The Blog of John Hewitt

7 Ways to Be the Victim of a Poetry Contest Scam

The number of people who get ripped off by poetry contest scams every year is incredible. These scams predate the Internet by at least a hundred years. Here the ways you make yourself a victim.

Don’t do any research about the people holding the contest

Most contests that spend more than a little money on advertising are trying to make a profit. Most legitimate poetry contests have small prizes and a local focus. That doesn’t mean the one you found is bogus, but it is a good idea to check.

Join poetry contests that advertise big, big prizes

Do you actually think that lots of rich, nice people are looking to give away big prizes for a single poem? Does that make sense to you?

Expect your poem (first one you ever wrote) to win a big money

Sure, thousands of other poets probably entered, but your first effort will beat them all. That is a reasonable outcome, right?

Buy their stuff

Do you think that when you win a contest, you should have to pay for a commemorative plaque, buy the book your poem is in, or pay for a trip to a conference? If so, by all means fork over your money. Everybody deserves to win an out-of-pocket trip to Las Vegas or Miami.

Avoid becoming a part of the legitimate poetry community

People who are a part of the poetry community around them learn pretty quickly about what is and is not a legitimate opportunity.

Pay that reading fee 

The reading fee is a staple of how for-profit poetry contests work. If a contest offers a $10,000 prize and the reading fee is $10 a poem, they only have to find 1001 suckers, I mean contestants, to start making a profit. Of course, that is without all of the “runner ups” who pay for copies of the books their poems appear in.

If it sounds too good to be true then it MUST be true

If you want someone to take all of your money, make this your mantra.

Character Bio Sheets

Character bio sheets are not only a simple way to create characters, they are a great way to keep track of the characters you develop. When you write a longer work, such as a novel or screenplay, it is easy to forget minor character details. If you aren’t careful, the blue eyes you described on page five can turn to brown eyes by the end of page eighty.

Using a character bio sheet, you can record all of the essential details for your characters and keep them in a single place so that you can check those details whenever necessary. As your story progresses and your characters continue to evolve, you can use bio sheets to keep track of any changes you have made to your characters. If you keep track of all your details on the bio sheet, your editing process will go much more smoothly.

When you fill out a bio sheet initially, don’t feel as if you have to include a detail for every category. There are many things you will need to discover as your story progresses. On your first pass, record all of the details you are comfortable with and leave the rest. Feel free to add your own categories. This list has details that I find useful. You may have different needs or ideas.

  • Character Name
  • Nickname / Alias
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Residence
  • General Appearance
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Measurements
  • Clothing Sizes
  • Clothing Choices
  • Hair Color
  • Hair Length
  • Eye Color
  • Handedness
  • Jewelry
  • Tattoos / Marks
  • Role in the Story
  • Key Relationships
  • Education
  • Work History
  • Skills
  • Phobias / Fears
  • Bad Habits / Vices
  • Quirks
  • Best Qualities
  • Worst Qualities
  • Key Childhood Experiences
  • Key Teenage Experiences
  • Key Adult Experiences
  • Sexual Background
  • Favorites (food, clothing, art, music, TV show, movie, book)
  • Goals and Motivations
  • Morality / Ethics
  • Style of Speech
  • Words/Slang/Jargon
  • Additional Information
  • Character Name
  • Nickname / Alias
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Residence
  • General Appearance
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Measurements
  • Clothing Sizes
  • Clothing Choices
  • Hair Color
  • Hair Length
  • Eye Color
  • Handedness
  • Jewelry
  • Tattoos / Marks
  • Role in the Story
  • Key Relationships
  • Education
  • Work History
  • Skills
  • Phobias / Fears
  • Bad Habits / Vices
  • Quirks
  • Best Qualities
  • Worst Qualities
  • Key Childhood Experiences
  • Key Teenage Experiences
  • Key Adult Experiences
  • Sexual Background
  • Favorites (food, clothing, art, music, TV show, movie, book)
  • Goals and Motivations
  • Morality / Ethics
  • Style of Speech
  • Words/Slang/Jargon
  • Additional Information

10 days of character building wrap up

Character Bio Sheets

A bio sheet is a way of keeping track of a character’s physical description, traits and attributes. This method is familiar to anyone who enjoys role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Using a Bio Sheet gives you an excellent reference point to go back to when you need to remember key information about your character.
Defining Characters By Their Roles

There are specific roles that characters fall into when you are writing a story. These include Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Shadow, Trickster.  Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers explores these roles in depth.

Building a Character Using Multiple Perspectives

This technique helps you to build relationships. You write about your character based on other people’s (characters in the story) views and opinions about that person.

Key Questions

This is a simple list of questions that provide insight into your character and how your character fits into your story.

Basing Characters on Real People

We often draw inspiration for fictional characters from people we know in real life. This article gives you advice on how to avoid some of the problems that can crop up when you translate a real person into a fictional one.

A Day in the Life

Once the events of a story kick into motion, main characters are pushed outside of their boundaries and comfort zones. Following your character through a typical day helps you figure out who that character is under normal circumstances.

Interview

This is a classic method of creating a character. You set up a situation in which that character is being interviewed (for a magazine, by the police, for a job, etc.). This not only allows you to delve into your character’s personality, it helps you to develop your character’s voice.

Biography

A biography is an in-depth exploration of the events in your character’s life that lead to who your character is at the beginning of the story.

Possessions

Defining what your character owns (and doesn’t own) provides insight into the character’s personality and circumstances.

Brainstorming

This is a stream-of consciousness method that allows you to think fluidly about a character without editing yourself. You write quickly and delete nothing until you are done.

Fifteen craft exercises for writers

Writing exercises are a great way to increase your writing skills and generate new ideas. They give you perspective and help you break free from old patterns and crutches. To grow as a writer, you need to sometimes write without the expectation of publication or worry about who will read your work. Don’t fear imperfection. That is what practice is for.

Pick ten people you know and write a one-sentence description for each of them. Focus on what makes each person unique and noteworthy.

 

Record five minutes of a talk radio show. Write down the dialog and add narrative descriptions of the speakers and actions as if you were writing a scene.

 

Write a 500-word biography of your life. Think about the moments that were most meaningful to you and that shaped you as a person.

 

Write your obituary. List all of your life’s accomplishments. You can write it as if you died today or fifty or more years in the future.

 

Write a 300-word description of your bedroom. Think about the items you have or the other elements of your room that give the best clues about who you are or who you want others to think you are.

 

Write an interview with yourself, an acquaintance, a famous figure or a fictional character. Do it in the style of an appropriate (or inappropriate) publication such as TimePeopleRolling StoneHuffington Post,PoliticoCosmopolitanSeventeen or Maxim.

 

Read a news site, a newspaper or a supermarket tabloid.  Scan the articles until you find something that interests you and use it as the basis for a scene or story.

 

Write a diary or a blog of a fictional character. Write something every day for two weeks.

 

Rewrite a passage from a book, a favorite or a least favorite, in a different style such as noir, gothic romance, pulp fiction or horror story.

 

Pick an author you like though not necessarily your favorite.  Make a list of what you admire about the way the author writes. Do this from memory first, without rereading the author’s work. After you’ve made your list, reread some of the author’s work and see if you missed anything or if your answers change. Analyze what elements of that author’s writing style you can add to your own, and what elements you should not or cannot add. Remember that your writing style is your own. Only try to think of ways to add to your style. Never try to mimic someone else for more than an exercise or two.

 

Take a piece of your writing that you have written in first person and rewrite it in third person, or vice-versa. You can also try this exercise changing tense, narrators, or other stylistic elements. Don’t do this with an entire book. Stick to shorter works. Once you commit to a style for a book, never look back or you will spend all of your time rewriting instead of writing.

 

Try to identify your earliest childhood memory. Write down everything you can remember about it. Rewrite it as a scene. You may choose to do this from your current perspective or from the perspective you had at that age.

 

Remember an old argument you had with another person. Write about the argument from the point of view of the other person. Remember that the idea is to see the argument from their perspective, not your own. This is an exercise in voice, not in proving yourself right or wrong.

 

Write a 200-word or longer description of a place. You can use any and all sensory descriptions but sight. You can describe what it feels like, sounds like, smells like and even tastes like. Try to write the description in such a way that people will not miss the visual details.

 

Sit in a restaurant or a crowded area and write down the snippets of conversation you hear. Listen to the people around you. Listen to how they talk and to what words they use. Once you have done this, you can practice finishing their conversations. Write your version of what comes next in the conversation. Match their style.

Autobiographical writing about your childhood

Autobiographical Writing is an excellent way to work on your descriptive skills. When you describe items or memories from your past, you are able to provide details that are often lacking in more purely imaginative exercises. With autobiographical writing you learn how to describe what was rather than what isn’t.

Another great benefit of these writing exercises is that they can bring back long-forgotten thoughts about who you were and what you felt in the past. These questions can take you on a personal journey through your life. This first set of questions deals with childhood and childhood memories. Most people spend very little time thinking about their childhood. Many of these questions can bring back memories that you haven’t considered for years.

When you approach a question, try to make your answer last at least a few paragraphs. Take the time to think about the question and try to make the most of your answer.

  1. Give a general description of your childhood; what was life like for you?
  2. What are your very earliest memories?
  3. Describe any childhood ailments or injuries you had.
  4. What was family life like as a child? How did you feel you fit into your family?
  5. Describe your favorite toy. What did it look like? How did it feel?
  6. Describe your favorite books growing up. What made them special to you?
  7. Describe your favorite game growing up.
  8. Describe a specific school memory from your elementary years.
  9. Write about your best friend as a child and the experiences you had together. What has happened to that friendship since childhood?
  10. Describe your nemesis growing up. Who made your life miserable and what did they do to make it so rough?
  11. Describe your favorite foods as a child. What did you eat then that you no longer eat?
  12. What was the biggest trouble you got into as a child? Describe what you did or didn’t do to deserve what happened to you.
  13. What was your greatest childhood accomplishment? How did it make you feel? What influence do you think it has had on your life since?
  14. Describe what you did or where went as a child when you wanted to feel safe.
  15. Describe your personality as a child. In what ways has it changed as you’ve gotten older? In what ways has it stayed the same?
  16. Describe what your parents were like when you were a child. What was your relationship like with them? How has your opinion of your parents changed as you’ve grown older?
  17. What other relatives besides your immediate family do you remember as a child? Describe your most interesting relative.
  18. Describe something that people would be surprised to know about your childhood.
  19. Describe some of the cultural influences in your childhood such as music, television, movies, plays, art or writing.
  20. Describe the home you grew up in. If you lived in several different homes, describe one or discuss the reasons for the frequent moves. Were you moving up or working your way down?
  21. Describe a family vacation. Where did you go? Why did you go there? What did you do? How did you travel?

Additional autobiographical writing resources: