Nowadays, writing competitions have become quite the thing for publishers to draw in new talent. Having found my way into publishing through a writing contest myself, I’m all for participation in these kind of online hunts. Some require a full manuscript like the Harlequin SYTYCW. Most others however just require your story’s synopsis and a partial. Like the Passions contest that Harlequin holds every season in December-January for aspiring Indian authors. It is ongoing and you can check out the details here. Last date to enter, 25th Jan, ’14.
So how to go about preparing for a contest? They say, well begun is half done. Well prepared is target secured. Any contest is both difficult and rewarding. Difficult as it takes nerves to enter and rewarding because one always learns from experience. Writing contests are no different except that an aspiring writer contestant is especially sensitive to rejection. It’s important when you enter a contest to first keep in mind that ANY outcome is possible. Second, to repeat to yourself, ‘I’ll give it my best shot.’ Over and over. If you do, you’ll have no reproach for yourself at least, however it ends…and who knows you may be next one shortlisted! From my experience of entering writing contests, and winning both of them, I’ve compiled some tips. Also I’ve included the input from all I learnt during the writing of the initial chapters of my first book, Bollywood Fiancé fora Day and the second, You Can’t Fight A Royal Attraction I’ve listed them in order of what looks important to me:
Opening scene: The opening scene should draw the reader in. Right into the world you have created. What is your character doing as the story opens? What is she/he feeling? Is your character worried while driving? Does she accidentally miss the turn signal of car in front? What happened then? Create a situation where the readers (or your judges) can’t help but read on to find out what happens next.
Build a problem: Is your heroine (or hero) in trouble? Why? Who could help her? Why wouldn’t she take help from him? Always go deep into a character’s reasons. Why. That simple word leads to so many possibilities. The late Penny Jordan, romance author extraordinaire once said, the most important of the tips her editor gave her was: always ask why.
Interaction of characters: In romance you have two main characters. Have them in the scene together as soon as possible. That sounds like a tall order for a first chapter. You would say, what about explaining the setting, the situation, the background? But just think, if you don’t show them together here, you may miss the chance to make a strong initial impression. The first chapters, mostly first three are asked for in a partial, should not just set up the story but also hint at the first turning point. So have your characters interacting as soon as possible. Show what the heroine feels for the hero and he for her. How do they happen to be in the situation? Is it planned? Or coincidence? Does she want to avoid him? Will she succeed? Build up the curiosity factor.
Tension: Show the tension between the characters. Awareness. Attraction. Conflict. Does she drop something in her confusion when near him? Most heroes aren’t bumbling but a little tug at his necktie would be endearing, don’t you think? Tension between Hero/heroine is a must in a Mills and Boon! 🙂 And even in other genres, tension, implied and manifest, is a desirable ingredient.
Sympathy for the characters: Have the reader sympathize with your character. If the hero turns the heroine’s troubled aunt out of her house, it’s a very strong conflict between the characters but would the reader sympathize with someone like that? Would you? You’d most likely kick such an insensitive brute. Always keep your character if not lovable, at least understandable. For more on characters, go here.
Make it read-worthy: Last but not least the grammar. Spell check. Read. Revise. Watch your tenses. Double check your verbs. Make your presentation the best it can be. Also always follow the specifications given under the contest rules.
So do remember, begin with a strong opening scene, build a problem, have your characters interact and show tension between them. Make your characters lovable, always spell check and make your work presentable.
Sharing your work can be scary. If you’ve submitted or made a decision to submit your entry to a writing competition, you’re already to be congratulated. If you’re reading this to improve it, double congratulations, because you have decided to go after this writing thing and you’re already interested in making it better. So are you trying your luck? Good luck to all the entrants and remember, if you’re pursuing your dream, you’re a winner!
Write with love,