Pencil and words Put Pen to Paper surrounded by hexagons

2021 Put Pen to Paper Short Story Contest for Teens

Accepting stories from May 19 to July 16, 2021

Do you have a knack for writing stories? Enter our annual short story contest for the chance to practice your craft, win great prizes, meet a published author, and network with other young writers. See below for contest details, rules, prizes, and to submit your story. Happy writing authors!

Contest Rules

One entry per student.

Entrants must reside or attend school in Milton.

Students must be finishing Grades 6-12 to enter, and must submit their work in the appropriate category: Junior Category (Grades 6-8) or the Senior Category (Grades 9-12).

Short stories must not exceed 2000 words in length. Word count must be included in the entry form.

Entries must be typed, single sided, double-spaced, using size 12 Times New Roman font. The title should appear at the top of the first page. All pages should be numbered. 

Please do not put your name on your work, as it will be judged anonymously.

All works submitted must be original. Illustrations and poetry will not be considered. Proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling are very important.

All entries must be submitted electronically via the online entry form, no later than July 16th, 2021 at 11:59pm. 

Entries that do not meet these requirements will be disqualified.

The decision of the judges is final. Winners will be announced at the end of summer Awards Reception. 

By entering this contest, you are consenting to have your work, name, and photograph used for promotional purposes in local media and online. Please see a staff member for any further questions. 

Don't Forget to Proofread

In addition to a great storyline, judges also look for proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Have a friend or a family member read over your story for you to help catch any errors. This will help take your story from good to great, and will help the judges to better see all your creative talent. See below for tips from one of our youth volunteers, Maira!

Maira's Top Ten Tips for Writing A Short Story

  • Create Conflict

    Although short stories are much different compared to novels, they still must include all the same elements: Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and of course, the resolution. To effectively build these parts of your story, a strong conflict or issue is necessary. The conflict is what your plot revolves around, so try to make it as clear and captivating as possible. Try to come up with a conflict by brainstorming thoroughly. Ask yourself: What genre do I want to portray in my conflict? What message or takeaway do I want to convey to the reader? How will the main character deal with this issue? What possibilities can stem out of this conflict?

  • Write an Outline or Draft

    An incredibly helpful step to follow in your short-story writing process is to write a basic or “foundation” draft. Once you have a good idea of your story’s plot and characters, write an experimental draft to see where your ideas can take you and the best way to portray your characters and conflict. When writing this draft, try not to worry about the quality of your writing and instead focus on the basic flow you want your story to have. This will give you a strong foundation for your story, and more confidence in your ideas!

  • Take Character Inspiration From People You Know

    One aspect of writing a story that might be tricky is coming up with a character that feels genuine. The best way to portray realistic and believable characters is to base them off on real people you know or have met. Think of people such as the friends and relatives you love, and even someone you might not enjoy the company of. You can take different qualities of these people and events they have experienced to create unique and intriguing characters for your story! Don't forget to protect and respect their privacy though!

  • Use Dialogue to Move the Plot Along

    Short stories are concise and more simple than novels. You would have to be straight to the point, and the best way to carry this out is to make use of dialogue. Instead of taking up words in your story to explain something, use a character to convey it so that you can build your plot, and simultaneously have the reader understand the characters’ situation without any extra explanation. For example, instead of writing: 

    She asked if Howie had tried to phone the Richstone’s house to inform them about Annelaise’s arrival. No matter how he tried to contact them, however, it seemed as if they were rejecting his calls purposefully to avoid discussing the matter. 

    You can say:

    “Did you phone the Richstones about Annelaise’s arrival?”, she asked. “Yes, but it seems they are rejecting my calls purposefully to avoid this matter.”, Howie retorted. 

  • Balance the Pacing

    Sometimes, when writing a story, there might be an imbalance in the length and speed of the plot, which lessens its appeal. You could have a long and detailed introduction and climax but then have an abrupt ending. To avoid this, divide the story into the different parts of the plot and write down your ideas and sequence for each part. You will be able to see if your story is balancing all the plots well. Some parts of the story such as the climax will be shorter compared to other parts. Try fitting the different pieces together, to examine the flow and pace and see if they match the plot of your desired story.

  • Write a Captivating First Paragraph

    Something you will notice in all iconic stories and novels is that they all begin in the most interesting ways. Try finding a unique hook that will essentially pique the reader’s interest and hint at the main plot of the story in some way. Pull a book off your shelf and take a look at how it starts. Does it catch your attention right away and make you want to keep reading?

  • Add Some Drama

    One issue that all writers might go through is wanting the main character to have it easy. At first, you may have the urge to keep things simple for your protagonist so that the reader can be satisfied with them as well. However, this will most likely make your story boring. Keep in mind that this is your story and you can have your characters go through so many possible situations and plot twists that would make your reader hooked! Of course, we must also remember that this is a short story rather than a novel, so even a little drama, say one or two plot twists should be enough.

  • Edit Your Story!

    An important factor in writing a great story is editing. Editing your story will allow you to fix grammar mistakes, use better words in certain situations, and remove unnecessary detail or add some much-needed detail. When editing, try to read your story from the perspective of a judge or teacher who is looking for improvements your writing can have. Remember to not rush this part of the writing process and use your full effort and time to carefully proofread each paragraph of your writing. After all, some polishing will only make it better!

  • Have Someone Else Read Your Work

    After editing your story on your own, it is best to go ahead and get a second opinion on it. Most of the time our brains will get saturated after reading our story over and over again. Getting someone else to read it, will give you fresh ideas as they will look at your story with a newer perspective.

  • Add a Relevant Title

    Even the best of writers have a difficult time coming up with a perfect title for their story. A good title will relate to the story in a way that will spark the interest of your reader. Try making it on the shorter side about 1-3 words, for a catchier title. Try using a protagonist’s name (think Jane Eyre), a setting (think Anne of Green Gables), or a literary device like alliteration (think Dork Diaries), personification, similes, or a metaphor!

Submit Your Story

Submit your story online from May 19 to July 16, 2021. Submit your story in either a .doc, .docx, or .rtf format. Don't forget to submit your word count in addition to attaching your story. Please refer to the rules above to ensure your work is complete and ready to compete. The submission form will close at 11:59pm on July 16, 2021. 

Attend the Awards Reception

Winners will be announced at a virtual awards reception on August 25, 2021 at 7:00pm (via Zoom). The evening will feature an author talk from 2020 Red Maple Nominee, Natasha Deen, and presentation of the awards. Prizes are awarded to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners in two Grade divisions: The Junior Category (Grades 6 to 8), and the Senior Category (Grades 9 to 12). Family and friends welcome. Winning entries may also be published on Milton Public Library's website. 

Each winner will receive a signed copy of Natasha Deen's book, In The Key of Nira Ghani and MPL tote bag. Additionally, all winning entries will be published in MPL's first ever Put Pen to Paper ebook

graphic of a bee with dotted flight path trailing

Photo of Author Natasha Deen