15 Tips for Entering a Contest

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In honor of the TARA Silver Anniversary Contest, Scarlett put together 15 tips to consider when entering a writing contest.


  1. Always adhere to the industry’s traditional standards. A contest is not the time to throw the rule book of correctness away.
  2. Write a great opening line and an absorbing first scene. Give your main character(s) an interesting, difficult tussle (conflict) of some kind. Try to end each scene with a hook, but definitely, leave a memorable hook at the end of your entry. Make the judge wish she/he had the full book in their hands.
  3. Use your delete key. Read and reread your work. Does the paragraph you really like and spent hours over advance your story? No? Then delete it. Does your story only get going on the second page? Delete page one.
  4. Don’t confuse the judge by head hopping. If you’re writing the thoughts from one character’s head, don’t switch back and forth to another’s thoughts in the same scene. Example:

Jane scrubbed the pot with vigor. Her mother refused to accept the situation. (Jane’s POV)

There was no point in arguing. Jane never took her advice anyway. (Mom’s POV)

She had to get a place of her own or she’d go insane. (Jane’s POV)

  1. Changing from one character’s point of view is acceptable if done with a smooth transition and kept at a minimum. Example:

Jane finished listing the reasons she needed to leave, and scrubbed the pot with vigor. Her mother refused to accept the situation, but if she didn’t get a place of her own, she’d go insane. (first part of the scene expounds on Jane’s conflicts, goals, and motivations for leaving, and is in her POV)

Barbara stepped beside her daughter and rinsed the sudsy pot. She didn’t understand why Jane couldn’t continue living with her. (show the reader you’ve switched POV by stating the character’s name, slide into Barbara’s thought, and finish the scene in her POV)

  1. Determine if your story is better written in first or third person
  2. Strive for active rather than passive voice.
  3. Your main character should be larger than life, yet still believable.
  4. Do not use exclamation marks except possibly for a single word exclamation such as “Ouch!”
  5. Beware of clichés. It is easy to use one without noticing.
  6. Use strong verbs rather than adverbs. Likewise avoid strings of adjectives.
  7. Try to write something DIFFERENT. Think of the poor judge reading hundreds of stories set in her home country; then she gets to a well written entry set in Antarctica.
  8. Use the entry form for all your details. NEVER put your name on the manuscript.
  9. Your entry should be written in 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced, with one inch margins unless the rules ask for something else.
  10. Proofread, proofread, and proofread your entry again. Don’t rely on spellcheck to check your work. Read it aloud to yourself. Judges will overlook a couple of misspelled words or punctuation errors, but an entry riddled with them is a sign of a lazy writer.

Good luck!


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