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!