There are a lot of short story competitions out there, and most of them are very different. Some are niche, and some are broad. One thing they all share is they have a word limit in the competition rules. One thing I’ve found in writing short stories is that each is as long as the story they have to tell. They don’t conform neatly to a word limit when I’m writing them.
So when I look at competition submission rules, it’s a rare and fortuitous event when a story I think is suitable for that particular competition fits within the word limit. If I’m lucky, they may be only slightly over the limit, and it’s usually a simple matter to knock out some of the superfluous words – there are always superfluous words, no matter how often I’ve revised them. Some stories seem to put on weight quite naturally, and it’s good for them to lose a bit. Cutting out usually leaves a story leaner, tighter, but of course there’s the risk of leaving words out that are essential to the plot, the character, or the arc of the narrative.
Limits can go from ‘less than 8,000 words’, through ‘not more than 5,000’, or ‘under 2,200’ to ‘a maximum of 1,500’. That last one’s really hard for me, because mine tend to average out at just over 2,000 words, and to get below 1,500 I’m sacrificing around a quarter of the story. That’s not worth it. I’d rather write a new story and deliberately keep it within the limit, which is what I’ve done a few times.
The issue with flash fiction is similar but less of a problem. My definition of flash fiction is between 500 and 1,000 words, but some competitions have 500 as the maximum. But that’s OK, really. I enjoy the challenge of creating a story which has a beginning, middle and end on a single side of A4, because that’s what it boils down to.
I’m just about ready to submit some stories to magazines and competitions, and I’ve read the rules and guidelines – you have to.
Good luck with yours.