- Adhere to traditional standards of writing such as punctuation, spelling, grammar and syntax. Particularly, if the competition is run by a school or university and more so, a publisher. Wouldn’t you like to be noticed by someone who could publish your writing?
- Use the rules of the contest but keep creative within the given theme. If you don’t write using the theme your entry will go straight to the bottom, or the shredder. This theme ‘Africa’.
- Literature contests may be looking for originality, refinement, depth, a subtext, and intellectual use of language; an emphasis on interesting characters, and setting rather than plot. Think description over dialogue, usually. A writing competition, (rather than literature contest) will sway towards popular fiction, but many ask for essays, articles and other forms of writing so read the rules and requirements thoroughly.
- This particular competition is on the theme ‘Africa’ and since Africa is such a big continent the theme encompasses many things, so find a unique angle. Freshness and individuality will stand out.
- A great starting paragraph and an absorbing plot that follows your main character on some sort of journey or conflict. Finish with no loose ends.
- Use the correct tense throughout the story. Don’t change from ‘has to be’ to ‘had to be’ later. It’s annoying and incorrect.
- Do not use a passive voice. Active voice will win over the judges.
- Dialogue must be believable, readable and colloquial.
- Choose an exceptional title. First impressions count but it must be relevant to the story.
- Be original. I know you’re thinking the theme takes that away, but it doesn’t. Again, be creative.
- Edit your work thoroughly with at least three drafts.
- Don’t confuse the judges or potential readers with too many characters in a short story.
- In short stories you have little enough word count so make each word count.
- Clichés are just that; cliché. Avoid them.
- Use strong verbs rather than adverbs.
- Fit your entry to the competition you have entered. If it’s for a women’s romance writers’ group it needs to be romance. If it’s for a mystery writers’ group it would be impossible to win without a whodunit or twisting plot.
- Don’t put your name on the manuscript. Your name goes on your entry form but not your manuscript for good reason. The judges need to read each entry on its merit alone.
- Format using 12 point Times New Roman, Arial or Helvetica unless the competition rules specify something else. Usually double spaced and indented at the left column. Pages numbered and a word count shown.
- Competitions often give a choice between hardcopy or email. Read carefully which they prefer, choose hardcopy if you want to pay postage. Emailing submissions my change your formatting but as most people are computer literate now, send this way if you feel comfortable with it. Emails are a quicker way to enter if you are pushing the deadline.
- Do not bribe the judges or think that fancying up your application will help. No cute little post-it messages asking them to choose you as a winner. No hidden chocolates.
- Do not add pictures to your manuscript (unless of course it’s a travel feature that requires a photograph), just send a plain double spaced entry and let your writing win for you.
- Proofread for a final third or fourth time thoroughly. I find reading out loud helps pick up on most errors. Make sure there are no typos. For example; use of your ears is not ‘here’ it’s ‘hear’. Check your words, check your spelling and triple check your punctuation. Judges will critic these mercilessly and one error may see you lose. One correction could see you win. I hope you win.
Have fun and good luck with your entry.
I’VE THOUGHT OF THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP – GET YOUR ENTRY IN ON TIME. TIME IS RUNNING OUT BECAUSE ENTRIES ARE DUE IN ON 30TH APRIL 2014.