I do want to point out that since this contest will by co-hosted by Jaye Wells in honor of her excellent debut novel, Red-Headed Stepchild, judging is by consensus between the two of us. She is not bound by my scoring system. I'll ask her to say a few words about what she is looking for when the contest is announced.
Without further ado, here is my list of common writing issues. I raise them in a constructive spirit.
1. Telling Instead of Showing. Most of the time, a story is strongest when it's portrayed in real time for the reader, not narrated by the author in a kind of summarized, Cliff's Notes fashion.
Example: Stephanie was so tired of her mother staring at her. Her mother asked so many questions all the time. She accused Stephanie of not caring. Nothing was ever good enough. In a sigh, she found herself thinking that she didn't even have the energy to respond anymore.
Rewrite: She pushed away the coffee cup she didn't ask for. Her mother stood by the table. Angry and waiting. The fatigue washed over her. "I'm sorry, mother," she said finally. "But I really don't know what to say to you anymore."
2. Over-description. If a single sentence has more than two adjectives, you're in danger of diminishing your impact. Example: The long, winding road was filled completely with a permeating, oppressive darkness.
3. Unbelievable Dialog.
Example: "What are you going to do with that hammer that you are waving in your hand?"
"I was thinking that maybe I should drive it through your skull and into your brain. In fact, I've been thinking about murdering you for ages upon ages."
Rewrite: "Put the hammer down!"
"I'm going to fucking kill you."
4. Mismatch. Mismatches can be in intensity, such as when powerful words are paired with a non-powerful moment.
Example: "The parking ticket thundered into my hands and demolished my every chance of having a glorious day."
Descriptions should generally fit the importance of the moment in length and intensity.
Mismatches can also be in time. Don't use lengthy descriptions to portray a very quick action (unless you are specifically going for a slow-motion effect).
Example: His fingers extended toward the door, and as he touched the brass, his hand curled around knob. With a twist, the door unlatched. He pulled it open and entered.
Reading these words takes about four times as long as the action itself.
5. Weak Verbs. Example: The sky was dark. The motorcycle was idling. He was eager to go. Rewrite: The clouds piled in the sky. The motorcycle engine sputtered. He flexed his hands, ready to go.
6. Unnecessary Words/Tightening. Example: When he sat down on the chair, he thought he saw her go out of the door and out of the room. Rewrite: As he sat down, he saw her rush from the room. (Stronger verb too.)
7. Cliches. Example: He needed her like he needed to breathe.