Throughout the year, I judge quite a few entries in unpublished writing contests. Iâ€™m thrilled when I find a really well written entry. Iâ€™ve been known â€“ at least once â€“ to give a perfect score. Iâ€™ve even referred one entrant to my agent.
But I dread finding mistakes that drive the score down. Hoping to help others learn what NOT to do, here are a few examples.
One author wrote wonderful, creative, original metaphors. They were great! Except there were too many, sometimes three on a page. I got a bad case of metaphor-itis and had to lower the score.
Actions cannot happen simultaneously. Try to picture what this character is doing: She stood and carried the baby as she followed the doctor down the hall. You cannot stand and carry and follow all at once. These actions should be in sequence. Standing, she lifted the baby into her arms and followed the doctor.
One author had clearly been told to use the 5 senses. Excellent idea. But not all in one paragraph and then totally forgotten throughout the rest of the manuscript. Weave the 5 senses into every scene so the reader shares the same experiences as the characters.
Dialogue is good. Dialogue by itself is not enough to tell an emotional story. Itâ€™s talking heads.
Read your entry carefully, slowly, aloud, or have someone else do it for you. Silly mistakes and typos can cost you points.
Commas are your friends. Or rather, properly used commas make your sentences understandable. Leave them out and the reader, or judge, has to continually backtrack. Commas used willy-nilly are just as confusing. Donâ€™t guess. Get someone to help you.
You do not fool a judge by not starting a new page for a new chapter. We know youâ€™re trying to squeeze every word into the limited number of pages that you are allowed. It doesnâ€™t help.
Your synopsis, no matter how short, has to include the ending. Donâ€™t make the judge â€” or an editor â€” guess how the story is going to come out.