Contests and openings

» Posted on Jan 14, 2008 in Blog | Comments Off on Contests and openings

Congratulations to Stacey. She won Julie Lessman’s book, A Passion Most Pure.
This week I have a new author to the Christian fiction market but not a new author. Leann Harris will have her first book out with Love Inspired Suspense in August of this year so the drawing this week will be for one of her older Silhouette Intimate Moment books. Email me at if you want to be entered in the drawing. I will draw a name next Monday morning.

We are heading into writing contest season, which got me to thinking (sometimes a dangerous thing for me to do). I have judged contests over the years and have found there are some wonderful writing voices, still undiscovered, just waiting for the right story to hit the right editor’s desk. So how can these writers increase their chances of getting the opportunity to be read by an editor because they won the contest?

One of the first things I have seen in some entries is that the writer has started the story in the wrong place. You should begin in the middle of a scene or action. You need to grab the reader’s attention immediately. Some don’t give you more than a paragraph or page to sell them on your book. Some writers feel that they need to set the characters up before we get into what I call the meat of the story. As a reader I don’t want to know their life story or even some of it. I want to meet the hero and heroine and discover what the problem is going to be. The background information can be fed in later in bits and pieces (never in large chunks). In fact, you don’t want to reveal too much too soon. You want some things to be a mystery until just the right moment (usually building toward that moment).

As you can see the opening is very important to a book. You MUST have a good one or often it will be all the reader reads because she puts the story down before she has really gone very far. Besides, the opening, however, there are other aspects of the first few chapters that are important (for purposes of this article, I’m only dealing with the beginning of the story since that is usually all that is seen in a contest.) Make sure your hero and heroine meet early in the book if it is a romance (I try as close to the first page as possible). If it is a suspense, we need to get a sense something is wrong at the start.

Also, be careful not to have talking heads. When you have dialogue, make sure you get into the thoughts of the character’s point of view you are in. If you don’t show the character’s emotions, give him/her a tag or some kind of action that further the story. Watch the balance of narrative with dialogue. Too much narrative slows the pacing.

Another aspect to watch when telling your story is that pacing. Pacing keeps the reader reading. Don’t give them a chance to be bored with your pages. Keep things moving. And lastly, come up with characters that your readers will fall in love with. Not how exciting the plot is, if you don’t have good characters that the readers care about, it won’t mean much.

So when you are getting ready to submit to a contest, take a look at your submission and check for the above things. Did you start the story in the right place? Did you put in too much background information at the start? Are your characters likeable and sympathetic? Do you get into the point of view character’s emotions? Is there too much narrative or too much dialogue without action, tags or feelings? Is the pacing at a nice clip to keep the reader’s attention?