The Movellas team (with lots of help from the Reading Agency, incredible interns and Random House) did A LOT of reading when deciding the shortlist for the Sony Young Movellist... while we can't give feedback on individual entries, we thought there were some key tips and bits of advice we could share from the experience.
Before we get started, I can't express enough how important it is to pay attention to the entry details and requirements such as word limit, personal details and deadlines - contests and competitions are a great way to develop as a writer or kickstart your career, don't give the judges any chance to discount your entry!
1) We all know what a first impression can do in the real world and storytelling is no different. The opening of your story is the first chance you have to engage with a reader - don't waste it! There is a temptation to cram in details and backstory early on, but these facts can be slowly revealed or embedded later on. The opening should all be about character, action and plot. Keep asking yourself, why should a reader stick with your story? You have to captivate them!
2) The most common (and possibly most valuable) writing tip is to read, read and read. Letting yourself be influenced and learn from those who have gone before you is an essential part of becoming the writer you want to be. As important as this is, it should come with a warning - beware your influences! You are your own writer with your own stories and your own style. Be open to the guidance of a favourite author or book, but be confident enough to be original.
3) It can be easy to get lost in a variety of character perspectives and tenses, unsure if the author or a character is narrating, whether you are telling the story retrospectively or as it unfolds. We saw this detract from some otherwise great entries. If you find yourself struggling with this, try to define your tense and perspective before you start writing, and then refer back to this every time you catch yourself going off piste. Make sure you have a firm grasp on the techniques you are using to tell your story.
4) Build your characters with the care and attention they deserve. Action and dialogue are important, but not at the expense of characterisation. There is a balance that has to be struck. If you know your characters well enough, know what they have for breakfast most mornings and what they think about in the shower, this will come through in your story. If you make a reader feel like they understand, sympathise with or even hate a character, the investment they have in your story will be that much higher. Make the reader feel something towards your character!
Generally, the quality of entry was incredibly high. So many stories developed memorable characters, drew us in from the opening sentence and stunned us with originality. I think the shortlist is an indication of this. Next week we will be announcing our international and three chapter winners, which will ephasise how impressive the writing for this contest was.
Again, congratulations and commiserations... until next year!