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Sue Be The Judge
by Nancy Robinson Masters
Have you ever been tasked with finding judges
for a writing competition who will provide critiques your contestants will
treasure as much as prize money? It's not easy, I assure you, which is why I
wish I could clone contest judge Sue Long Turner.
For more than six decades Turner has been
turning out award-winning features for magazines, newspapers, trade journals and
television. Turner's credits range from writing 26 Bible stories for children to
writing 26,000 radio/television commercials. She says she has "promoted every
product that could legally be promoted." She is also the author of Wings
Born Out of Dust, a book chronicling her son's life on the streets of Los
Angeles, and is a regular feature columnist for The Emporium Gazette
"I was a divorcee with three children and a
goldfish to support," the 82-year-young Turner quips. "I entered writing
contests as a way to make a few extra dollars. What I didn't realize when I
began entering contests was how valuable the judges' critiques were. The prize
monies are spent, but those critiques are still paying off."
When Turner retired from writing for others and
began writing for herself she decided to offer her services as a contest judge.
She charges a nominal fee based on the number of entries and is willing to judge
almost any category. Turner does not disclose which contests she has judged, but
does provide references and samples of her critiques which are thorough,
compassionate and contain wisdom from her years of experience.
"Writers expect to be judged by someone who is
creditable and qualified. They also expect confidentiality."
Here are Sue Long Turner's top seven tips for
helping your contest entry become a winner:
1. FOLLOW THE CURRENT CONTEST RULES
This is absolutely essential. Don't rely on last
year's rules. Don't assume the rules mean anything other than exactly what they
say. If the word limit is 600 words, don't send 601. If the contest rules
require double spacing, don't triple space. At least 40 percent of the entries I
judge did not follow the contest rules.
2. IF THEY WANT LEMONDADE, DON'T GIVE
One of the most frequent mistakes I see is
writing entered in the wrong category. Your job is to write what fits the
category, not try to make the category fit your writing. I see entries that are
better written than the ones I select as winners; however, the piece is not
appropriate for the category so I cannot give it an award.
3. START WITH THE UNIQUE
Titles set the mood, tone and pace for your
entries. In poetry, the title is actually the first line. If your title is
generic-"Love," "God," "Rainbows"-or if your title is one that gives the reader
no clue as to the content of your story, you immediately lose an opportunity to
grab the judge's attention. Which is more interesting-"An Interview With Sue
Long Turner" or "Sue Be The Judge?"
4. KEEP IT UNIQUE
Unique characters and unique plot are both
important. However, a predictable plot can be a winner if it has unique
characters. Give your characters mannerisms, vocabulary, appearance, and actions
that make them unique to the reader-this includes non-fiction as well as fiction
5. GET RID OF THE FUZZ BY GETTING RID OF THE
Use action verbs. Eliminate every "was" you can.
Let the action do the talking, not the adverbs. Instead of writing "he was
walking slowly," write "He shuffled." Reading your entry out loud will help you
hear many of the fuzzy wuzzies. The minute you hear one, think of it as a
contagious virus that has to be eliminated.
6. USE THE TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Punctuation, spelling and grammar are the
essential tools of a writer's trade. A contest entry titled "How To Stop Nuclear
War" with "nuclear" misspelled costs the author credibility. An occasional typo
might be excused; a page full of strikeovers or corrections inserted by hand
won't be. Learn the usage rules for commas, quotation marks, verb tenses and
sentence structure. Always indent paragraphs five spaces-judges' eyes do not
want to plod through huge blocks of type. Neatness definitely counts.
7. THINK LESS, NOT MORE
Word limits are usually given as a number not to
exceed. Don't be afraid to write less than the word limit if fewer words make
the writing better. Try writing your entry in half the number of words allowed
and you'll come up with a better piece of writing.
"It's my hope that every contest entry I judge
will eventually provide extra bucks for the author-legally."
(Contact Sue Long Turner via email
© Copyright 2002, Nancy Robinson Masters
Nancy Robinson Masters serves on the Abilene Writers Guild Board and is a professional freelance writer. A professional freelance writer, she explains, “is simply an amateur writer with a lot of experience.” Among her more than 40 published books are ebooks published by AWOC.COM Publishing: Extraordinary Patriots, All My Downs Have Been Ups, and Devoted to Writing.
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