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Advice to take your entry to the top.

Have you heard the exciting news? The Institute for Writers is now accepting submissions for its Mystery First Pages Writing Contest! Every quarter, IFW hosts a contest, and this time it’s a Mystery First Pages Writing Contest, which sees writers submit only the first 500 words of their mystery. All of the entries are judged and then the winners are critiqued by both the judge and the IFW Director.

As you can imagine, piquing the interest of a reader in only 500 words is definitely a challenge, but you have to do that with any book if you want to keep your reader hooked. And the payoffs for this contest are big. Not only are there some major cash prizes, with 1st place earning $650 and second-fifth places earning cash too, but every entrant also is given the opportunity to take part in an instructional online workshop with the IFW Director and esteemed judge.

Winners will also have their writing workshopped––critiqued with advice for improvement, plus, non-winners get to absorb the lessons and apply them to their own work. All submissions must be received by January 31, 2019, so now is the time to brush off your laptop, notebook, or tablet and start writing your first page to your mystery. 500-words … you can do it! Need some tips to get started? No problem! Here are a few strategies you can try:

Reach out to “real” mystery writers

Who says you can’t get a little help from the pros? It’s a smart strategy to reach out to professional and amateur writers in the mystery field. You could get some tips for freshening up your work and find some inspiration from the experts. And if you’re having trouble locating any other mystery writers, try checking out the Institute for Writers Facebook page and group to communicate with writers there. You may come across folks who have entered contests in the past––including a few winners.

Avoid clichés
Most of us are pretty familiar with mysteries, which can make it even more of a challenge to write a compelling mystery that feels new. But that means that especially when writing mysteries, it’s more important than ever to try to avoid the clichés that we all know so well. That means no dark and stormy nights, no mysterious beating under a floorboard, and probably no characters venturing into places they were just told not to go. However, that being said, fresh twists on old themes are always welcomed, so never say never.

Target your audience

One of the most important aspects of writing any story is to know your audience, right? The target audience for your mystery story, at least for this particular venture, should be primarily for adults. There are many sub-genres you can target, too. Keep that in mind as your putting pen to paper, or hands to computer.

Study your favorite mystery

Most of us have read a great mystery story or two in our lives, so now is your chance to have fun analyzing just exactly what it is about that story that appeals to you. Take a look at the opening page of your favorite mystery novel: what writing techniques does the author use? Is he/she setting a scene? Are the details about the characters or the environment? How are those details adding to the overall mood and theme of the story? Is the mystery made clear from the very beginning or is the suspense built up? Try your first page in a similar format and then change it up to see what works best for you.

Use details to your advantage

With only 500 words at your disposal, you don’t have time to waste. Good mystery writers know that every detail matters, so even if you’re merely setting the scene up, choose your words strategically so they all blend together in an overall theme.

Check out Mystery Writers of America

Want to be in the company of Mary Higgins Clark, James Patterson, and Sue Grafton? You can browse the Mystery Writers of America for tips and inspiration and maybe find your next favorite mystery author.

Hook your readers
It’s a mystery writing contest, we know, so some suspense is going to be necessary, but remember that you only have 500 words to work with here, so draw in your reader right from the beginning.

Skip the gruesome scenes

For this particular contest, avoid extreme or graphic violence and pornographic themes, otherwise your entry could be disqualified. If that’s the majority of your first page entry, you might want to consider revising.

Follow the rules

This tip might sound silly, but you would be amazed at how many submissions we receive that we can’t even consider because the applicant didn’t follow the most basic rules. So make your mystery writing compelling and leave us breathless, and remember, rules are rules, and we want to crown you the winner! 

You can’t win if you don’t enter! 

Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, four young kids, and a flock of chickens. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.

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