First you must know, that this is not a guide on how to win the Caine Prize. Rotimi Babatunde, Noviolet Bulawayo or Olufemi Terry and co would do well to write that. This is merely concerned with getting you on the shortlist , and for that you must be grateful. For if Sir Michael Caine never did have a prize, your name would still be deeply ensconced in Africa’s jungles known only by your town crier. Now, back to business.
1. Choose Your Title Carefully, Two Words Max.
You might love a long title like Romie Scott’s ” A Robot Walks Into A Bar And Says” or Laurie Kubuitsile’s “In The Spirit Of McPhineas Lata” ( She made the shortlist in 2011 but that’s old school now). Those might get you gung-ho fans and instant interest; but remember it is global recognition you crave. Make your title simple and to the point- Bayan Layi, Miracle, America, Whispering Trees, Foriegn Aid.
You see? Two words max. Forget all those editors that insist that a short fiction title must not be a summary but a revelation. Forget anything that would arrest a reader’s attention. Think economy, think simple-minded, think bland.
2.Renounce Your Faith
As a African it is very likely that you believe in God, gods or goddesses. Well,that has to stop now. As a Caine prize hopeful, you are only allowed to believe in ghosts. If your writings show any respect for things that can not be explained and experimented, woe betide you. Islam is only to be mentioned to justify man’s inhumanity to man or to declare one’s independence from it. Christianity can feature but only to show how deceptive and manipulative its clerics are. You may also mention it while alluding to homophobic parents,nothing else. Don’t venture into Traditional religion. Ghosts though are welcome, witches and wizards too. Yeah, they love Harry Potter that much. An utterance should suffice for the shortlist seeker.
3.Bring Out All Africa’s Dirty Linen.
Pa Ikhide and Binavanga Wainaina have spoken extensively about this. ( C’mon, don’t be lazy,google it!) Don’t dare to present Africa in anything but her shabbiest. And if though shabbily dressed she attempts to stun with her wit ,courage or resilience then slap her, better still hack her with a sharp machete or shove on the forehead –DOWN! Dig out the most depraved and contrived of her vices. Turn your hungry cousins to urchins, your broke friends to beggars, your street kids to mafia men. Whatever you do, keep the propaganda pumping–Africa, is a country,one of poverty,stupidity,ignorance, corruption, bigotry and disease.
4. Break EVERY Short Fiction Rule You Ever Heard Or Read.
This is one is simple. Dawdle your words, triple your adverbs, let adjectives litter your prose like confetti. If you can tell a scene with four words use forty. Tell everything as if you are writing for prehistoric preschool children that can’t google broom or slum or snow. Pour in Simile and Metaphor by the handfuls, make sure everything is like something. Leave all your fillers in as well. Take this qoute from this year’s shortlist for instance “an orange tree grew,and a guava tree, and a mango tree…” see? You are three words closer to three thousand ,for free! If that fails then just vacillate, give people titles like Saint, use that to get a ten word bonus. If you are stuck , just imagine camera crew on a Nollywood film site and describe the same scene through each of their lenses. Yeah, that should do it, works best for church scenes though. Good, now you know.
5.Find The Western Angle, Flog It Till Your Readers Faint.
Again this works best when you are reffering to religion. The judges can not have enough about a character’s crimes being passed on as the will of Allah. They go wild when you tell them how you faked a miracle you didn’t get. Allude to it, at least in the parents of your gay partner, or better still let your main character do it Jonah style–one man against his Maker. If that isn’t your style you could go for second best which is homosexuality. Glamourise it, romanticize it, fantacisize it , demonise it, just do it. Every major global literary prize has had healthy doses of queerness in it from the 2012 common wealth pacific region winner–Two Girls In A Boat , to the 2012 Caine Prize shortlist tale– S. Kenani’s Love On Trial . The odds are in your favour, write with them.
If you are still squirming about those, at least, this should be doable– Glorify the immigration experience. You can do it obliquely, directly, subtley, or glaringly( remember peppering your work with adverbs as stated in 4 above), but make it count. Turn America into a bank where a hundred dollar bill is mistaken for two twenties. Make her a Snow Wonderland where even “fruits glisten”. Paint her as a generous haven of broke African Charlatans. The choice is yours. If you can’t do any of these, then perhaps you are on the wrong web page. Log out now, time is money.
6. Write In The First Person.
Forget what your writing workshop teacher said or what you read, the Caine prize short list is serious business and you must do drastic things to get on it. So throw away all those works in the third person limited or the All Seeing Eye Of God (eww! how religious!). Discover your voice. Afterall isn’t this all about you and your winning story? Exactly! So even if you’ve never attempted walking around with a blindfold you can become quite the authority on counting footsteps from your house to the nearest bus stop. Moreso, you can tell us about road trips form Port Harcourt to Lagos that last just eight hours done on your visa interview day. You can also speak of miracles forced on the unbelieving, afterall, its not like the judges read their bibles. In the first person you can also let your author’s voice roam free. Instead of a street child thinking of survival, he can calmly philosophise on Allah and his strange ways. Even a final year medical student’s mind can be reset to avoid nightmares on differential diagnosis, prognosis, probable opthalmology surgery or anything like that. You are the boss remember? Now go and act like it! Don’t forget to mention me in your BBC interview though. That would really hurt.
At time of posting I was visited by my muses, they whispered various other secrets to writting a Caine Prize story, so keep a date with us on this blog. We promise new content everyday, who knows tomorrow part two may be out. This enough for your first draft though , so go!
Naijawriter warns that heeding any of the above advice can prove harmful to your writing career. The statements made are the sole preserve of the author. 😉