Young Writers’ Competition

Launched in 2022, the Young Writers’ competition is aimed at building a new generation of young writers in South Africa.

This is more important than ever, with recent reports showing that South Africa’s youth are in a dire literacy crisis. The pandemic erased a decade of literacy work.

According to the Background Report for the 2030 Reading Panel, released in 2023, only 18% of South Africa’s Grade 4s can read for meaning. Less than 50% of children in no-fee paying schools know the alphabet by Grade 2. Despite this ongoing literary crisis, there is no national reading plan and no progress on implementing vital interventions.

In addition to tackling the literacy crisis from the early childhood development stage, it is crucial to encourage a love of reading and writing for enjoyment as well as meaning. Initiatives that focus on literacy will play an increasingly important role in this goal.

The competition calls for aspiring young writers to submit their original short stories based on a specific theme each year.

Writing Tips

– courtesy of author Jarred Thompson

  • What is it about your story idea that interests you? In other words, what do you want to find out/explore/understand/ depict?
  • What point of view (POV) will allow you to tell the story you want to tell? Different POVs allow you to do different things. In first person, the narrator uses the pronoun ‘I’ throughout the writing. In second person, the narrator uses the pronoun ‘you.’ In third person, the narrator uses the pronouns ‘she/he/they/it.’ Each offers a particular viewpoint of the action.
  • Where in the story do you need to start to get to the points of tension you want and what are the ways those tensions resolve, or don’t resolve?
  • How much of your characters’ lives are backstory to be alluded to in the writing and how much is part of the central action of the story?
  • A scene can start in several ways:
    • Dialogue
    • Reflection/Observation
    • Scene setting
    • Action
    • Object
  • What combination of these is most impactful depending on the story you want to tell? This also depends on where you choose to start your story.
  • In the short-story form, everything must be economical.
  • Never give a generic description. When we enter a new space, show it to us—but through a particular lens: your character’s [or narrator’s] points of view, modified by their mood.
  • A good piece of fiction teaches the reader how to read the narrative from the first paragraph.
  • Characters can be built through asking yourself questions that you brainstorm the answers to.
  • Take some time to think about your main characters. Where do they start in the story and where would you like them to end up?
  • What kinds of events will impact your characters and make them change (plot).
  • Take some time to consider what books are in their TBR pile? What music do they listen to? What movies do they want to see this weekend?
  • What are their habits and their ways of speaking?
  • How do they see the world and their place in it?
  • Remember, this is background research. Most of this probably won’t go into the final draft of the story.
  • If you come to a pre-planned plot point that doesn’t feel right for your character, then you need to change your plot point.
  • The story is the big picture.
  • The plot is how you get from one side of the story to the other.
  • Plot involves cause and effect.
  • Most importantly, the events of your story must be driven by characters in your story world. They must come from the internal/external actions and decisions of the characters in the world and not feel as if you’re forcing the characters into predetermined plots.
  • Cliché and Tropes – common or overused themes or figures of speech.
  • Unrealistic Dialogue
  • Openings not starting close enough to the inciting incident.
  • Characters that act wildly unexpectedly to how they’ve been acting up to a certain point without adequate clues, foreshadowing, build-up or later explanation.
  • Endings that resolve things too fast.
  • Endings that fall flat with no sense of insight gained.
  • Every artist needs a portfolio of work.
  • Research local literary journals (New Contrast, Imbiza, New Coin, Lolwe, Doek! Ons Kleinjie, Sol Plaatje Poetry Anthology, Isele Magazine, Kalahari Review) and find out when their submission window is.
  • Read the stories in those journals you want to get published in. What are those stories doing that you are not? How can you incorporate those techniques in your own writing?
  • Submit to local literary journals or the many international journals that cater to your demographic or style. Try Freedom with Writing or Authors Publish Magazine.
  • Find a community of writers to share your work with.
  • Look for opportunities to become a reader or volunteer at a literary journal.
  • Apply to competitions, workshops, mentorships, scholarships etc. Every little bit counts.
  • Learn from creative failure and commit to a beginner’s mindset.