You Want to Impress the Judges?
Every year we receive many good entries but they are not always well-written or well presented. Here are some tips to help you avoid pitfalls that may ruin your chances of selection for publication.
Read your work aloud carefully before submitting. Listen for these things:
- Unnecessary repetition. Repetition can have its uses, but usually annoys like a stone in your shoe.
- Too much “I” in a first-person text and too much repetition of characters’ names. Use “I” sparingly and characters’ names only enough to clarify who is speaking or being spoken of.
- Too many sentences of the same type. Have sentences of varying lengths and types of construction.
- Keep to one main verb tense per text. It’s usually fatal to mix them unless for a specific purpose.
- Use exclamation marks sparingly. Someone said they are “like laughing at your own jokes”.
Ask someone else to read your work. Choose someone who you know will give honest and fair advice, and ask this person to look out for the things mentioned in the previous paragraph. Writers know their work well but do not always include everything that the reader may need; equally, it’s easy to over-explain when it’s better to back off and let the reader do some work. Give your work a read-test with the audience.
Paragraph carefully. A paragraph (stanza or “verse” in a poem) should work arm in arm with those on either side of it, to develop stages in a line of thought, or to indicate a change of focus. In dialogue, it indicates a change of speaker. Paragraphs help you and the reader to understand your text.
- Avoid long paragraphs. Tedious to a modern reader.
- Avoid creating paragraphs too often. This can also be tedious.
- Resist the da-DAH effect: if there is a dramatic moment let your reader discover it rather than be told by a “helpful” paragraph break.
Before you send your entries, proofread them beyond the level of an electronic spell-check. The recommendations above are the sorts of things it takes a flexible human brain to detect. When you do spell-check, set the Language function to English (New Zealand) or English (UK).