Writer's Roost Home Page

Last update: 20 April 2016

Welcome to Steven Houchin's writing website. He is the author of novels, short stories, non-fiction articles, technical papers, and also performs editing services for other writers. He was honored when his second novel won the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's 2007 Literary Contest in the Mystery/Thriller category. Also, he read and critiqued manuscript submissions in PNWA's annual literary contest for both 2009 and 2010 in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category, and 2016 in the Mainstream Fiction category.

Please check out his Writer's Roost BLOG. It contains book reviews, announcements, and articles on the writing craft. Please post your comments on any of the articles. Also, take a look at our list of upcoming Literary Conferences and Contests.

By the way, if you think you are related to Steven, check out his family genealogy website.

News items:

** Steven's article "A Journey Through Time" appears in the October 2011 issue of Northwest Prime Time magazine. It tells the story of a letter he wrote while in kindergarten that returned to him 49 years later, unopened.

** Steven gave an interview about his writing experience to local Seattle author Norma Nill, which you can read on her blog.

** Steven served as guest blogger at the Literary Liasons site with a posting titled "So, You Want to Win a Literary Contest?" In it, he explains some of the factors that will help your manuscript break through the clutter of contest entries to maximize the chance of winning.

** Steven's non-fiction article "McGraw Square" was published in the Summer 2009 issue (Vol. 23 No. 2) of Columbia Magazine, a publication of the Washington State Historical Society. It details the history of a statue in downtown Seattle that honors John McGraw, who served in the 1880s and 1890s as King County Sheriff and Washington's second governor.

Observations About Literary Contest Submissions

I was selected again this year to read manuscripts submitted by aspiring writes to a local literary contest. My task was to read the submitted pages and provide a critique and a score for a half-dozen categories, such as Dialog, Plot, Synopsis, etc. Here are some observations about what I read.

  1. Following contest guidelines is half the battle. Of the five manuscripts I was assigned, three were disqualified! The most common mistake: the author's name was included. The manuscript is supposed to be anonymous. The next mistake: too many pages were submitted. If the guidelines say 25 pages max, don't submit 30 or 40. Another: placing page numbers at the bottom, when rules called for upper right corner. Bottom line, if you simply sumbit a clean manuscript that follows all the rules to the letter, you'll beat half the other entrants out of the gate.
  2. Know how to properly format a manuscript. An author who wishes to be taken seriously (let alone win a contest) ought to know standard manuscript formatting rules. One entry did not indent paragraphs, but did insert blank lines between them. Another did not understand the punctuation and formatting of dialog tags.
  3. Write a compelling synopsis. A couple of the authors clearly did not understand the concept of a synopsis. One gave an introduction for a couple of main characters, and then a glowing bio of himself and his great talent. And, yes, exceeded the page limit. Another introduced the main character and her conflict well, but gave vague generalities about how the plot unfolded. Most of the entries just couldn't bring themselves to give away the ending, which is what contest judges and literary agents want to see. I wrote a blog article some years back about synopses ( What's In a Synopsis?) that discusses some of what I have learned about them.
  4. Some writers don't understand viewpoint. This is common for newbie writers: they don't understand the concept that a scene is normally told inside the head of one particular character. I know, because I got that all wrong when I first started. The reader should only know, see, hear, smell, feel through that character's senses. A few of the submitting authors' character viewpoint wandered all over, one becoming so omniscient the narrator told what will happen in the future. A corollary to this is the tense used by the narrator: one entrant mixed present tense with past tense.
  5. Overuse of backstory. Often, the author has a good grasp of her main charater, and wants to tell the reader all about her in the first couple of chapters. Unfortunately, the actual plot and storyline gets lost. One of the entrants used so much backstory, it was difficult to figure out what was happening in the "Now."
  6. No scene setting. I'm a big fan of telling the reader "who" and "where" and "when" in the first paragraph or so of each scene. Where are we? Who is there? What time is it? Added to that, what does the character see, hear, etc? What does the room or street look and sound like? In most of the entries, setting the scene was done poorly. Often, the author supplies reams of narration about the character's pitiful life, or launches into unbroken dialog.

I could go on about trivial dialog, lack of gestures or facial expressions by characters, and slow pace. But you get the picture. Don't get me wrong. A couple of the manuscripts I read were excellent, and might even end up a contest finalist. Good luck to them all.

Steven Houchin -- 18 April 2016

To see previous essays and musing about writing, please visit my Web Log.