>Tips from a contest judge…(via Frightening Journeys)

>Thank you for the well wishes. Jackie is out of the hospital and the pneumonia is completely gone. Good news for both of us. The month of April is seeing contest season in full swing. I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer screen lately, just trying to catch up. The cold weather, deadlines, work and life in general have made me lazy when it comes to writing. I’ve let reviews pile up and put off judging some of my contests until near deadline. My computer files are in serious need of spring cleaning, a task which I plan to get to Saturday.

It’s sort of like a really huge pile of homework or housework. The more you think about it and worry, the bigger it gets until you don’t know how you’ll tackle the mess. I’m about to start edits on To Take Up the Sword, which is set to release in September, while keeping a watchful eye on my deadline for Wait for the Wind in June.

I bought one of those Dragon software and microphone setups with the hopes it would make all this writing go quickly. Umm. Not so much. Learning to talk to your computer is easy, teaching it to listen and UNDERSTAND you is like trying to get your sixteen year old to do his geometry homework. It works in fits and starts with lots of late hours and headaches involved.

Oh, wait. I did stop by to give you some contest tips.

While judging paranormal entries over the last few contests, I’ve noticed several things that could have improved a score with just a little more preparation. So here are some tips to help you down the road, particularly in the paranormal category.

(Often I’ve had to count off for puncuation and grammar. One or two mistakes can slide, a bazillion simple fixes don’t.) Don’t rush your work. Take time to READ through the entry. Make sure it makes sense and is free of typos and basic grammar mistakes. Don’t count on spell-check. Do it yourself.
Another thing to watch out for is the all important HOOK. A hook is the first sentence of a book and it should jump out and grab you by the throat. For example.
Amy opened the door to sunshine and singing birds. Pleasant and sweet, but it doesn’t hook me.

The knob slipped in her nerve slicked hand as Amy opened the door, bending to retrieve the brown paper covered package lying at her feet. Immediately I have to ask why she’s nervous, what’s in the package, etc. I keep reading because I have to know what’s in the box. See? Hook ’em.

3. Paranormal elements. Here’s another pet peeve I have. If its a paranormal, I should be able to get a feel for that by the first page or so. I’ve seen entries that show NO sign of the genre, anywhere. If I can’t see it in the those first twenty pages, I began to wonder if the entry is in the wrong category. In other words ‘Show me the magic.’ Nowadays, if you’re going to write paranormals, you better bring your ‘A’ game.

4. Characterization. Your characters should feel like living breathing people. Can you see them just by reading the words? Forget what you know about them in your head. Can you see them? No? Then how will a judge, editor or publisher endear themselves to your characters.

5. Narration needs a purpose. If you can’t justify it, cut it or amend it.

6. Info dumps are a no-no and take the suspense out of a story. Do you want see what chocolate ice cream tastes like yourself? Or listen to someone else talk about it for three paragraphs. Let the reader experience for themselves.

7. The biggest mistakes I see are POINT OF VIEW slips and I always explain them like this.
You are a ghost floating around. You see and hear all everywhere. Omniscent POV and a good start to a rejection slip.
Same ghost possesses the heroine. Now you can see her thoughts and experience ONLY from her pov. Same goes if you possess the hero. You can not see through the heroine’s eyes.
Every other sentence your speaking from different pov’s. Now your ghost is popping back and forth between hosts. It’s exhausting to try to keep up with all the head hopping. Pick a ‘host’ character and stick with them until you need to change and show it clearly. You can’t read his thoughts in her pov unless your heroine is telepathic and if so, you need to explain that (by showing not telling) up front.
If you take time to double check your work, everyone will be better for it.

It’s officially the weekend for me, so I’m going to enjoy the sunshine from my office window and hopefully get caught up on the chaos of work I need to finish. Y’all have a lovely weekend.