Launch of The Lighkeeper's Daughters

Launch of The Lighkeeper's Daughters
by Jean Pendziwol

Elvis the Mountie Dog Steals the Show at the Book Signing

Elvis the Mountie Dog Steals the Show at the Book Signing
Elvis, Joan M. Baril, customer poet Rob Lem

Friday, June 24, 2016

Insights from Judging a Writing Contest by Annette Gendler


I just wrapped up serving as one of the judges in the Hemingway Shorts contest sponsored by the Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, and I thought I'd share some of the insights I came away with:

1   Don't start your story with a weather report unless the weather is the main topic. This is my number one pet peeve from having judged this contest! About 80% of the stories submitted began with a weather report, and about 95% of them had nothing to do with the weather. Beginning with the weather is not the way to distinguish your work from a pile of submissions. Weather reports are boring, so even if the weather is the topic, get on with it.

2   Have your protagonist appear in your first paragraph. Readers relate to people, not things. Ditto the weather issue. If I couldn't figure out who this story is about by the first paragraph, chances are I didn't read on.

3   Too many actors spoil the story. A short story is, after all, short! Too many characters diffuse the action and tension, plus your reader gets easily confused if there are a lot of names to follow. It's another way to lose the reader's attention, and a contest judge has to pay attention to a lot of stories. If yours makes this hard, it's not going to happen.

4   Mind your grammar, word choice, and spelling. Errors in any of these resulted in prompt rejection. By definition, a writing contest is looking for the best writing in a given genre, and the best writing does not contain errors. While spelling errors weren't prevalent, I was astounded by the number of entries that had obvious language issues, such as using "attendance" when "attending" should have been used. Have someone else read your work before you submit, as those are the kind of errors the writer will easily miss.

5   Keep to the word limit. Entries above the word limit were immediately deleted. While I didn't come across many of these, there were still some.

6   Submit early. Judges have to begin reading submissions before the deadline because of the sheer volume. A lot of submissions do come in right before the deadline, but a judge will also simply get tired from reading the flood and might have already settled, in his or her heart, on the top choices.


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