It’s contest season in the writing world! Perhaps you just submitted your entry to the ACFW Genesis contest earlier this week. There are lots of other contests coming up later this year for both published and unpublished writers.
Several writing friends asked me to give them feedback on their submissions, so I’ve been reading like a potential contest judge and making suggestions to strengthen their stories. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a short “consider this” checklist for any future manuscripts you might submit to a writers contest:
- Avoid starting a scene with dialogue. As the all-wise author of your manuscript, you know who is speaking. But the reader, who is new to both the story and the characters, doesn’t know who is speaking or why they are saying what they are saying or who they are talking to. Starting a scene, especially the first scene in your book, with dialogue creates a lot of questions for your reader — and for a contest judge.
- Avoid muddling up dialogue with multiple action tags. Dialogue, in and of itself, is action. Some writers like to crowd dialogue with a sentence describing some sort of action the character is doing, a.k.a. an action tag. Then comes something the character says. Then another action tag. Then more dialogue. It’s too, too much.
- EXAMPLE: Tony blocked the door, spreading his arms out wide. “You’re not going anywhere.” He glared at Mona, who tried to move past him. “I told you I wanted to talk to you–and I mean it.” Smooth the dialogue out by using only one action tag per segment of dialogue: “You’re not going anywhere.” Tony blocked the door, refusing to let Mona move past him. “I told you I wanted to talk to you–and I meant it.”
- Avoid rushing your story. Oftentimes, a contest entry is the opening scene of your manuscript, which means your Inciting Incident is included. Remember: the Inciting Incident is the event that shoves the main character out of their normal world. It can be negative (someone tries to kill them) or positive (they win the lottery). Once again, as the all-knowing author of your manuscript, you know everything else that’s going to happen to your main character(s) in the rest of the book. Don’t rush it. Pacing is an important element of good writing. Yes, you can slow your story down by dumping in too much backstory. But you can also rush your reader — and a contest judge — if you push the story ahead too quickly, writing too many pivotal elements into early scenes.
- Avoid spending too much time in your character’s head. I blogged about avoiding too much character introspection back in January, offering one tip to get out of your character’s head. Yes, there are times when your POV character is going to be thinking about things — a problem, a person, a decision. The question is: Can you rewrite the scene so instead of thinking, thinking, thinking for fifteen hundred words or more, your character is talking to someone about the situation?
How can you apply these 4 tips to your next contest entry?
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