Eight Writing Mistakes that Will Kill a Contest Entry

I’ve been a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America) for years and I frequently judge chapter contests.

I’ve discovered I see the same writing mistakes repeated-contest after contest, year after year.

Most are small blunders, but unchecked these errors tip an editor or contest judge that you’re not a pro and frequently result in rejection by an editor or a low score from a contest judge.

I decided to share a list of those writing mistakes.

  • Word repetition.

All writers have little words we tend to overuse — weasel words, I call them after Margie Lawson’s classes. Words like really, just, could, would, it, were and very to name a few.

Create your personal weasel word list and be on the lookout for overused words. Then use search and replace to cut them out before submitting.

  • Extra prepositions.

Too many prepositions in a sentence make the writing choppy. There’s usually a way to reword and eliminate some of the prepositional phrases.

  • Word use

Words like affect/effect, like/such as, your/you’re, hearty or hardy, baby’s or babies can easily be confused.

If you aren’t sure which word meaning you need, find out.

  • Comma confusion

This simple piece of punctuation is the curse of all writers. We tend to insert commas where they don’t belong, which can change the sentence’s meaning, or omit needed commas.

Learn the rules — and when in doubt, ask an editor what their publication’s style demands.

  • Subject/verb disagreement

You can’t say, “A box of chocolates were on top of the table.” or “They is ready to leave.” A singular noun needs a singular verb.  A plural noun needs a plural verb.

  • Pronoun use

When using a pronoun such as he/she, make sure there aren’t two people in the sentence and the pronoun creates confusion about which one you mean.

  • Misplaced modifiers/words

This one is a personal demon of mine. I guess that’s why I spot them so quickly.

Example of a dangling modifiers and the revision from Purdue On-Line Writing Lab

INCORRECT: After reading the original study, the article remains unconvincing.

REVISED: After reading the original study, I find the article unconvincing.

      Example of misplaced words/modifiers and the revision from Towson University On Line Writing Support:

INCORRECT: The three bankers talked quietly in the corner smoking pipes.

REVISED: The three bankers smoking pipes talked quietly in the corner.

Having keen-eyed critique partners can catch this mistake. Reading to yourself out loud also helps.

  •  Manuscript format

Most RWA chapter contests do not penalize for manuscript formatting. Editors and agents might. Two areas to watch:

  1. Underline/italics. Be aware that underline usually denotes a clickable link. If you use it for emphasis, you confuse your readers.
  2. Spacing after a period. Generally accepted manuscript format is one space after a period, not two. Check the Chicago Manual of Style if you don’t believe me.

Seven little mistakes I see repeatedly. Don’t let your submission to an editor/agent or a fiction writing contest be guilty of these mistakes.

Especially not when the fixes are so easy.

3 Comments on “Eight Writing Mistakes that Will Kill a Contest Entry

  1. Pingback: Judging by the Cover: Proper Formatting for Manuscripts | A Novel Adventure

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