Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tips For Entering Writing Contests

Like many writers, I have both judged and entered writing contests. I am not a contest diva, but I have finaled in over half a dozen and even won a couple. I learned the most about entering contests by judging them. I have a few tips I have learned through my experiences and by listening to other writers give speeches on the topic.

1. Make sure you are entering a contest that is appropriate for your genre. If you are writing a paranormal ghost story where the emphasis is placed on the paranormal element with little interaction between the couple in the story, you should not enter a romance writer's contest.

Your manuscript has a better chance of scoring well in a romance contest if the hero and heroine meet soon in the entry. You will find most romance readers want this as well.

2. Read the contest directions several times. They usually provide manuscript guidelines. If they want the first 20 pages, don't send them the love scene in the middle of the book. If they want double-spaced, don't send in a single-spaced entry. If they want an entry that is not published and not under contract, don't send them the first pages of your self-published book. If your book is available for sale  in a store or online to the public it is considered published.

3. Remove your name, address, email and phone number from your manuscript and synopsis before sending in your entry.

4. Ask for a copy of the judging score sheet before deciding to enter. A romance score sheet may judge on the conflict between the hero and heroine. This will give you an opportunity to read up on romantic conflict before deciding if yours is strong enough. If not, you can strengthen your conflict or decide not to enter the contest. Tip: An extremely strong conflict would be he is a fireman and she is an arsonist. I can't take credit for that. It is the most often used example floating around Romance Writers of America chapters for years.

5. Make sure your synopsis provides every major plot point including the ending. If it is a romance, you need to include the conflict. Tip: I have often heard agents and editors say you must include the ending in your synopsis.

6. Read over your entry several times for mistakes before entering.  A set of fresh eyes can help.
I have my husband give my entry a once over. He'll catch missing words or sentences that don't make sense.

7. Every score sheet I have seen includes a rating for point of view. Head hopping is discouraged. Your entry will usually do better if you stick to one character's point of view per scene. If you want to change point of view, you are better off changing at the beginning of the next scene. If the first paragraph gives the character's name, action, and thoughts, the transition to the new point of view will be made clear (usually).

8. End your entry on a hook that leaves the judge wanting to read more. (Advice given by Harlequin author Linda Style.) If the contest rules say "up to 20 pages" that does not mean you have to end at the bottom of the 20th page. I end my scenes with a hook and find that is the best place for me to end an entry. I may enter 17 pages if that is where my scene ended with a hook.

9. When deciding which contests to enter, look at the judges and grand prize. If your are trying to get your work before a major print publisher, you are better off with a contest that has one of their editors judging the final round. The Valley of the Sun contest has a grand prize that should appeal to both indie and traditional writers: the top scorer will have their entire manuscript edited by professional editors. If you want to spend a lot of money entering every contest available for your type of writing, that is also an option.

10. You are the final judge. Entering contests is an emotional roller coaster. You are on pins and needles hoping to make the final round, but when you read a negative comment, your bubble bursts. Just remember, judging, just like reading, is subjective. When you read a comment about your work, ask yourself if it rings true. If not, you can ignore the judge's advise. If all three judges make the same comment, you might want to think carefully before tossing it aside. There are times I read the score sheet, put it aside for awhile, and then went back to it before improving my manuscript again. I am in a better place emotionally to decide if the judge was correct or not.

Don't fall the words at the top of this blog entry, the main purpose for entering writing contests should be to improve your writing.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Building Sympathetic Characters

Once again, my husband and I are behind the times. We never watched The Sopranos until he bought the first season recently. I have to admit, it wasn't what I expected. I expected another version of The Godfather. What I saw was a great example of how to make a bad guy likable.

I found myself feeling sorry for the main character, Tony. He has an aging mother who can't take care of herself and yet refuses to move into a retirement community. His wife is never happy. His daughter and wife are always fighting. Plus, his son gets into trouble at school. We might not be able to relate to a mobster, but we can relate to Tony and his multitude of family problems. The fact they are all happening at once, makes us feel sorry for him.

This approach can used with your hero, heroine, or even your villain if you are trying to make him or her multidimensional. Villains are the hero of their own story.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fed Up

Like so many Americans, my husband and I shop at Costco. Today, my husband picked up the DVD Fed Up. The picture is blurry, so I'll tell you the sentence above the title reads, "It's time to get real about food." It is narrated by Katie Couric.

We watched it this afternoon and was surprised to learn that the experts in this film do not believe that reducing calories and increasing exercise is the cure all for losing weight. They say calories are different. I did know eating vegetables and fruits is better for you than eating chips. Aside from the health value given to differing types of food, I figured you ate a hundred calories and spent three hours burning it off no matter what it was. (Joking a little here.)

They showed how drinking a sugary soda goes to your liver and is turned straight into fat. I'm sure this may be oversimplified, but it scared me. Not that I drink regular soda, but I do drink a ton of flavored coffee creamers. In the past, I wasn't worried about Diabetes because I have great genes and in a huge family of sugar addicts, no one was ever diagnosed with the disease. On the other hand, I do have huge hips and thighs, so I am ready to try a new path.

After watching the movie, I was once again convinced I need to eat better, not perfectly, but better. My husband even offered to make my lunches. (I've made his for the past four years.) That is incentive enough. I even Googled homemade coffee creamers and found some I will try. I had tried to make my own in the past, but thanks to the exploding Internet, I now have recipes. My past attempts were a huge failure.

I believe this documentary is worth the time and effort to watch. It focuses on our children and the struggle they have in a society that promotes unhealthy foods in the media. It also shares how attempts to improve packaged foods have failed. Have you ever noticed that there isn't a % of Daily Value for sugar on food labels?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Increase the Danger - Let's Be Cops

Romance novels are often accused of being formulaic because they all have a happy ending where boy gets girl. That guaranteed happy ending is why romance novels sold well during the recession. What makes them different from one another is the journey. After boy loses girl, what must he do to win her back? What dangers must our couple face in a suspense to triumph over the bad guys?

You could say comedies are formulaic. They make you laugh and then, in most cases, have a happy ending. Last night, my husband and I watched Let's Be Cops. I expected a silly movie that would make me laugh. What surprised me was the way the writers kept increasing the danger. At first, the main characters could end up in jail for impersonating police officers. Then they bought a police car, which would increase the length of their sentence. Next, while impersonating police officers, they interfered with the illegal activities of the bad guys and humiliated them. Soon we discover one of the bad guys is a detective who wants to kill them. Although that is bad enough, they each must run for their lives without the other until they join up to defeat the evil villains.

I knew how the story would end twenty minutes into the movie. How we got to that ending was a fun ride.

That is what we must do as a romance writers. Drag your hero and heroine through hell and back until they have grown as people and accomplished their goals. At that point, they have earned the happy ending.