By Sandra Elzie
Have you ever submitted a sample of your writing as an entry to a contest, knowing that you were opening up your work for some faceless, unknown person to judge? You might reason that they don’t know your characters the way you do You know what? You’re right! They spend a short time with your characters where you’ve spent hours, days, months or maybe even years getting to know them.
Personally, I’ve entered several contests and when I got the submission back, I was surprised at how much red writing there was on my formerly nice, clean, white pages. After the initial frown, I sat down and read the suggestions and comments and went on to use most, if not all, of their suggestions. My manuscript was better for it. I feel that even if I don’t win the prize (darn it!), at least I’m getting great input from someone who is looking at my work with a fresh eye and with more writing experience than I have.
I used to wonder if the judges really read the entire entry, or just scanned it quickly and wrote a comment or two just to get through with the assignment. Well, at least from my experience, I can reassure you that they do actually read the synopsis that you send along with your selection, and they do actually try to understand the story and your characters.
Recently I got an e-mail from a friend of mine asking if I’d ever considered judging a writing contest. Well, I never had, but it sounded like it might be something different to do and it might also be educational. It might give me some insight toward what the judges were told to evaluate, and that would help me on the next contest that I enter.
So I shot off an e-mail to the organization indicating my willingness to work with them. By-the-way, it was not Georgia Romance Writers, but I won’t mention the contest by name since I would hate for one of the hopefuls to read my blog and wonder if I was the nasty judge who put all the red comments on her work of art.
Here’s what I learned about contests from this one experience. Hopefully it will give you an idea what the judges are looking for when they read your work.
First and foremost, don’t make spelling errors. There’s no excuse for them since the computer underlines them in red and they are so easy to correct with the the help of spellcheck.
The next biggest mistake I found was sticking to one POV. New writers have a tendency to “head-hop” back and forth too often. If you make this mistake, it immediately labels you as a newer writer. (Ugh!) Another mistake I saw that had the neon signs flashing “NEW WRITER!” was the use of adjective after adjective to describe the scenery, the hero and heroine and their emotions. The worst part is that some of these words were too big for the script or scene. There was slang some of the general public would never have heard, requiring them to grab their handy dandy Webster’s Dictionary in order to know what you were trying to say. Keep it simple. Tell the story and leave most of the flowery adjectives out.
Compare the next two sentences: Her eyes were immediately drawn to the shiny belt buckle hovering just below his waist. She blinked, quickly dragging her eyes up across his bare chest to lock with his deep-set gray eyes. Versus, Her eyes sparkled like a deep, dark blue pool of passion as they gazed longingly at his jeans where the huge, jewel-studded belt buckle refracted the light from the brilliant sun that shown through the wall of glass that overlooked the lake. She allowed her blue orbs to make a slow, sensual trip up his tight-muscled stomach, upward to his buffed pecs and… do I have to go on? Hopefully you have the picture.
Anyway, the other thing I saw in the entries was that love scenes were almost always written in the male POV, which I found interesting. I wonder if these writers, whomever they are, chose this POV because of the Alpha-male syndrome? Do women want their males to dominate them in bed?
Then I realized how easy it is to guess, rightly or wrongly, how young the writer is. I mean, when a love scene includes the two people doing things that are anatomically impossible, it makes a judge wonder. Also, if you’re writing “love” scenes, the male needs to show some concern and consideration for his beloved female. He should show some respect for her, not use her for his own pleasure and then walk away. Slam, Bang, Thank you ma’am doesn’t go over well with the majority of today’s female readers. And if the male dares to treat her that way, she will probably toss him out on his…backside.
Okay, so what contests should you enter? Some are free and some charge fees. So if you are considering a contest that charges a fee, determine if that money will be worth what you have a chance to gain. Maybe it’s a monetary prize. That’s always good, but what if the prize is a critique from an agent or editor in New York? What if the prize is a contract? Maybe just being a finalist would get your manuscript in front of an editor who works for a publisher that you are interested in. Only you can weight the cost and determine if it’s worth it. I will say, however, count the value of a published author or maybe an editor critiquing your work.
In summary, watch your spelling, punctuation and grammar. Tell the story in an interesting way without trying to impress your reader (or the judge) with all the flowery adjectives, and make your story or scene believable. And, when you're thinking about entering contests, don't forget that the prestigious Georgia Romance Writer's Maggie Contest is coming up!
Have any of you had any experiences with contests that you’d be willing to share? How about judging? Have any of you judged contests and would you be willing to share with us some of the pitfalls that we should avoid?
Lastly, for all you avid romance readers, do you want your Alpha male to dominate your heroine in bed? I’d love to hear your comments!