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1/16/2019 1:15:00 AM BY Patti Shene










Patti Shene



If you are a writer, you probably spend a great deal of time staring at a computer screen and crafting words at a keyboard. When the phrases, sentences, and paragraphs don’t flow as easily as you’d like, you look out the window while dreams of fat royalty checks and untold fame dance through your head. Sometimes, you sink into despair, wondering how you will ever bridge the gap from novice writer to published author.



One step that can help lead you on your journey is contest entry. Prizes can range from a certificate of participation to a chance at publication, with cash prizes and college scholarships in between. Even if you don’t make it to the prize bracket, your work comes before the eyes of at least one person who knows his or her way around the writing and publishing industry. Feedback from judges can be invaluable and may save you months or even years of traveling down a path that leads to frustration and failure.



Here are a few tips on how to deliver what judges will be looking for in your manuscript:



Clean copy

A contest judge can tell within the first page whether you alone have read your manuscript or subjected it to the eyes of others. You can polish for days, but the more you read your own work, the easier it is to miss the mistakes. Your brain interprets what it expects to see, not what actually appears on the page. A fresh pair of eyes will pick up misspellings, omitted words like “the” and “a,” and incorrect use of homonyms such as “to” and “too.” Poor spelling, omitted punctuation, and incorrect word usage will get you kicked out of the competition before the end of page one.



A solid opening

Analysis of your story begins with the very first line, so make it the best it can possibly be! Pack enough information into those few words to pique interest and compel the judge to keep turning the pages with enthusiasm and anticipation. Ground your reader in person, time, or place. Kindle emotion with either dialogue or action. Here’s an example:

The girl lay across the bed, staring out the window.

What does that tell us? All we have is the gender of the character and little else. She is lying across a bed, but we have no idea if its night time, when she should be in her bed, or even if the bed in question is her bed. Let’s try again.

Kaitlyn threw herself across her bed and gazed out the window. Tree branches swayed violently in the March wind, their movement as unsettling as the fears that swirled around in her mind.

Our character now has a name. The fact that she can see the tree branches swaying indicates it is probably still light outside. Mention of the month tells the reader the season is spring. If she can see the branches out her window, chances are she does not live in a city. These sentences gives the reader insight into Kaitlyn’s emotion. The action of throwing herself across the bed indicates something is bothering her. The fear building inside Kaitlyn parallels the threat of the storm outside.



Structured scenes

From that first sentence, blow away the competition with well-constructed scenes that move the story forward to its inevitable end. More than one point of view character is fine, but choose the point of view of just one character per scene. Describe the five senses as your character experiences them to pull your readers into the story and draw them into the whirlpool of action and emotion.



Life-like characters

Judges are drawn to believable characters. Give them more than just a pretty face with blue eyes or an athletic build with dark hair. Show the reader your characters’ philosophy of life and how it governs their good and bad choices. Base their current actions on their past experiences. Keep it believable. Don’t create a scene where a character performs a skill of which they could not possibly have any knowledge.

For example, you create a scene where twelve-year-old Breck jumps behind the wheel of a pickup and drives to town to obtain help for his snake bitten grandfather. Nothing previous in the story tells the reader he has ever been behind the wheel of a vehicle. A sentence or two skillfully worked in earlier in the story could reveal that Breck’s grandfather started teaching him how to drive farm equipment, and maybe even the pickup, at the age of eight. This fact about Breck’s familiarity with the operation of a vehicle would provide believability to his action during the emergency scene.



Make some trouble

Readers love trouble – for your characters, that is. The more conflict you bring to your story, the higher the chance your entry will earn a high score. The moment things start going well for a main character, jerk her out of her comfort zone and put her in a situation she has to struggle out of to return to normal. Make life miserable for him by attacking him where he is weakest and forcing him to use his strengths to fight for the goal he strives to achieve.



Avoid the ordinary

The unusual catches the eye of judges, editors, and readers alike. Give your character an uncommon career. Think outside the box beyond medical professional, teacher, lawyer, or businessman. How about professional computer hacker (legal that is!), food taster, or pet insurance salesman? Most of us love cats, dogs, and/or horses, but make your character stand out with her pet ferret or his cherished pot-bellied pig.



Edit! Edit! Edit!

File the rough edges off your work and buff your polished manuscript to a high sheen. Then share your work with another writer for an honest opinion. Why not enter the finished product into a contest where, at the very least, you will receive professional feedback from experienced judges? You may just find that your writing skill shines above the competition.



Follow the Guidelines

Guidelines tell a contestant how to format his or her work, parameters for length of manuscript, fees, deadline date and other essential facts you need to know. Read them careflly – then follow them to the letter. Failure to do so could get your hard work returned without a single word read by a judge.


A simple Internet search of “Writing Contests” will bring up a plethora of choices. One such opportunity is the Genesis contest, offered by American Christian Fiction Writers. Check out the website for contest rules! The contest is now open for submissions and deadline date is March 15, 2019. The decision to enter may just lead you through the door to your publishing goals.




Patti says she likes to write, but she doesn’t get near as much of it done as she should! She maintains two blogs, Patti’s Porch and The Over 50 Writer, where she hosts guest writers and authors in the hope of promoting their work. She also hosts a Blog Talk Radio show,Step Into the Light, where guests share their journey fron darkness to light and/or ways they lead others from darkness to light through ministry, creative endeavors, etc. 

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