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Writing & Art Contest Tips

by Shara Karasic, contest judge

Many of the participants to the Cyberkids/Cyberteens Writing & Art Contest have asked for guidelines, so here are a few tips to help you create a winning entry.

Writing Tips

(1) Don't overuse adjectives and adverbs. While a well-placed adjective or adverb can brighten up a whole paragraph, using too many modifers, especially when they are not directly relevant, can distract. The following sentences overuse adjectives and adverbs:

"Do you want to come eagerly surf the interesting Net, Bob?" intelligent, red-haired, sometimes shy, freckled, thoughtful Miriam said inquiringly.

"Yes, I would love to quickly go with you to the interesting, crowded computer lab and patiently use one of the fascinating, white computers," replied Bob terrificly.

Contrast the above with the following example of simple, yet effective, adjective and adverb use.

"Do you want to come surf the Net, Lorenzo?" Miriam inquired eagerly.

"Yes, I would love to go with you to the computer lab," replied Lorenzo with gusto.

(2) Don't mix metaphors. Metaphors and similes can be very powerful. But it is important not to overuse them, thereby confusing the reader and diluting their impact. For example, the following overuses metaphors and similes:

Though it was raining cats and dogs, Martina felt it was easy as pie to slog through the puddles, she a fish swimming through a pool to other side.

The following uses one well-placed simile.

Martina swam gracefully as a dolphin through the ocean.

The following uses one well-placed metaphor.

Martina, a cheetah on the racetrack, crossed the finish line first.

(3) Be specific. Create images for the reader's mind. Use the most precise word you can think of.

Instead of saying:

Suki lives in a house in Indonesia.

Try something like:

Suki's home is a bamboo hut perched on the edge of a rice terrace in a village in the north of Bali.

(4) Do write from experience. By experience, I don't really mean that you must have really done whatever you write about. But, for example, if you are writing about jumping out of an airplane and in real life you haven't yet, use your own memory of times you have felt fear or excitement in your description of edging out onto those steps 10,000 feet above the ground, looking far, far down, biting your lip and taking the plunge into the clouds, and feeling the wind roar past your ears as you freefall.

(5) Do use simplicity. People appreciate good, hearty, basic writing. Strong, simple writing has power. Focused writing keeps the reader's interest. Simpler writing can draw in a reader, allowing her to get really involved in the story.

(6) Be subtle: show don't tell. Writers don't have to tell the reader everything. Leave a little mystery. Let the reader fill in the blanks, and thus take part in the writing. Show without telling the reader directly.

For example, the following sentence tells more than shows:

Vladimir was very scared when he saw the dragon.

But the next sentence shows the reader Vladimir's feeling.

Vladimir's eyes opened wide and his hands trembled at the sight of the dragon.

(8) Use the five senses. We all have five senses and use them to perceive the world around us. Writing becomes dry and tasteless when a writer favors vision over the other senses.

The following sentence is bland:

Leila viewed many cows and sheep at the petting zoo.

The following sentence feels fresh:

Leila smelled the fresh dung and hay of the barnyard. The cow's tongue felt rough on her hand. The cow's mouth exuded the scent of alfalfa, which Leila tasted sweet on her tongue as she inhaled. One lamb bleated steadily by the fence.

(9) Proofread your work! Bad spelling and grammar detract from good writing. It is essential to look over your work.

(10) Any illustration is better than none. Even if you think you aren't an artist (see number two under Artwork Tips), your story will have a better chance of winning if artwork is included.

(11) Use realistic dialogue. Don't be afraid to write dialogue the way people you know actually speak. For example, if you live in East London and people drop their "H"'s at the beginning of a word, " 'Ave fun" quoting them!

(12) Don't be afraid to be funny. Contest judges always find it pleasant when a story makes us crack a smile, or bellow a belly-laugh.

(13) Be unpredictable. If you are writing a mystery, don't tell us that the butler did it too early in the story. Leave us hanging; keep us in in suspense.

(14) Be original. The contest judges want to be wowed by your very own wacky, wonderful, and witty words.

Artwork Tips

(1) Good illustration tells a story by itself. If you are creating art for your story, try choosing particular scenes to illustrate. For example, if you are writing about how Eve is tempted by a snake to eat an apple, a drawing of Eve and the snake talking by the apple tree is more useful than just a single drawing of a snake or an apple.

(2) Don't worry if you "can't draw." Good art need not neccessarily be realistic. Good art need be expressive. Draw, paint, or color with feeling and heart.

(3) Be original. Yes, I am repeating myself here. But originality is just so important. Use your own style. Don't worry about your art looking like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, or O'Keeffe (though it certainly may be good to study the masters). You are you; let your art reflect that.


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