of Wilson, Witi Ihimaera, judging the best emerging Māori writer; Owen Marshall, judging the big winner; and Dominic Hoey, judge for best high school writer. The awards are sponsored by the Milford Foundation and Penguin Random House NZ.
Past winners include novelists Eleanor Catton and Kirsten McDougalland last year Hoey wonfor a short story about a family living in Gray Lynn in Auckland in the 1980s. The winners will receive individual comments from the judges, their stories will be published on Things and in the Sunday Star-Timesand be read aloud on a special podcast.
As registration closes at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, October 31, it’s not too late to give it a try.
Faith Wilson’s Best Writing Tips
- Everyone has different techniques, but I find it helpful to just express all the thoughts I have on the page, even if they’re not in a logical order or just random bits. Otherwise, I feel like these ideas are just there, cluttering my brain. As you continue to write your story, you can drag these other elements into place.
- Take the time to really reflect and build characters. These are the characters we connect with, and root for or against, so think carefully about what you want your characters to be. I like to take the time to define a character’s personality, the things they like, dislike, weird or unique characteristics about them. Even if that detail doesn’t go into the story, the work you’ve put into building a round, complex character will pay off in how you write about them.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with how you use language. Use weird words that apparently don’t go together. Describe something using all five senses (but maybe not at all once). Have fun with words. Don’t be afraid to get weird.
- Disregard linear time! Stories don’t have to start at the beginning and end at the end. Start at the end, finish in the middle. You get my drift.
- Don’t explain too much. Short stories don’t have the luxury of space like novels, so jump straight into the action. Immerse the reader in the world. Give them enough detail to anchor them in the story, but trust the reader and let them do some of the work too.
Entries are now open for the 2022 Sunday Star-Times News Awards, with prizes totaling over $10,000 thanks to the support of the Milford Foundation and Random penguin house. Full terms and conditions are available online. You can also enter here. The deadline is October 31.