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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 e-zine.

"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 LEMONS

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 pieces.

5. GET RID OF THE FUZZ BY GETTING RID OF THE WAS

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 sueturner@texasinternet.com.)

© 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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