Top 10 Competition Tips – No 9

Stay True to Yourself

It can be tempting to try to be different, to be “original”, but if you decide to make a conscious effort to stand out, you also risk losing your own voice.

It’s much better to be yourself and write well than to write like “A Writer” and end up sounding false. The reader will always sense that it’s not really you – and you will have to spend all your brain power on trying to maintain your “different” style when you could use all that power and creativity to write well and easily – as yourself.

Successful authors tend to write simply – it’s hard to find a needlessly long word in, say, JK Rowling’s work. Long words in Harry Potter are usually magical – expelliarmus etc – but if they don’t serve a purpose, they are not there. You can use needlessly long words to flesh out a character, though. In the dialogue of a pompous character, for example. But, generally, we prefer “I bought” to “I purchased”, say.

But what if you don’t think you have a voice of your own?

You do. Everyone has a voice. Just write, write and write some more … and you will find your own writer’s voice. Once you have that, stay with it, and free your creativity! It’s much harder to win a competition if you only write occasionally – make it part of your daily routine and the words will flow much more easily and much more smoothly and you will stand a much better chance of doing well in any writing competition.

So don’t try too hard to be “original”.

We can usually spot competition entries where a writer is forcing the words into a shape that they think the words should take, rather than using the rhythm that comes naturally to them. Some of the tell-tale signs are the use of: a long word where a short one will do, as above; complicated sentence constructions; and, often, an awful lot of analogies, e.g. (this one made up): “The dawn arrived like a ballerina on tip-toe.”

So, again, keep to your own voice.

Originality is a good thing when it comes to plots, but – see Wikipedia’s definition below – it’s generally accepted that there are only seven plots in the world. It is the treatment of these plots and how you intertwine them and how your characters deal with them that will make your entry original – or not!

Wikipedia lists these seven basic plots as:

Overcoming the monster
Rags to riches
The quest
Voyage and return

So, yes, it’s hard to write an original plot. But you can mix and mingle two or more of these basic plots to create wonderful things. Again, it’s the way that you write your story as much as the story itself that matters.

So Jason and the Argonauts is a film about a quest, and, quite literally, voyage and return. There’s overcoming the monster here too, and tragedy …

Harry Potter? Definitely overcoming the monster – lots of them. Also a quest, with themes of rags to riches (poor, downtrodden Harry suddenly finding out he’s a wizard). There’s comedy in there (Hagrid and his baby dragon, or Hagrid sitting on a chair and breaking it, Dudley’s pig tail). There’s a lot of tragedy – people die. These are dark books. And there’s rebirth. Actually, thinking about it, JK Rowling has taken every single plot type and interwoven the themes to create Harry’s unique story. There are echoes in her work of CS Lewis and Tolkien – which just proves that it is impossible to veer outside the seven basic plots, no matter how good, or how successful a writer you are.

WriteStars’ competitions usually involve 250-word entries, so we’re happy with one story thread!

It’s how you put it all together that will create something unique to you, and that is what any competition judge loves, and it is what will make your entry stand out.

So, to quote the best writer of all … “To thine own self be true.”


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