Ages: 13-14
Tips for the New Year contest
Amy Sparrow (mod)

Hi Guys, here are some tips Shann wrote about how to use the judging criteria to help you write a stronger entry for the New Year contest.

Judging for the contest will be rated on a scale from 0 to 5 in each of the following categories:

How creative, unique, and memorable is this entry? An entry is creative if it looks at the topic in a fresh and different way. You could perhaps tell the story from a different point of view, for example, from the perspective of the fireworks. Non-fiction can be creative too. You just need to present it in a fresh way. Try to show the reader a picture of what is happening rather than just telling the events. We will look for an entry that stays in the reader's head and something that the reader will want to share with others.

How well-written is this entry? Something could be considered quite creative, but if it is filled with errors or typos, it might be difficult to read. We'd encourage you to write the story and then let it sit for a few hours or days and then proofread it again. Reading the story aloud is helpful and even better would be to ask someone else to read it aloud to you. If that person stumbles over certain phrases or sentences, you may want to consider reconstructing the sentence.

Get someone who is good in English to help you look for typos, and watch out for incorrect tense changes or point of view shifts between different characters. The author’s age will be taken into consideration when the judges rate the skill level of the writing.

Does it have a strong beginning? A good beginning is vital to a good story. You want to grab the reader's attention right away. Opening with something like, “When I think about Christmas…” may not be the best. A good start hooks the reader and makes them want to continue reading. The judges will ask themselves this question when reading the entries: "If I weren't judging this, how much would I want to keep reading to the end?" The answer to that question will help them rate this category.

You may want to try to start with an attention grabber and then gradually introduce the MC's (Main Character's) back story. For example, you don't need to do something like this: “Beth is nine years old and has red hair and blue eyes. She lives with her mother and two sisters.” Those are facts that may not be needed at all in the story or they could be introduced later a little bit here and there. For example: “Beth's stomach lurched. She could feel the blood rushing to her face and she figured it would be almost as red as her hair.” It sets up a hook that makes the reader feel the conflict and suspense building and the hair color is tossed in easily. Then you could go on with another detail: “Never in her nine years of life had she remembered feeling this bad for her little sister. Shaking her head, she plotted ways to help her sister feel better.” That gives the reader her age and that she has a sister, but the details are worked in naturally.

Does it have a strong ending? A good ending is just as important as a good start. It doesn't need to be a happy ending, though they are fine too. It needs to leave the reader feeling that their time has been well-spent. You want to resolve the conflicts in a believable way. Also, the judges will look to see if the ending is predictable. If the reader can guess how the story will end from the first or second paragraph, then you might want to recreate your ending. A good thing to do to find out if your entry is predictable is read the story to someone and about half-way through ask them what they think might happen next. If the guess it exactly right, you may want to switch some things around. If they have a vague idea, but aren't entirely sure then you may just want to tweak it a bit.

Did the author communicate the point they wanted to make to the reader? If the judges are scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the story was really all about, then the message didn't come across in the entry. But on the other hand, you also don't want to cram the message down the reader's throat, leaving them feeling like they had just been called into the principal's office and listened to a lecture. When you start writing, think about what you want the reader to take away from this story. It could be anything from, “I want them to laugh,” to “I want them to see God's grace.” Make sure the message is clearly shown.

For example: People may have heard the saying, "It's always darkest before the dawn." The reader may know that the sentence means when things seem really bad, there is going to be something better around the corner. If that's your message in your entry, make sure you show the reader the darkest part. One example could be that the MC's best friend died. Now that would be a terrible thing to happen, but then God gives her some light when she meets a new friend who is a great fit, and things start to get better. That's not to say she’s forgotten the first friend, but that God has provided other things to comfort her.

Good luck and have fun!
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