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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Writing Tips Contest Results

Yes, judging of my Writing Tips Contest is now complete, and I am happy to announce the winners!

To remind you, the rules required a writing tip of 250 words or less, including the title. I had two prizes of a year's subscription to SpellCheckPlus Pro to give away. One I have chosen myself (with a little bit of help from Jayne). The other has been randomly selected by my cat Reggie.

I've reproduced all the competition entries at the end of this post, lightly edited and with titles supplied by me if the author didn't provide one. I thought all of the entries had merit, and another judge might well have come up with a different winner (I'm pleased to say that Jayne agreed with my choice, however!).

So, without further ado, I'm delighted to reveal that the winner of the contest was Suzie, with her entry 'Keep Accurate Submission Records'.

I liked this for a number of reasons: it is well-written and succinct; it presents a specific, useful piece of advice that is germane to every writer; it is illustrated with an amusing anecdote; and it concludes by stating its key message clearly at the end. It didn't hurt, either, that Suzie followed all the rules of the contest to the letter. You can read her winning entry by scrolling down (it's the first in the list).

The other prize was awarded randomly by Reggie. If you want to know the mechanics of this, there were six entries left after taking away Suzie's, so I put a dice on the table with Reggie, and waited until he batted it onto the floor. He 'threw' a 4, so I picked the fourth entry, not including Suzie's. Congratulations then to Jo, who wins the other prize for her entry 'Use the Resources Around You'.

Jo, I will need your email address to notify the people at SpellCheckPlus Pro so that they can arrange for your free subscription. Suzie, I already have your GMail address, so I will give them that unless you tell me otherwise. Click here to contact me.

Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to everyone who took part. Many thanks also to the sponsors, SpellCheckPlus - see the main page of their website for details of their free online spelling and grammar checker, and SpellCheckPlus Pro for their premium service. And, of course, thank you to Reggie, whose morning nap I interrupted for this important task!

All the tips are reproduced below, with Suzie's winning tip first.

1. KEEP ACCURATE SUBMISSION RECORDS - Suzie

When you send off an email or written piece, make sure you keep a diary or computer record of where you sent it, to whom, and the date - along with the details of the submission.

You can use a spreadsheet or, like me, if you prefer paper and pen, then buy a small notebook from a stationery shop and keep accurate hard copy records.

This can save embarrassing situations, such as the one I recently found myself in.

I used a web page submission form to fire off a query letter to a publisher. I didn't even think of making a note at the time, as I assumed they would reply before I forgot. What a mistake that was!

A few months later the publisher contacted me to thank me for my query and requested a full proposal. I could not remember what I had suggested to them so I had the embarrassing task of writing back to say that my PC had died and I had lost all my records. It wasn't true of course, and needless to say I never heard from them again.

So no matter how mundane it may seem, make sure you keep records of everything so that you don't miss the chance of being published.

2. IMAGINE YOU'RE AN ARTIST - Heather

As I write, and particularly when I edit my work, I imagine I'm an artist painting a landscape scene.

When you first put pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard) you are using a wide brush, blocking out the background with bold strokes. You're aiming for the correct scale and proportions at this point, giving yourself a framework to work to. Perhaps, in some scenes, your eye will be drawn to one section of the canvas and you'll add in a little more detail with a narrower brush, but generally your main aim is to cover the canvas with paint.

Remember Rolf Harris...can you tell what it is yet? No, it won't be ready for anyone to read at this point, and if it's a longer story you might be some way from your ideal word count, but it doesn't matter at this stage.

Once your background, or story, is complete you'll pick up your thinner brushes and start building up layers of colour to add depth, light and shadow - giving your characters personality and emotion. Finally, you can choose a really fine brush and go over the canvas yet again, adding in those finishing touches, perfecting your word choices and bringing the picture to life.

3. DREAM UP YOUR STORY - Leah

I'm sure you're familiar with the advice to have little notebooks and pens in every room of your house. In the bathroom, on your bedside table. And here I'm going to tell you to not use them. Not with this technique, which I've been using successfully ever since I first started writing as a child.

When you go to bed, don't count sheep. Think about your story. Dream about your main character while you're still awake. Dream while you're in that twilight zone between wakefulness and sleep - but don't reach for your pen and paper; it will disrupt the flow of your dream. Dream about what's going to happen until you fall asleep.

When you wake up, still half asleep, pick up your dream where you left it last night and allow yourself to dream for just a little while longer. Then, when you're finally fully awake, grab pen and paper and write it all down.

You can also use this technique when you're taking a nice long hot bath, or in the car on a two-hour drive to your grandparents up North... Just make sure you're in the passenger seat.

4. LISTEN TO YOUR WORDS - Hughdunit

When you read, you subconsciously hear the words in your mind, so when you have written something, it makes sense to read it aloud, to make sure it conveys what you want it to. If it sounds right, it probably is. But beware. It might still need revising.

Driving too fast along the jungle track an elephant suddenly appeared in front of her.

The reader will know what you mean, but not before getting a bizarre mental image of an elephant behind the wheel of a speeding car. Your story, and your credibility as a writer, is ruined.

Reading your work aloud will not only show whether the writing makes sense, it will also help with the punctuation. Try saying out loud the following sentence:

She hurried past the cake shop she had already eaten and didn't want to be tempted, she was trying to lose weight.

As it is written, without proper punctuation, it's nonsense. What, she'd already eaten the cake shop? Reading it aloud immediately shows that it should be three separate sentences.

She hurried past the cake shop. She had already eaten, and didn't want to be tempted. She was trying to lose weight.

The comma after eaten is not essential, but the slight pause makes it sound better.

Whatever you write, whether a postcard or novel, reading it aloud will make it better.

5. USE THE RESOURCES AROUND YOU - Jo

If you are struggling to create characters you can use the resources around you.

Spend some time sitting in a cafe or pub and use other people to help mould your character or create a new one.

Listen to other people's conversations, are they telling any funny stories? Are they discussing any burning issues or talking about something that has actually happened?

Look at what they are wearing, how they have their hair, how they greet each other.

Ask yourself how they respond when they are laughing, how they look when they are confused and body language and non-verbal signs.

Alternatively look at old photos of schoolfriends or people you were on holiday with and try and remember their personality traits and mannerisms and use these in your characters.

As time has elapsed and you have fitted them to your story they won't be able to be identified but will be very believable.

I hope this helps either form an existing character or inspire a new one, perhaps even a whole new tale just from eavesdropping someone else's conversation.

6. STAY ON A ROLL - Margarett

My best tip is when you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, maybe paint to canvas and when you are on a roll keep going!

If inspiration hits in the middle of the night get up and put it on the page. We lose so much by not putting it down for safe keeping.

I know I had a big inspiration for this and then went to sleep and lost it. Seriously, get that first draft down, no matter if it does not play well.

That is what tweaking is for, and second drafts and third. Just keep writing till it's done and then worry about editing and touching it up. Get inspiration from anyone, anywhere and from anything.

Paint the picture you want seen with your words.

7. HOW TO CATCH ONE ERROR EVERY TIME YOU WRITE - Casey Quinn

In Microsoft we trust is a rule many writers come to follow. In doing so we leave ourselves open to sneaky writing errors that slip by Microsoft's editing. As a result, your writing looks, well, unedited. These simple mistakes happen to everyone and are the reason why you cannot trust your word processing software to do what only human eyes can. Next time you finish your writing and smile from clearing all underlined errors the editing gods determined are your only issues, comb over your writing in search of the following errors.

Right spelling, wrong form: While 'there' is spelled correctly, did you mean 'their'? 'See' instead of 'sea'? 'Write' instead of 'Right'? Make sure the correct forms of the words are being used.

Right spelling, wrong word: It happens. We meant to say 'he had bent down to pick something up' and instead we typed 'he had been down to pick something up.' Why did we do it? Who knows, but it is up to you to catch it!

Tenses: If only! If only they were smart enough to tell you that in one sentence your character took actions in the past but was currently in the present.

While the editing list is endless (plot, structure, dialogue, etc), if you run through your writing at the end look for these three things. I bet you make at least one more change just when you thought you were done!

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8 Comments:

Blogger Suzie said...

Wow! Thanks, Nick. I'm over the moon :)

To further illustrate the point, keeping accurate records has just resulted in me signed a book deal this week!

11:38 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

No problem, Suzie. Glad you're enjoying such a successful week!

11:45 AM  
Blogger Suzie said...

Nick,

Just wanted to let you know about an online diary I have discovered that can utilised for keeping track of writing deadlines and submissions.

It's free and can be accessed from anywhere in the world providing you remember your password!

You can find it at: http://www.uptothesky.com

Suzie x

2:19 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Suzie. I'll check it out!

2:33 PM  
Blogger Leah said...

Congrats, Suzie and Jo.
Well done both of you.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Many thanks for your generous comments, Leah. I did like your tip as well, but just wasn't sure it would work for everyone.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Leah said...

Thanks Nick.
No, I can't garuantee my tip will work for everyone. Obviously, it works for me, but it's very well possible that it would only work for people whose brains work more or less like mine.
And I wasn't in your contest for the winning anyway, just for the fun of joining.
I'm think I'm definitely going to write that Writing Tips book, though - after I finished my book on home education.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Leah. One benefit of running this particular contest is that I ended up with a varied, useful set of writing tips everyone can benefit from. Just a shame more people didn't enter, but I'm still pleased with the tips I received.

Good luck with your writing tips project. If I can help in any way, just let me know.

9:48 AM  

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