In 2006, I’d mustered up enough courage to join a writer’s group and actually do something about this dream I had of writing as a profession.
By 2007, I’d become brave. By brave, I mean I decided it was time to turn this masterpiece I’d been working on, out to the masses. I prepared myself that everyone may think I was great. I would handle the fame as a professional, I told myself. I’d be humble and gracious.
But I’d enjoy every minute of it…
I entered several contests that year. One was the Genesis. Here’s a piece of what I entered.
The ‘69 Camaro roared as Seth Garrett stomped the gas. Tires squealing, he rounded Black Mountain’s sharpest curve, his father’s red bombshell holding her own. He chuckled, wondering what his father would say when he realized she was missing.
Seth hoped he would laugh. After all, they had a lot to celebrate and one last ride in the car his dad had spent nearly a decade restoring was better than a thousand champagne bottles popping in his honor.
Veering out of another curve, he settled back against the bucket seat and accelerated. The V8 engine roared in pleasure, a sound that was proof his father knew what he was doing when he rebuilt this lovely lady, just as he’d known what he was doing all those long hours after football practice when he made Seth run another play until it was perfect. Now all their hard work would make Seth famous.
Are you as bored as I am?
Some of the judges read the whole 30 pages (God Bless them, because after reading the full submission, I wondered why I let that version of the manuscript out into the masses and why in the world I thought it was so good.) The Judges commented as follows:
“No conflict set up.”
“Am I reading my manuscript aloud?”
“Read Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys. Work on Guy speak.”
“Study Scene & Sequel”
“Read these books at least once a year: Goal, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra Dixon & WriteTight: How to Keep Your Prose Sharp, Focused and Concise by William Brohaugh
My scores weren’t horrible, but they didn’t place me in the final round. The feedback I received from other contests was generally the same. I realized I had more work to do on this manuscript to make it enjoyable. The original contest submission I’ve shared above took place thirteen years before my story began when my hero was involved in a major car accident that ended his dream of playing football for the NFL. That’s nice and fine, but it’s BACKSTORY.
I realized why I was getting sleepy reading the full 30 pages. I wasn’t entertaining myself!!! Why did I think some strange judge would be enthralled?
If someone wanted to read about a guy driving a car, any of us could rifle through our husband’s magazines and find something more appealing than my entry. While Seth may be an interesting character, he comes off arrogant and we just don’t care. He hasn’t captured the reader’s heart.
Plus, this information doesn’t need to be shared at this time. Riding in a car, unless you have two characters together and they’ve got great dialogue going on, is boring. Backstory truly doesn’t need to be shared until well after page 30 or page 50, unless you are famous or a polished writer and can pull it off flawlessly where the backstory is too exciting to avoid.
After I had put the scores aside, calmed down a bit, and realized the judges hadn’t grown two heads, I realized maybe my writing was the problem. I took the judges advice. To this day, I will never part with Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Ms. Dixon’s examples opened my eyes to a whole new world of writing and I have never been able to watch a movie or read a book the same way since.
I began to learn about scene and sequel. I’m still studying on this aspect of it. Do we ever stop learning? I hope not.
There are two ways to catch errors or weird words and that is to read your work aloud and print out the manuscript. While I don’t print out my work before sending it to my critique partners, I definitely print out my work to read like a book before I enter it into a contest or mail it to satisfy a request. Words look different on paper than they do on the computer. Reading the work aloud enables me to hear the dialogue and listen to the flow. I want a steady stream, a raging river. I don’t want to be tripping down a mountain and fall flat on my face.
I didn’t submit my manuscripts to any contests in 2008. I worked. I reworked. I revised again. Finally, the summer of 2008 I realized the nugget that had been missing from my story. It was the root conflict. It was the fuel my characters needed to keep moving through the story, toward a goal.
My heroine went from being a single artist to a single mom. A single mom with a past. A single mom with a past and a sick child.
Enter my hero, who went from a selfish ex-football star, to a high school football coach who felt responsible for the death of one of his players. And of course the accident in the ’69 Camaro altered the way he viewed his life.
I revamped my beginning and it carried me through to the rest of the book. The goals of my Hero/Heroine changed completely, as did their motivation. And what do you know? I had developed a conflict that didn’t exist in the first version. About 10 revisions later, I had a workable story – which I labeled as LAST TRY DRAFT. Because that was what it truly was. I told myself this was IT. This attempt would be my LAST TRY. If it didn’t work this time, then I was stuffing the story in the drawer.
I pasted the first 15 pages of my Last Try Draft into a document and emailed it to the Genesis category coordinator. My goal was to get better scores. I knew I wouldn’t final or win, but I hoped that what I’d changed had put me in the right direction.
Here are the first few paragraphs from my 2009 Genesis entry…
Please Lord, not today. Aimee Murphy turned the ignition a second time. Click. Click. Click. “What’s wrong, Momma?” Six-year-old Luke hopped up between the driver and passenger seats, his own investigation underway. “Why are we stopped in the middle of the road? I thought we were in a hurry.” Steam burped from the hood, not a good sign. Aimee smacked the steering wheel with the heel of her hand. This makes three times in the last month her Jeep Wagoneer had stalled out. At least the other times she’d been alone, either on the way to work or home. Why now, with her son in the car? A horn blared. The rearview mirror reflected at least a hundred irate drivers stuck behind her on the bridge. “Luke,” she said through gritted teeth. “Please sit down. Fasten your seat belt.” He flung himself into the back seat, his blue eyes dancing as if they were embarking on a new adventure. Aimee couldn’t help but chuckle at him. After the last few months she and Luke had spent in and out of the hospital, it was so good to see his energy back and him acting like a normal six year old. Days like this offered her hope that Luke would beat his illness.
I hope you noticed I dumped my boring backstory prologue and dumped you right in the middle of the action, of my Heroine’s crisis. I also let you know something wasn’t 100% with mom and son and they’ve already been dealing with the child’s sickness. I hope you’re wondering what the illness is and how does my Hero come into play…
Weeks later, I got a call. Something about my Last Try Draft had clicked.
I’d finaled in the Genesis!!!
Dear Lord, Please don’t let this be a mistake!
And months later, the contest that had given me mediocre scores in 2007 put me in the top of my category in September of 2009.
I still worry someone’s going to call me and tell me they made an error and I didn’t really win. That I need to send back my beautiful winning plaque! ( I’m thinking I’ll just pretend not to be at home that day ;)
Until you and I can set sail off of unpublished island, we must submit our manuscript to contests, and be willing to endure the feedback which can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow. I remember when I read through the feedback for the first time, I was confused, maybe a little angry. Obviously, the judge just didn’t get it.
However, once my emotions settled, I realized the feedback was constructive and pointed out my strong points. That nice balance of bad with good helped me to move forward. I remember sitting the manuscript aside for a while and tried to work on a new piece, but I knew this story had to be completed.
My advice to you: Don’t get mad. Get busy. Keep writing. One by one, we will wave to our friends as they set sail off unpublished island.
And one day, I pray, they’ll be waving at you and me.
Christy LaShea Smith writes contemporary and historical romance. Though unpublished, her dream is pursuing her passion for writing to enthrall and entertain others while celebrating the Word of God. In 2009, Christy won the Genesis Competition in the Contemporary Romance Category and was given Honorable Mention in the Inspirational category for the Maggie Award of Excellence. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves as treasurer for her local chapter. She is also a member of Romance Writers of America and Georgia Romance Writers. She lives in Georgia with her husband, daughter and is expecting her second child in January.