Recently, I’ve had the honor to be asked if I would judge manuscripts for unpublished authors in several national contests. As a former contest “diva”, I enjoy reading others’ works and recall all too well, the thrill of entering contests. You spend hours preparing the required number of pages and launch it, fingers crossed, into cyberspace with the hope that not only will you final, you’ll win. But too often mistakes are made that can keep you from advancing to the final round. What did I do wrong? Why didn’t I final? You might ask. That being said, I’d like to offer a few tips on mistakes to avoid and ways to keep your writing fresh
1. Start your story with action or with an opening “hook.” You could do this with one sentence. Just think of the immortal line, “It was a dark and stormy night…. What if you added, “just perfect for a murder.Now, all he needed was a place to hide the body.” Perhaps not the best, but you get the idea.
2.Don’t bog your reader down with lengthy descriptions of the pretty setting, the smells, the blue sky , the smell of baking cookies. Get us into what is happening as quickly as possible. You can weave this in to the action as the story unfolds.
3 Try to get the hero and heroine together as quickly as possible. Yes, I know some will say if there is a foreshadowing, you can delay the meeting for several pages. I’ve read some contest entries where the hero and heroine don’t meet until the last few pages. Which leads me to…
4. Too much back story, also known as the dreaded information dump. You’ll take the fun out of your story and your readers getting to know your characters if you tell us everything in paragraph after paragraph(and sometimes pages-ARGH!- of stuff we didn’t need to know right away. The skillful writer has learned how to seamlessly weave throughout the story so a complete picture of your hero/heroine emerges over time. Work it into dialogue or scene at hand.
5. SHOW, DON’T TELL. This might as well be the first commandment for writers. We all know this, but it is so easy to not do it. “You’re mad!” he said angrily vs. Contempt curled his lips. “You’re mad.” Try to avoid using the word “felt” if you can. instead of “she felt a shiver run up her spine, try. “Dread shivered up her spine.” Your reader will know she “felt” it.
6. CHECK YOUR RESEARCH! I read a contest entry recently where the mistake was so glaring, I checked it to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. You’ll come across as lazy or not interested enough to be sure of your facts, and that is fatal for a writer. Even I, techno-phobe that I am, check the facts on the Internet before I commit to paper. Don’t trust to your memory. Double check to be sure.
So, those are my tips. I wish you Happy Writing and happy blogging.