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Friday, December 16, 2011

Writing Tips As A Gift? Whatever!

Realizing the year is almost at an end, I recently looked back at my experiences in 2011 as a writing contest judge--and realized I've learned more from reading other authors than I have in a classroom, or editing my work by myself. The process of evaluating the balance of elements in someone else's entry undoubtedly makes a judge more aware of imbalances in their own personal manuscripts.

So I want to go over some key points I told my NARWA chapter members a couple months ago, either as a refresher for those experienced--or an eye opener for those who haven't been exposed to this kind of information. In any case, my Christmas gift to all is INFORMATION intended to give everyone a step up. Take from it what you will!

1. Before submitting your work, or even prior to finishing your manuscript, ask yourself: Does my story begin in the correct scene? The majority of entries I've judged don't start where the story actually begins...some start with a lot of back-story, some begin out of sequence (chapter 1 begins on day three, chapter 2 goes back to day one and then catches up to day three). It's my opinion that the beginning of a book should be designed to cocoon and draw the reader, and that the best way to go about cocooning and drawing is by putting your character in a heightened situation (fear, sadness, wishfulness, etc.) that will reveal pertinent information about your character instantaneously--and make them immediately engaging.

2. Approach introductions between readers and characters the same way you approach strangers at a Christmas party. When you're introducing yourself to new people, you usually start with the simple stuff, "Hi, my name is Courtney. I'm Larry's friend," and then you start answering questions about yourself once someone is interested enough to ask what you do, where you're from, whether you have any kids, etc. But remember to do this with both the heroine AND the hero. Many times I'll see entries that focus on developing the heroine, getting the reader to understand her voice and GMC (goal/motivation/conflict), then skimming over the development of the hero. There should be a balance of development between BOTH characters. Otherwise, one character's tire is full, one has a low tire--and how is a car (i.e. your book) supposed to start driving across country on uneven tires?

3. And the last tip: Avoid echoes and avoid passive voice. Echoes: I use the thesaurus function in my Word documents all the time, so if there's a word you want to use two or more times in one paragraph, start looking for other ways to convey the same info. Passive Voice: yes, it's okay to use 'was' in a sentence. Just avoid '-ing' words in conjunction with 'was.' Ex: "He was flying through the parking lot," will sound more immediate and less flimsy if it's rephrased as, "He flew through the parking lot." "She was thinking," sounds less definite than, "She thought."

Okay. Now you know some of the tendencies I've seen, and some of the tips I have for authors both new and experienced. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! Do you guys have any other tips to add to my list? If you do, just add your comment!

4 comments:

Suzanne Lilly said...

Isn't it amazing how much you learn by being a contest judge? One thing I've seen while reading entries is far, far too much telling, not showing. It's made me more aware of passive voice in my own manuscripts, so actually, those authors helped me!

Paty Jager said...

I agree judging and reading others writing makes mine better. when you see certain errors over and over it ingrains them into your brain not to do them. And when you see something that really captured you, you read it over and over to see why. Fun post!

Judith Ashley said...

You've a winner here, Courtney. I too have learned alot about my ow writing while judging contests. One issue I frequently see is the lack of involving the senses both in how the character perceives what is happening to him/herself as in "Her head hurt." When I have a headache, more is going on in my body because a real headache affects all of me. So, what is it. Same in terms of setting. "She loved sitting in the garden." Why, what does she see, what does she smell, what does she hear?

Just adding one or two additional elements turns a so-so scene into a memorable one.

Having said that, too many details bores me to death. I want a general picture of the garden, not a row by row description. I want to know how the colors flow/blend, contrast, etc. not that the for-get-me-not is closest to the walk and behind that is the Sweet William with alternating Gladiolas and Delphinium in the back row.

Sarah Raplee said...

I've learned a lot from judging contests as well, Courtney! One thing I see in so many manuscripts is a tendency to convey the same information over and over to the reader in different ways (and sometimes in the same way!)

For example,
Mary backed away from the mouse as quietly as she could and then climbed onto a chair. She pulled out her cell phone to call her neighbor over to deal with the horrid little animal. She hated rodents.

Any one of those three sentences would suffice to convey Mary's emotional reaction to the mouse. In this paragraph, I'm beating my reader over the head with the information. Many readers find this disrespectful of their intelligence and just plain annoying.

Happy Holidays, everyone!