The first and obvious piece of advice should be this: Read and follow the rules.
Now I know entrants are at various stages in their writing careers and have varied knowledge of the conventions of writing, but here are some items to pay attention to fixing BEFORE you submit because if you attend to these issues first, you give your judges a better chance to focus on your story rather than on trying to figure out what is on the page. And what you really want them to judge is the story and characters.
Observe in published novels how dialogue is broken into paragraphs. Put the character’s spoken words in the same paragraph as his/her actions. Readers will be better able to follow who said what if you do this. And following who said what helps the reader see the story without getting lost.
He/She/They used too frequently without identifying who he/she/they might be.
If two male characters are talking, be sure to tag each one clearly with a name or descriptive title because if “he” appears multiple times in a row, you (the author) may be clear as to which “he” is which because you are visualizing the scene in your head, but the reader has most likely lost track. (The same goes for female characters and any time you have more than two characters in a scene.)
The unreferenced “it”
This useful little word can also be a source of major confusion if “it” is not placed close enough to the thing “it” is replacing or standing in for. We, the writer, know exactly what we mean. But readers can’t see inside our heads, so it’s our job to replace all the vague words in our text with clear ones.
When we enter contests, it’s partly because we want to be read, to connect with an audience. We want the judge to assess our story, our characters, our scene setting, our hook, and give us feedback on the story as a whole. The last thing we want to do is interfere with the judge’s ability to see those aspects of our work. My best advice is to pay attention to these few items when you polish that entry.What about you? What advice would you add?