How to Win Writing Contests

Posted on: 14th April 2014

If you know the tricks of the trade, i.e. writing know-hows, then submitting literary pieces in contests can be a lucrative and fulfilling endeavour.

Single quotation marks for speech are commonly seen in published books these days. But when a writing contestant used it, the main judge emailed the entrant and commented on how well the contestant has in the competition; nevertheless, the atrocious way of using apostrophes instead of quotation marks in the original manuscript submitted has clearly appalled and disgusted the main judge.

This is something that you should never allow to happen to you. In case, you’re an avid writing contestant but never seem to come close to winning anything at all, you might want to consider obvious mistakes you are making and make amends for them. It is never too late to learn the basics of winning a writing contest.

  1. The rule of the book rules any writing competition. Strive to adhere to the traditional standards of excellence in writing. Throwing away the basic rules for writing out of the window in favour of your bold, revolutionary, or unconventional writing strategy might do more harm than good for your chances in winning the contest. This is especially true when you are joining writing competitions run by colleges, universities or any academic institution.
  2. If it is a Literature competition, then by all means treat it as such. The use of language must therefore be ripe with creativity, cleverness, depth, subtlety and subtext, to name a few strong literary characteristics. There is an obvious partiality towards interesting, dark and complex characters rather than just an overly-worked plot.
  3. If it is a Writing competition, then a popular work of fiction would be your best weapon. Now is the time to bring out all the big guns for your plot. A captivating introduction is essential. Try to maintain the drama and the suspense all throughout the body.
  4. Ending the story can be quite complicated – you can either go to the expected yet heart-warming conclusion or you may opt for an entirely different one that would completely catch them off guard. Either way, the plot dictates the amount of conflict it would bring to the characters. And a good and realistic conflict is always an effective ingredient for your story. Never end a story without having the character find resolution to all the conflicts. It leaves a bad taste to the mouth. It leaves the judges and the readers hanging.
  5. If the writing competition has a particular theme, make sure that your story has that theme written all over the place. Don’t force it; it must be smoothly interwoven throughout the storyline.
  6. Whatever type of writing competition you join, do not forget that the title can make or break your story. It is your first impression to the judge/s and first impressions really leave a long-lasting impact on the material you are going to present. It can definitely affect – positively or negatively – your chances of winning the competition.
  7. A single point of view is what will work best for short stories. Always remember that unless you want to have the judges be left in a state of utter confusion.
  8. Use the right tense. Every story requires a specific tense in order to make the plot more interesting.
  9. Always use the active voice, if it can be helped. A passive voice makes for a weak storyline.
  10. Though you want to use real people for your story’s characters, do not be tempted to do so. They make for boring elements. Characters, especially the main ones, should be larger than life yet still believable. You could, however, draw inspiration from real life and add more pizzazz to it in your story.
  11. Exclamation marks are reserved for single word statements like “Ouch!” Limit its use even for shouting scenes in the story.
  12. Do not fall for clichés. Judges hate those. You should be painfully aware of not having one in your story unless you want the judges to be turned off immediately.
  13. Strong verbs are preferred over the most powerful set of adverbs. Adjectives in a series must be avoided.
  14. Be unique, attention-grabbing and original. Remember that judges have to go through countless manuscripts in a limited amount of time. Providing something different that would appeal to their literary gastronomic appetite could mean the grand prize for you.
  15.  It would be helpful to read about the work of the judge, if you know who it is going to be. This way, you can tailor-made your entry to something that would appeal to his or her genre without sacrificing your own style or tone.
  16. All details about you, most especially your name, should go the entry form, not on the manuscript.
  17. Unless the rules ask for something else, use Arial or Times New Roman in 12 point.
  18. Whenever it is possible, choose a paper entry rather than an online entry. Even Word attachments in email can spell disaster even after the most careful of formatting considerations.
  19. Do not add anything else to your manuscript other than what is required from the competition details. Some people actually add their pictures or other non-essentials. It won’t add up to your score. It might actually send your work directly to the bin.
  20. Proofread a million times. Don’t be too emotionally invested on a particular scene or paragraph, even if it took you sleepless nights to create that, if it would not seem fitting to the overall tone of the story. Use your delete key carefully but vigilantly. Read it out loud to yourself. If judges cannot decide between two excellent entries, it would all boil down to whose work is perfectly set-out without typos and whose work has misspelled just one word.

Happy writing and good luck!

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