I have been on a quest to at least vote on all submissions on the Citadel, and while I have not yet completed this quest, and perhaps never will, I have seen patterns. The following are suggestions on what to avoid or at least keep in mind.

First suggestion, not mine, but I whole-heartedly agree with LongSpeaks' comment:

Just Do It!!!!


For some people, making that first submission can be daunting. Having people looking over and judging your work can cause anxiety, which might keep you from posting it.

Just Do It! Ignore the voice that says no, and share your ideas. Don't be afraid of honest criticism. Follow all the other advice to make it the best you can, but remember the old saying 'Perfect is the enemy of Good.' Do your best and then GET THAT SUB OUT THERE!

- Longspeak

Content

Take some time

There is no need to rush. Take a bit of time to form a coherent idea. Some of the least-best received submissions were the result of too little time taken to complete the sub. If you do not take the effort to write it, how can you expect people to take effort to read it?

Overexplaining

I've seen subs where lots of text details things which are abundantly clear, covered by virtually all gaming systems, or are obvious consequences for actions. While not that harmful, they cause a sub to drag on, and can seem condescending.

Gandalf's Staff/Drizzit's anything, Sting

Google your title. Google your main NPC's name. Google your main place name. Just check to see how well used the name is, or if it has potential embarrassing connotations you might not want to associate with.

Elric's Sword/Vampiric Weapons

Essentially any magic weapon that draws power from killing people. This has been quite overdone and really rewards you for using something you would have done anyway.

Keep it Cool

What is the purpose of your sub? Can you see it being used in a game? Would you enjoy it? Others? If not, you may want to think about how you can make it so.

Orphans

Perhaps it is laziness - killing off ones family keeps you from having to detail them, or to provide a motivation - revenge for killing one's family/village/nation, or to remove a potential lever for your GM to use. Stop it! These are useful - families provide resources as well as plot hooks. Stop wasting this with ‘They were killed by orc raiders. Now I hate orcs..' Realistic, perhaps, but oh so overdone. Yes, I know Disney has made a fortune with this formula...

Superman/Mary Sue

Many, many first characters are badass to the point of ridiculous, being superman without the kryptonite. A form of wish fulfilment, and perhaps fun to play - like turning on God Mode in Grand Theft Auto. If your character is a challenge for demigods or better, then it may need to be turned down a notch to be more generally usable.

Unexplained Skill

While there is some debate about how ‘natural' inborn talent is, outside of fiction your 14 year old is not going to suddenly become an archmage unless he's possessed by some wizard/demon/god or the like, in which case you are not really a 14 year old any more. Ability is created from talent, drive, training and experience unless you start applying some serious magic to short cut things. Again, this is a form of wish-fulfilment that seems common with anime-inspired submissions.

Magically Naive People of Power

Just as kings and the like have food tasters, so will they have people to test magical ‘gifts' for them. If cursed items are common past the point of being fairly tales, any ruler with two brain cells will have some level of protection against cursed gifts. I'm not saying that you can't get them cursed, but it's unlikely they'll put on some ring or crown handed to them by a stranger.

But its not magic

If you can't make it using the current laws of physics, it is magic. 'The sword is not magic, but ...'. It is magic.

It is magic, but you can't detect it

Undetectable magic is VERY POWERFUL magic and should be treated accordingly. Items that Joe the mage cooks up over the weekend on a whim should not have this property.

Self-named Characters

Basically when you create a character the same as your strolen's handle. Personally, I find this rather cheesy, and they are virtually all supermen/Mary Sue's. Think twice at least. I have yet to see this done well.

Zero-effort Origins

If you are going to spend time mentioning an origin at all, don't waste text on saying the origin is unknown. Joe mage whipping it up over the weekend because someone asked is not worth the text.

Formatting & Structure

One area where I focus a fair amount of attention on my own subs is formatting. I'm not saying that my formats are the best, but that some attention should be given in this area.

A couple of points:

Spellcheck

Many other submissions on submissions mention this. They do for a reason. Spellcheck is very easy to do, with most browsers supporting it in place, or a quick copy/paste into google docs otherwise. Very high bang for your buck on getting good scores.

Obvious spelling errors cause readers to slow down and other shortcomings become more noticeable, even if the readers do not deduct scores for the typos themselves. This may be a good thing, but keep this in mind.

Paragraphs

Paragraphs help in readability. If you have more than 10 lines without a break, the readability of your sub is reduced and you have a greater chance of your reader just saying ‘naah, too long' and moving on.

Headings

These help organize your submission and break up text - which again helps with readability. Use good names for sections that draw interest. Readability increases the chances of comments and votes!

Size

Keep your subs concise - if you can keep it tight while still providing everything you want, this will help in drawing readers and hopefully votes and comments. One oft repeated quote (paraphrased) is that a work of writing should contain no unnecessary words just like an engine should contain no unnecessary parts. I would shoot for 1000 words - this article is quite close to that word count.

Run-on-sentences

For me, these are a distraction that makes it hard for me to properly read a submission and nudges me away to shorter, easier to read submissions. Rather than attempt a technical breakdown of what is and what is not a run on sentence, Moonhunter's advice to read aloud one's submission will greatly assist in showing where your sentences could use rework.

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A suggestion to put before all others, in my admittedly not very humble opinion:

Just Do It!!!!

For some people, making that first submission can be daunting. Having people looking over and judging your work can cause anxiety, which might keep you from posting it.

Just Do It! Ignore the voice that says no, and share your ideas. Don't be afraid of honest criticism. Follow all the other advice to make it the best you can, but remember the old saying 'Perfect is the enemy of Good.' Do your best and then GET THAT SUB OUT THERE!