9 Mistakes Contest Entrants Make by Mary FechterI've entered and judged TONS of contests in the past few years, including the Golden Heart. Below is a combination of mistakes I've seen and mistakes I've made. Some are nitpicky, but still make a difference in your voice, which I believe is the secret to your success. Let me save you some of the same heartache before you send off your baby!
1) Too many characters too soon.
Whatever you do, don't confuse the reader with two many characters. The simpler the better. I was told to remove three characters from the first scene of my contracted book, and was repeatedly dinged in Hot Shot for introducing another woman before the heroine.
2) Lack of setting.
Put the reader in the time and place right away, in each change of scene. Don't go overboard, but incorporate it in the action. I read an entry recently where the character was merely walking down the street, but the tension was layered in with sense of time and place, and the suspense built from that. Include as many of the five senses as make sense.
3) What's the problem?
Bring in conflict as soon as you can without sounding contrived, certainly by the end of the first chapter. Let us know why the hero and heroine can't just walk into the sunset right now, and it needs to be beyond the fact that he's a cop and she's a suspect. Go deep. Maybe you don't need to show it up front, but give us a hint at the conflict, even if you don't go into why.
4) Let your voice shine.
I can't tell you how many entries I read that sound like they've been through critique group one too many times. Don't let well-meaning critique groups erase your voice. Be ware of passive voice, as well. Those sentences that start with "It was" and "There was" are pretty easy to rearrange, most of the time, which keeps your writing tighter.
5) No ending hook.
I know this has been discussed, but I think it's important to have hooks, or at least strong sentences, at the end of each scene, and especially at the end of the partial. Let that editor or judge feel she HAS to know what happens next! I've manipulated many contest entries (spent hours deleting words or sentences to meet the contest requirements) so I could end my entry on a strong hook.
6) Wordy sentences.
Usually this is a problem in the hero's POV, but many times it's a clarity issue. Nothing wrong with breaking an idea into two sentences or more.
7) Talking Heads
Watch for long stretches of dialogue with no tags. Give action tags or something, every few lines, to ground the reader in the scene and clarify who's speaking.
Most of the mistakes I see are in dialogue.
If your character is addressing someone, that should be separated by a comma.
“Mal, I don’t think you should open that door.”
“I don’t know what to think, Bella!”
When using a tag with quotation marks, and the sentence is a statement (not a question or an exclamation), you punctuate with a comma.
“I’m tired of this. I’m going home,” Maddy said.
“So sorry I couldn’t be of more help,” Ben muttered.
When using the tag before the quotation marks, you separate with a comma.
Rolling his eyes at her, he added, “And then we can go home.”
These are the main boo-boos I see in judging contests. Most people know how to separate items in a list, but may insert a comma where it's not needed.
The dark, blue dress clung to her figure. No comma needed here because A) dark describes blue and B) you only need a comma with more than two adjectives. Can I think of an example at 1:30 AM? No, I cannot.
Also, there should be a comma between an introductory word (like also, or no ;) ) and the rest of the sentence.
9) NOT SUBMITTING
I've known two people who finished their book for the GH and then waited to submit till they knew if they finalled. Who has that kind of time in this business? Submit, submit, submit (as soon as it's polished, of course.) And then write something new!