Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ah, Friday at last...
This week has been difficult from a writing standpoint, but I still keept writing. Will I ever be published? I don't know.

Maybe I'm stupid and masochistic - I actually like getting rejections. They look like I'm trying. And, who knows? Lightning does occassinally strike. Maybe I'll try some more contests.

For those who have never entered writing contests, here are some tips:
1) Decide what you want out of it up front.
Is it to possibly get your work in front of an agent or editor? Or is it to get some helpful comments from readers to find out if you've gone totally insane or if you're on the right track? Your answer will vary depending upon how far along you are in the writing game.
Contests are a great way to find out how others will react to your work. With my writing, people either totally hate it or really like it. I have a hard time with contests because I'll get very low scores from one judge and then perfect scores from others, which means that they average out to something just below the number required to final. Although I have finaled in 4 contests, after I learned the second point, below.

2) If you want to get your work in front of an agent or editor, realize a few hard truths:
a) This won't happen unless you follow every single rule of the game. Pay attention and follow all the contest rules, including all the formatting rules. Make sure your entry is clean and grammatically correct. Don't sit there and quibble about fonts and margins. Use 1" margins on all sides, and either Times New Roman or Courier (Dark Courier is best). The contest will tell you which to use. You've got to make it to the final round to get your work in front of an agent/editor, so your entry has to be flawless. Some judges will nit-pick you to death and mark every single comma or lack of commas.
b) If this is a romance contest, chop up your first few chapters to make sure your hero and heroine meet, because a goodly number of points depend upon these two characters meeting.
Remember: You're entry doesn't have to be exactly what your first three chapters are "in reality", it has to be the the first three chapters edited to get the maximum number of points. Get the score sheets and see what will earn you points. If the hero gets 10 points, make sure he's somewhere in the material submitted. If the hero and heroine's reactions to each other during the first meeting earns 10 points, make sure they meet before the end of your contest submission.
You don't want to earn 0 points on any category - to be honest - only entries with near perfect or perfect scores from at least three judges will make it to the editor. Pay attention to the score sheet and rethink your entry. Edit your entry to make it fit the contest, while still having it make sense, be sparkling, interesting, and a great read. When the editor/agent finally asks for your manuscript, you can THEN send the "real" version where the hero and heroine don't meet until chapter four, or whatever. You may actually find the edited version is tighter and better, anyway.

That's what I mean about deciding what is important to you. If you don't care if you get to the final round, and just want fresh reader comments, then you don't have to edit so hard to make it earn points.

I find the judges comments, hurtful though they are, to be invaluable for a number of reasons. I can't tell you how many times I've written something that I thought could only be read in one way, only to find out when other people read it, that they get an entirely different (if not completely bizarre) interpretation. Apparently, my brain doesn't think along entirely normal lines. So, finding out what others think is actually helpful so I can correct things that are going to be hopelessly misread by the majority of people.

When you get those harsh comments--and you will--don't read them all at once. Take a quick peek at the scores and then go get drunk. Put the contest packet away and don't think about it for at least two weeks. Then pull it out when you're in the frame of mind that says: I'm going to edit my manuscript now and make it better, so I'll just read these comments to see if they spark any ideas about where I may need to do more editing. In other words, read them in a more constructive, positive mood when you're actually planning to take the advice, think about it, and decide if it's something you want to address or if the judge was high on crack-cocaine and you like your manuscript just the way it is.

I rarely take the advice, verbatim, but I do let it trickle through my consciousness where it will get diverted into completely different channels. Suddenly, I see things I missed or things I want to change, that may or may not have anything to do with the judge's comments. However, without the comments, I may not have gotten my new ideas. So, they can be incredibly helpful. A prime example is an old manuscript I had been editing after an agent told me to tweak it and resubmit it. She never said more than just: the story could use a bit more work.

There wasn't enough there to let me know WHAT needed more work! So I went back through all the judges comments for this manuscript. Really didn't find too much there, but the process got me thinking about changes and what changes might be good, and I was able to do a better job editing it. Ultimately, I shelved the manuscript, but I learned through that process that those painful comments can challenge you to perform editing marvels.

That's about all the advice I have on contests. Now, I have to take my own advice, gird my loins, edit the heck out of two or three new manuscripts, and see what the world thinks about them.

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