Recently I was asked to judge a writing contest.
Some of the common problems I found were:
- The story didn’t fit the genre
- Confusing or awkward beginnings
- Unclear who the main character was
- Unclear how old the main character was (some hint would have been nice)
- Overuse of other dialogue tags besides “said” and “asked”
- Punctuation errors
- Telling, telling, telling (I’m not talking about transitions or other appropriate places to tell)
- Poor proofing
- Too much description
- Head hopping
- Large chunks of backstory
- Inconsistent verb tense
- No sense of setting
- Overuse of “as”
- Main character was only an observer
- Too many characters which caused confusion
- Dialogue punctuation errors
- Sentence fragments
- Unclear audience
- Not following directions
There was usually more than one of these problems. The result was I didn’t want to read on.
Here’s how I work at avoiding these kinds of issues:
1. Set my writing aside for several weeks. When I come back to it, I can read what it actually says, not what I think it says, and revise.
2. Know the rules of punctuation, point of view, verb tenses, etc.
3. Know what my weaknesses are. Whether it is overuse of words, not including enough introspection, etc., I search for them in my writing. I know I have trouble with some rules and refresh them periodically.
4. Read my writing out loud to my critique group. Sometimes I hear my own errors. Often, I find something I thought was perfectly clear in my writing is not clear to my critique partners.
5. Revise again.
6. Set it aside again. Edit again. Take back to critique group if necessary.
7. Do specific market research. (Have been doing general market search all along.)
8. Read the submission guidelines and make sure I’m sending appropriately. If my piece, story, or book doesn’t fit, I go back to market research.
Rushing to submit, whether it is to a contest, a magazine, an editor, or an agent, usually backfires. At the best, it is a waste of your time and the time of whoever is receiving your piece. At the worst, they may never want to look at what you send again.