August Write-in A Great Success

Last Saturday eight dedicated wordsmiths met at St. Andrews Methodist Church to practice their craft. A lot of work was accomplished. I thought I was doing great banging out four pages for my latest novel, but Debi Cole took first place with an amazing 27 pages in four hours.

San Antonio Writer's Guild will hold their next Write-in on Saturday November 11, 2017 from 8-12. These events are perfect times to get work done (serious, uninterrupted work) and fellowship with your fellow writers. Write-ins are a fundraiser, helping us to keep the high quality speakers we have at our monthly meetings, to pay the rent and provide coffee and snacks. Come out and join us in November and support you local Guild!

A Vivid Description

I recently read a landscape description that I found particularly vivid. I can learn from it and thought perhaps others could, too:

“This great tract . . . stretches with apparent indefiniteness over the face of the continent. Level plains of smooth sand—a little rosier than buff, a little paler than salmon—are interrupted only by occasional peaks of rock—black, stark, and shapeless. Rainless storms dance tirelessly over the hot, crisp surface of the ground. The fine sand, driven by the wind, gathers into deep drifts, and silts among the dark rocks of the hills, exactly as snow hangs about an Alpine summit; only it is a fiery snow, such as might fall in hell. The earth burns with the quenchless thirst of ages, and in the steel-blue sky scarcely a cloud obstructs the unrelenting triumph of the sun.”

This is Winston Churchill’s description of northern Sudan. After reading it, I am not personally itching to go to Sudan even apart from its political instability.

I have tried to reproduce the punctuation from the original, though allow for the possibility of my error.

San Antonio Writer’s Guild Monthly Meeting was a wild success!

Last night at St. Andrews Methodist Church more than thirty members of San Antonio’s literati gathered to elect a slate of board members. Another battle-free succession of power has transpired. Your new board consists of:
  • Colt Allen, treasurer
  • Gail Jennings, secretary
  • Dawn Brooks, vice-president
  • Frank Hicks, president
Also, serving as your workshop (critique) directors, Matt Ahanni, Saturday critique and Ken Bennight, Wednesday critique.
Then the real fun started as Tex Thomson ( schooled us on “Seven Deadly First Page Sins.” So much good information, and the presentation was great fun! We’re working on having Tex back for a weekend seminar later this year.
Join us for critique groups Saturday at Savor Fare and Wednesday at Barnes and Noble. Watch your email and Facebook for more details. Also, a Write-in is scheduled for May 20th at Rosella Coffee Shop. See the Write-in section for more details. Happy writing!

Punchy Prose

The Law Prose Blog offers writing advice to lawyers. Some of that advice applies to all writers. For example, a recent post discussed how to make your sentences focus more intently on your point or, as the post described it, ending sentences with punches. To get the desired punch, think about the most important point you are trying to convey and put that at the end of the sentence. Law Prose’s example was:

Ex. 1: Alaina Francis died in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
Ex. 2: Alaina Francis died two weeks ago in Pittsburgh.
Ex. 3: Two weeks ago, while visiting Pittsburgh, Alaina Francis died.

If Francis’s death was what you want to emphasize, the third example makes the point best. If the timing of the death is what’s most important, then the first example best makes your point. But if there’s a dispute over the place of death, go for the second example.

Attention to such details will raise your prose to a new level.

Winners – SAWG’s 25th Annual Writing Contest

Short Story

  1. Camembert in Camelot – Robin Hostetter
  2. Rywka’s Story – April Grunspan
  3. Leaving Iowa – Silvia Foster-Frau
  4. Honorable Mention: Rex – Stewart Smith
  5. Honorable Mention: Tin Can – Jennifer Ravenscroft


  1. Coffee Mugs and Falling Leaves – Christopher Knodel
  2. My “I-Just-Got-Laid-Off” Dress – Monica Berry
  3. A Night to Remember – Janet Alyn
  4. Honorable Mention: Daddy’s Hands – Jean Jackson
  5. Honorable Mention: Other People’s Carrots – Kenneth Bennight

Flash Fiction

  1. The Cataract and the Cockroach – Janet Alyn
  2. Mr. President – Michelle Hafernik
  3. Never Alone – Francis Hicks
  4. Honorable Mention: Slow Motion – Debs McCrary
  5. Honorable Mention: The Bard – Jason Chandler


  1. Los Compadres – Sally Clark
  2. Barbara, Marian, and the Elder – Nick Sweet
  3. Historic District – David Roberts
  4. Honorable Mention: Pick One – Jean Jackson
  5. Honorable Mention: Waiting with Wellington in Phoenix Park, Dublin – Christopher Knodel

Novel First Chapter

  1. Glass Flowers – Erica Seiler
  2. Land of Lost Souls – Jody Hadlock
  3. Pass – Joni Koehler
  4. Honorable Mention: Running Water – Kristi Johnson
  5. Honorable Mention: The Rift – S.H. Kelly
  6. Honorable Mention: El Rincon – Stewart Smith

Interpreting Contest Results

Congratulations, writer. Whether you placed in the contest or not, just by entering a writing contest you have earned the right to call yourself “author.” Or “poet.” Either works. The most important difference between writing as a hobby and writing as a professional is sending it out into the world. It’s impossible to say if the reader will be who you had in mind when you were writing. They may get it, they may not. You can get value from their feedback when it’s offered constructively. That’s what I hope for you and what, in most cases, we achieved.

The most common mistake we saw this year was formatting. Next year I’d like to see formatting as part of the scoring, rather than something to disqualify an entry based upon. It doesn’t mean it’s less important, it means it’s critical. When we disqualify an entry, it doesn’t get judged. In many contests, you may never even know why. If the score was lessened because of an incorrect font or a missing header, then it would be an item easily corrected for the next year’s entries. Publishers want a specific manuscript format, and so do contests. For a good example, check out this article.

Each category has a different score sheet, and different attributes are used to judge the entries. Here’s what the judges are asked to keep in mind:

  • Hook – The reader is immediately drawn into the story and characters. Time, place, and mood are established in the first one or two pages. The title is well thought out and creative.
  • Characterization – The characters are realistic, interesting, believable, well motivated and described vividly. Any secondary characters contribute to the story without distracting from it. The protagonist has a goal that the readers care about.
  • Setting – The author clearly and vividly describes where and when the story takes place. The setting is appropriate to the story and enhances it rather than intruding.
  • Point of View – POV is clear, consistent and includes the five senses. Readers experience only one character’s point of view at a time. Changes in viewpoint are clearly marked with page break or other device.
  • Dialogue/Internal Monologue – (a) If used, it is smooth, natural, interesting and helps to develop character. (b) If not used, the writer involves the reader well enough that dialogue/internal monologue would not improve the story.
  • Plot/Theme – The plot is fresh and interesting and holds the reader’s interest to the end of the piece, even if it is a tried and true story line. The beginning sets the tone and pace and the middle builds to a satisfactory and consistent conclusion, even if not happy. The premise is plausible, or the writer’s skill suspends disbelief so that it does not matter.
  • Conflict – (External or internal—antagonist may be another person, society, nature, technology or self.) Motivations are powerful enough to create sufficient, believable conflict that is strong enough to move the story forward without distracting from it. It is free from predictability.
  • Style – There is a recognizable tone, style and mood. Readers experience the story through sensory appeals and narrative description. There is a balance between narrative and dialogue. The author makes skillful use of vocabulary, language and sentence structure.
  • Mechanics – The manuscript follows the format described in the guidelines; the author has command of elements of grammar, punctuation, spelling and capitalization. If such devices as intentional fragments or dialect are used, they are effective and not overused. Paragraphing is used in a way that aids the reader’s understanding.

In another organization’s contest that I helped judge, there were two questions they asked in addition to the usual craft items. These were:

From strictly a reader’s perspective, did you enjoy reading this entry?
Do you want to read more?

Those questions are really the heart of what this contest is all about. Good writing reaches readers, connects with them, and makes them want to continue on the journey.


Annual Contest Preliminary Judging Guidelines

We’ll be announcing the winners of the SAWG annual contest at our April 6th meeting. In the interest of transparency, and to help people understand the process, I’m going to include some instructions we sent out to the SAWG members who volunteered as preliminary judges.

Judging Guidelines, Please Read

The score sheets are a good place to start when judging an entry. Please read the text with each item and ensure you are scoring accordingly. Here are some additional guidelines that will help make sure we are as consistent and constructive as possible.

In another organization’s contest that I helped judge, there were two questions they asked in addition to the usual craft items. These were:

From strictly a reader’s perspective, did you enjoy reading this entry?
Do you want to read more?

Those questions are really the heart of what this contest is all about. Good writing reaches readers, connects with them, and makes them want to continue on the journey. If you’d like to answer those questions in the comments, you may…but if you just want to keep them in mind, I think it is useful so we avoid becoming overly critical in a negative way.

What does a score of 1 mean? “Does not meet basic requirements.” This isn’t about preferences. This is that the entry is completely deficient and it is necessary to explain why such a low score is given. These should be really rare. I think most entries that “need work” would be scored a two.

Any score less than three should have a comment along with it to explain the low score, though comments for all scores are ideal (though not always possible or necessary…).

What does a score of 5 mean? “Excellent.” We’re not saying Hemingway or Poe would enter our contest, so judge these as amateurs. If the writing is really good and you could see it being published, that’s probably a five. Not that they should be given out like candy, but I’d rather see the scores trend high than trend low.

Style and Preferences – there are some items we seem to prefer in critique which are general guidelines, but are not “rules” including:

Use of a prologue.
Minimal use of dialogue tags and descriptive words.
Incomplete sentences.
Point of View choices.
Number of characters in a story.

Additional notes on Point of View: There are some new and developing forms of “point of view.” If you don’t understand them or aren’t sure how they’re used, please let me know. I personally don’t care for first-person POV, but I judge it according to the guidelines of the review element, which says: “POV is clear, consistent and includes the five senses. Readers experience only one character’s point of view at a time. Changes in viewpoint are clearly marked with page break or other device.”

Good writing will make me forget it’s first person POV. Be sure you are conversant on whether it’s first, second, or third person POV. Third person POV can be omniscient, objective, limited, or deep. Deep POV is one of the newer forms and less well understood.

If I feel like I can’t fairly judge a story due to the way it’s told, the content of the story (or poem) is objectionable, you recognize the author, or for any other reason, please mark it with the tag “Unable to Judge” and I will reassign it. You do not have to explain why you do not want to judge a certain piece.

If you have suggestions for future changes to the score sheets, please pass those along as well.

From Our Contest Coordinator: Remain Constructive, My Friends.

From the SAWG website:
Our purpose is to share information with our fellow writers and help each other grow in our craft. Through contests, critiques, newsletters, our website, and our Facebook page, we seek to provide assistance and encouragement to writers of all skill levels. 

Each entry cost the submitter money, and each entry is meaningful to the person who submitted it. Please honor that by providing feedback that will help make their story or poem better. Also let them know if there’s something that really stood out or was significant. I just want to make sure we’re constructive and not destructive. A little snark is okay, but I will reject score sheets that are insulting or that don’t justify low scores with some explanation.

Thank you for your time and your assistance with the contest!