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So You're Ready to Be a Contest Finalist

by Ella Stainton

You’ve written your lovely opening pages and you can’t figure out how you can possibly make them any prettier because you’ve read all the books and blogs and threads and they’re good. Really good. Even your mom said so.


Maybe they are.


But they can almost always be better.


And it’s awesome when you have a stable of critique partners willing to drop everything in their busy lives to help you polish for a contest. But when you don’t? If you’re like me, you need to emotionally remove yourself and methodically get down to the micro-level edits.


First things first, you need a good hook and a great voice.

Each of those deserves its own blog post (ahem, Jeni), but the following elements are the building blocks of those two necessities.


My suggestion is to go through each of the issues below and do a Ctrl+F/Find & Replace wherever possible throughout your manuscript.


Tedious? Absolutely.


Will it make your work 10000X stronger? Undoubtedly.


Have you ever gotten the feedback that you need to “deepen your POV”? (See also “need more emotional investment” or “too much telling rather than showing.”) They all point to some of the same issues. Your writing very well might be filtered through your writer’s POV, and it is one of those things you can’t unsee once it’s been pointed out to you.


1. Cull your filter words: (heard, saw, felt, smelled) and instead show the MC react using this Publishing Crawl piece and this Chuck Palahniuk essay. Because I am something of a cynic, every time someone insists to me that they n