Tuesday, January 29, 2008
MELANIE DICKERSON ~ GUEST BLOGGER
Melanie Dickerson is a wife and mother of two beautiful girls, ages 6 and 9. She started writing again five years ago and doesn’t think she’s allowed to quit yet, even though writing for publication makes her feel like a very small caterpillar climbing a very tall tree.
Her medieval romance, The Woodcutter’s Daughter, won First Place in the 2007 Fiction From the Heartland Contest. She loves promoting ACFW authors as assistant coordinator of the ACFW Book Club, and she occasionally posts something new on her neglected blog, http://www.melaniewrites.blogspot.com.
Melanie just won the Fiction from the Heartland Contest, and placed first and fourth in the Inspirational category of the Gotcha Contest.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~What I’ve Learned from Contests~~~~~~~~~~
My experience with contests is that they are a great way to get personal, specific feedback. Contests have boosted my motivation to continue writing—and continue learning.
The first contest I ever entered was the Genesis, 2006. But you don’t want to hear about how I decided to change the category of my book after I’d already submitted it to coordinator Ruth Logan Herne. I won’t tell you about how Ruthy got a good laugh at my expense but helped me change it. (Only too bad for me, because it turned out I’d forgotten to take my name out of the header and was disqualified.)
I’ll just skip that story.
Genesis, 2007. I entered a new book I’d spent several months revising and polishing. I really hoped to final with this story. At the same time, I entered it in three other contests. And this was not very smart. Why? Because if I’d entered one or two contests and waited until I got feedback from those contests, then I could have improved my entry and improved my odds with the next couple of contests. But I didn’t. And I didn’t final in the Genesis. I was so surprised! (I know. Ha.) But I did learn a lot from those scoresheets and judges’ comments that helped me improve my story.
I got scoresheets back in which the judges said they didn’t know what my heroine wanted, what her goals or conflicts were. What!? Weren’t they paying attention? But after I thought about it and explored why the judges would say that, I realized some mistakes I’d made. I knew what my heroine’s goals and conflicts were, but I hadn’t made them clear to the reader (Duh. I’m sure no one else has done this). I had been trying so hard not to explain anything (you know, Resist the Urge to Explain, RUE) and was trying to trust the reader to “get it” that I ended up expecting them to “get it” by osmosis.
Okay, that problem was easy to fix. I included her goals and motivations in the first two scenes using internal dialogue and dialogue with her friend.
Another comment I got more than once was that my writing was clichéd. What!? That sounded like a slam if ever I heard one. There was nothing clichéd about my story! But when I looked closer, I saw some clichéd phrases and a clichéd secondary character, and after I thought about it for a while, realized those were pretty easy to fix as well.
Then I saw the comment, “preachy.” What!? I’m not preachy! But I realized the judge was talking about one character in one scene, not the whole entry. After mulling it over, I realized the scene wasn’t necessary anyway and it would make the story stronger if I cut the whole thing. So I cut it. Simple.
My point is, the judges’ comments can seem devastating at first, but after a few days, when you can be more objective, you may see how simple some of the flaws are to fix. Maybe our critique partners didn’t catch these weaknesses, but they stood out to someone else, and that’s very valuable information to have.
I worked to fix these weaknesses, and the next contest I entered, I not only finaled but won! Yea me!
I could another write another whole post on why you should never, never, and I mean never write a thank you note to a judge when you’re still angry that they gave you a 58 and your next lowest score was an 84. It’s not a good idea, okay? So the judge didn’t like your story. Not everyone will, so swallow your pride and . . . well, if you can’t get over it, just don’t write that “thank you” note. You’ll regret it later. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.
"What, if anything, have you changed about your WIP based on judge's comments?"