Competition Hints

These are the story writing hints that I wrote when I published the results of Competition No. 27: The Mischievous Monkey Story Competition – see 2015-2016 Competitions tab to the right. But they apply to ALL story-writing in my competitions – in fact, to all story writing! So if you want to improve your writing – and maybe even become a WINNER in my competitions, make sure you read my hints below! Here they are:

Precious and Bright Idea

Now the best writers are always looking for ways to write even better, and so this time I’ve decided to share with you a little more about what I’m looking for when I judge my competitions, and what common problems seem to be occurring in many of the entries I have read.

Judging a competition is hard work, and the only way to do it properly, so that the very best writers win, in the correct order, is to make a list of everything I expect to see in good writing, put it on a spreadsheet, weight it for importance, and mark every story accordingly! This means that while the special ingredients I give you, as well as things like length and originality are very important, I do mark more “boring” things which are fundamental to good writing!

  •  There were quite a few grammatical errors; in fact nobody’s story was grammatically perfect. The very best way to improve your grammar is to read good books, every single day, for leisure and pleasure. This will give you an innate sense of what looks and sounds right when you are drafting and editing your story;
  • The most common grammatical problem was TENSE. Please be very careful when you are editing to ensure that your tense remains consistent throughout the story;
  • Speech marks were missing in many stories! Do make sure you revise these, and understand how to use them!
  • Commas were either used in the wrong place, or in the place of semi-colons or colons, or sometimes were not used where they should have been! Again, please revise the rules, and make sure when you edit your story that you pay careful attention to your punctuation;
  • One great tip to avoid grammar and punctuation errors is to look at your screen when you type up your story! You will find that your computer software will often underline wrong grammar or punctuation in red, and if you click on that, it will suggest the correct version! This is no substitute for knowing the rules of grammar and punctuation for yourself (which you will acquire if you are a constant reader), but nonetheless it will help you to edit your script before handing it in.

 When readers read a story, they start automatically painting pictures in their heads, drawn from the information given to them by the writer. That’s why the more information about setting and character, the richer and more satisfying the story, and the higher you will score in writing competitions. From this arises two points:

  • Anyone who knows me knows that I am a setting-fiend! I need much more information from all of you about the SETTING! I need to read descriptions of landscape, weather and season and I also need to know when/in what era the story is set. I love it when a writer uses the weather, or the season, throughout the story to add atmosphere or to drive the plot. I love it when a writer gives me a detailed picture of a place, (in this case, China), which convinces me that they’ve done a bit of research and really understand the place they are writing about!
  • I also need to know more about the CHARACTERS! What did they look like, what sort of personality did they have, what motivated them? The more you can tell me, the richer and more interesting the picture I can paint in my mind as I read your story! And don’t forget that details about characters, such as their background, or any special qualities they may have, can become important ingredients in your plot!

 Finally, while most of you made a fabulous effort with the beginning of your stories, I did find that some stories tended to meander in the middle, with no clear build-up to a climax, or with multiple small climaxes and no clear structure. I found even more often that the resolution of the story problem and the ending came in a bit of a rush and was not very satisfying! Please remember that the end of the story is JUST as important as the beginning, and no matter how good the start is, if the ending isn’t strong, the reader will be left with a negative impression.

The solution to all issues of plot structure, setting and characters is, of course, TO WRITE A STORY PLAN BEFORE YOU WRITE YOUR FIRST DRAFT! I can always tell if someone has used a story plan, because their story starts well, ends well, and ticks all the right boxes!

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