Monday, February 06, 2006

Defending our Young

I recently entered my first-ever contest—a nice, low-key one over at Romance Divas. The premise of the contest was “Best First Meeting,” meaning the first encounter between the hero and heroine. Now, I am lucky enough to have some great people who read and critique my stuff before I send it along to my agent, and I appreciate their candor and their enthusiasm more than I can say. But. . .well, I know those people, and they know both me and my writing. Even if that first chapter (or first meeting, as the case may be) doesn’t grab them, they’re going to keep reading. They trust me to follow through and to provide them with a good story.

Strangers are a little bit different.

The scene I entered in the contest is the first encounter of my hero and heroine in my most recently completed MS—a romcom/adventure hybrid that I hope is the first installment in a series. Because of the hybrid nature of the work, I had trouble deciding what category to enter it in, how to set up the scene (or if I should set up the scene—isn’t the scene supposed to speak for itself?) and how much of the chapters before and after I should include. Eventually, I decided to restrict it to just the scene between the two characters and, since the story has barely begun when they meet, to forgo adding in lots of background information. I mean, really, what was I going to write? Well, see, the heroine is secretly a spy—only she doesn’t want to be one, and she only does it part time, and she’s really not very good at it— Yeah, that was going to get complicated fast. So I submitted my severely edited scene and waited.

I have to say, the Divas give excellent reviews. I’ve gotten seven as of this writing, and every single one has been thoughtful and thorough. When the contest is over, I plan to print out the reviews and keep them on hand for the next round of edits on this MS—I’ve gotten some good ideas from the comments. My only complaint is that all submissions are anonymous at this point, so I can’t defend, explain or elaborate. This is the problem with scene-specific contests—there is no context, no follow-through. One of the questions on the review form asks if the conflict that will keep the characters apart is apparent, and I think that is a legitimate question. But it doesn’t fit for every entry. In mine, for instance, the main plot is what keeps the characters apart: the heroine is off being a super-secret spy and the hero is back in LA wondering why she doesn’t return his phone calls. That isn’t going to come across in a scene that clocks in at just over 2,000 words. Honestly, if the conflict is that clear-cut after 2,000 words, I have to wonder what the rest of the book is about.

This complaint is, obviously, no reflection on the contest or on the excellent nature of the Diva reviews. This is about ME, about MY insecurities and about MY desire to defend my work. One of the reasons I entered the contest was to thicken up my skin, so to speak, in anticipation of the day when my work hits the public and I have to see it ripped apart by reviewers who don’t care for my brand of humor or suspense or romance or whatever. Clearly, I have some work to do on that front. But really, beyond the extremely gentle criticisms I’ve received, I am incredibly heartened by the response to the scene. If a reviewer can fall in love with my hero in 2,000 words, there must be an editor (and readers!) who will like him, too. And if a bunch of strangers who read enough romance to be frequenting a website dedicated to it think my work is worth reading and reviewing, maybe I’m doing something right after all.

Overall, this contest has been an extremely positive experience for me—frustrations and all. I’ve got some great ideas, some honest critiques and, above all, a desire to show reviewers and everyone else that my story is worth a try. I highly encourage any other writers out there to enter and enter often!

4 Comments:

Blogger Buffy said...

I'm afraid of contests. Sometimes I think Id rather spend my life in ignorant bliss and just think I can write.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Loribelle Hunt said...

Ahh, RD contests, what can you say lol? I've had good feedback from the contests I've entered, though not as much from this one. I think that's due to the genre I entered this round.

You can always pm the judges of your entry. Most are more than happy to discuss it. I've received several pm's this round.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Jana J. Hanson said...

One of my entries has done okay, the second is clearly hated. Then again, it's rough and I know it's rough -- the comments only reinforce this.

That's the thing with thick skin and this business. It pays to know who your friends are, who'll tell you "this is crap" and still hug you when you cry!

10:24 PM  
Blogger Melanie Hayden said...

Don't be frightened of contests--really, they're a great window into what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right. I'd suggest doing some informal ones before you submit to a big contest, just to toughen your skin up a little, but I really, really encourage you to enter eventually!

Like I said, I am really pleased with the responses I've gotten at RD. People have been really kind, while giving me great pointers. I didn't judge this time because I didn't feel comfortable enough with the process, but next time I am going to make it a priority. This is a great resource for everyone.

7:19 PM  

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