What did I get myself into?
What makes a good story? A good idea for one....lots of weeks I am stuck for several days, trying to find a unique idea that's just enough out-of-the-box to make it interesting, but not too out-of-the-box that I won't know how to write it.
Then I try to pick the right POV....sometimes a story is told better from first person, and sometimes third person. After that I have to decide the tense - does it work better in present tense or past tense?
Then comes the writing. I know it's hard to learn, but cutting out the passive voice really strengthens the writing. Expanding the vocabulary by nixing the "to be" verbs makes a piece stand out. I try to do it as I'm writing so I don't have to go back and completely reword the sentences.
I also try to keep literary structure points in mind. Am I using imagery? Symbolism? Alliteration and consonance? Smooth transitions between scenes?
Biggest question as I'm writing: am I putting the reader directly into my story, so that they are imagining the event as they are reading? I definitely bomb as far as a challenge entry when I am writing to write, and not for the reader to read. If I look back over my entries, I can easily tell which ones I just typed off in a hurry without keeping that in mind.
I try to focus on the rest of the judging criteria as well. Does it fit the topic? Does it start and end well? Is there a point or am I just babbling? Does the reader come away with a new perspective, or do they just say, "Oh, that was nice," and forget everything they just read?
I usually don't pick a title until I'm submitting. It has to fit with what I've written. Jan's class on title helped me a lot, and improved my pre-Hinting views.
I certainly don't place often up in the top 10 like Jan and Lisa and Chely do, and I don't have a whole lot of life experience to draw from (which may have something to do with it), but I find myself quite content to slide into the top 40 every other week or so....in fact, it's been close to a year since my last EC, so it's not like I'm an expert or anything. But maybe something in the above paragraphs will give some encouragement.
I'm not even sure exactly how it happened for me....I think I read the top 10 entries every week, and Jan's interview and some of her stuff, and then it just clicked....I knew what to do. One time I was so surprised in the morning that I didn't make EC because I KNEW I had nailed it....in the evening I found I was 11th place! I know Josh had been writing regularly for almost a year when he got his first EC, and it took him a while to see what made that one stand above the rest. So for each one it's different.
If you find yourself really stuck, ask advice from some of the real Masters; they might have some suggestions to move you along. Every writer has their own voice, though - we all can't be Jan.
Keep stretching yourself....you will find your niche.
Karlene, you've come a long way and I know God is using your words for His glory. Even if you feel the Challenge scores don't reflect it, you are an amazing writer. And because you love it, I know you won't stop!