To help in our quest to write ever better, I’m going to list some of the things that are considered in the TWG Fiction Contest’s judging. I suspect other contests look at similar elements.
1. Opening ~ Is there something in your first line, first paragraph, or first page that hooks the reader and makes him/her want to read on?
2. Characters ~ Do your characters live off the page; do they seem like they must be real, living breathing people somewhere?
3. Dialogue ~ Do the things your characters say “ring true”? And does your dialogue move the story forward and add to characterization?
4. Plot ~ What does your character want and what’s getting in the way of his achieving that goal? Make sure it’s clear!
5. Theme ~ Does your story have some sort of lasting power? Does it give the reader something to think about after the last page is read? Is it about more than just the actions and events that take place between its pages?
6. Involvement ~ Does your reader get so caught up in the story that they forget they’re reading? Watch out for “telling” and explaining everything.
7. Language ~ Do you show a masterful command of language—maybe even flashes of brilliance? Find and destroy language/usage/grammar problems!
8. Pace ~ Page by page, do you create a “must keep reading” feeling?
9. Ending ~ Does your ending give your reader that “ahhh” feeling (happy or sad); does it add to the story as a whole?
That little extra ~ There are many other qualities that make a story jump off the page and into a reader’s head, so pay attention to the above, but don’t treat it like a check-list. Have fun with your stories; run with your inspirations. Concentrate on showing the story that you’re burning to tell, and regardless of contest or market response, don’t get discouraged. Keep getting the words out on paper!
Happy writing to us all,