Why I Love Writing-Contest Feedback

I try to enter a contest or two every year as I have time/money/manuscripts, both to give support to fellow genre fiction writers (RWA chapters often use contests as fundraisers) and to get feedback outside my critique group. Interestingly, once one has been published, there are fewer contests open to unpublished work.

This year, I entered seven pages — approximately the opening scene — of two works in progress in the Emerald City Opener (put on by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter and commonly referred to as the ECO), and the first chapter or so of a historical I’ve been tinkering with for several years in the Rebecca (put on by the New Mexico chapter, Land of Enchantment Romance Authors).

I find judge’s comments from a tiny slice of a novel to be interesting on several levels, because they almost always approach it as if it’s the entire story. One ECO judge complained that hero and heroine of Open Mike at Club Bebop had not met by page 7; they actually meet when she dies in his arms on page 8 and he gets her on life support. By way of comparison, the hero and heroine of Jennifer Crusie’s NYT bestseller Welcome to Temptation meet on the last page of the first chapter — page 25 of the paperback. Judge #1 also repeated several times how much he/she loved my voice. Yes, they say nice things, too.

Another judge described the same beginning scene as “very passive and unemotional”; a cyborg veteran (the hero) confronts a criminal gang (the antagonist) ineffectually trying to break into his secured building. This is exactly what I wanted to convey, because his character arc is to rediscover his humanity (through falling in love with the heroine) and take back his life.

Judge #2 suggested beginning the story later, when the hero and heroine meet. Unfortunately, that would mean the second half of the story wouldn’t make any sense, because the antagonists wouldn’t have been introduced prior to the point where they kidnap the heroine. However, because Judge #2 didn’t have the rest of the story, all he/she saw was the gang poking at the hero and the hero poking back. I’m inclined to think this judge was female, because most men of my acquaintance don’t find that sort of thing boring. 🙂

I didn’t receive the third judge’s comments on this story due to a slight technical difficulty; I entered the openings of two stories and got two copies of this judge’s comments for the other story. I sent the coordinators a note, and I’m sure they’ll get it straightened out soon.

So the sum total of my feedback (so far), is that the story opening is doing exactly what I want it to, even if the scores reflect that the judges don’t quite understand where I’m going. Really, how could they, since they get seven pages and no synopsis to sketch out the rest of the plot — not even a back-cover blurb? They did a great job with what they had and told me what I wanted to know.

Thanks for your help, Emerald City Opener judges. You do good work.

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