Entering a writing competition is exciting. With a whole host of competitions offering prizes from money to representation with an agent to publication, winning can be a great way to kick-start your writing career. But it can also be a nerve-wracking experience. How can I make my entry stand out? What are the judges looking for? What’s going to make them pick me?
Here are the top tips I found useful when I submitted to and eventually won the EHarmony/Trapeze Write Your Love Story competition with my novel, One Month of You.
Hook your reader
Beginnings matter. With judges often working their way through hundreds of entries, giving them a strong opening that immediately captures their interest is going to do you a lot of favours. Try to start your story in a moment of interest. This could be an observation about something that is happening, something your character is doing, a snippet of speech. It probably won’t be anything to do with the weather or waking up in the morning.
End on a high
Most novel-writing competitions initially ask for the opening of your novel before asking for more if you get to the next stage. If this is the case, the end of your entry needs to work in the same way as your opening: it needs to compel the judge to want to read more. Give consideration to where you are leaving your entry. Try to make it at a point where the judge reading it will be so desperate to find out what happens next, they’ll have no choice but to ask to see more!
Focus on character
Who is your story about? What decisions do they have to make? What do they want? The most memorable stories stay with us because of the characters in them. Make sure you get to know your characters before you start to write about them, and try to make them behave like real people.
Polish, polish, polish
Make your writing shine. It’s always worth going over your competition entry to check for errors and things that can be improved. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but reading, re-reading and reading again will help to make it the best you can get it.
The best way to learn how to craft a compelling opening, an interesting character or a satisfying ending is to see how other writers do it. Read the types of stories you think yours might compare to and see what you like about those stories and what works well. Then read different stories and see what you like in those too.
Write the story you would want to read
Most important of all, when you do set about writing for a competition – or for any other reason – write the story that you care about with the characters you would want to spend time with. If you’ve enjoyed writing it, most likely the judges will enjoy it too.
One Month of You by Suzanne Ewart is published by Orion Fiction 24th June 2021 PBO, audio and eBook £8.99