I love to read new and talented aspiring writers. The only way for me as a writer to do this is to judge contests. When I judge a manuscript or a synopsis, it is always with the hope I can give a perfect score. I want to give every manuscript the chance to go before an agent or editor. I start each new story with a hopeful heart.
For those of you entering contests, here are some of the things that make me give full marks to an entry.
1. The story starts things happening, (call to action) usually right where everything goes wrong for the main character(s). And in a romance, usually very close to where the hero and heroine first meet. The best stories begin with a rush to the bottom of a very steep hill, that keep me wanting to know what happens next.
- Carriage rides/car rides/plane rides with people thinking or talking about their past, are not action, it is a back-story dump.
- Explaining a world in a paranormal is not action.
- telling me a character is feisty, isn't nearly as effective as showing her rap an encroaching male over the head with her umbrella.
- a male pov describing a room in detail isn't nearly as effective as having him note mentally that it is all fussy lace, and feminine, and instantly feel as if any chair he sits on will collapse beneath him.
4. Surprise me. I love to be surprised. A woman dressing as highwayman and riding out at night isn't new. But what if she dresses as the ghost highwayman? Or hires a highwayman to help her? Or... give it a new twist and keep me hooked to a high score.
5. If things are bad at the beginning, and things just get worse, you will get top marks from me. A couple needs to earn their happy ending.
6. If you've kept your characters on stage at any one time to a minimum, the fewer the better, I will be thrilled. I can see your characters deserve full points in all categories, because I know them better than I know anyone else on stage.
- A cast of more than five people in the opening pages is going to confuse me. It can be either the hero and heroine, or perhaps one of them with one other person, even the villain, but the more people you introduce at the beginning the less engaged the reader is with your lead characters. Get rid of anyone in a scene who is not going to be important to the story, now or later. Make them do double duty wherever you can.
8. Making me believe a characters motivations, will get you top marks from me. If a beleaguered wealthy rake of a bachelor agrees to take on a ward, or visit girl on behalf of an aged aunt, make me believe that man has a good reason to agree instead of refusing as he has always refused in the past.
9. If you make me want to know what happens to the characters when my three chapters are done, I will want to give you a perfect score. Keep me guessing. Small hints about their past, little clues when it fits with the action, that there is more, much more, to this person or persons that I must know. Make the story stay with me. This is probably where that intangible voice thing comes in and sweeps me into awarding that perfect score.
10. If your grammar and spelling is nigh on perfect, it is a wonderful relief to me. I will give you full marks every time. Nigh on perfect means you are allowed a couple of typos, the odd slip in grammar--who isn't? I make them all the time. I never ever mark down on mechanics unless you really need help. Make sure you know what the words you use mean. Malapropisms can let you down.
As you can see, I really really want to give you a perfect score. And while there is so much to writing I could go on for hundreds of points and in a lot more detail, I hope thinking about these will help you achieve close to a perfect score on your next manuscript.
Good luck. Next time I will talk about the perfect synopsis, if you would find it helpful. Let me know.
Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress,
Harlequin Historicals, ISBN 978-0373295920
Will be in stores on May 1
Ann has three other stories out with HMB in 2010
and her alter ego Michele Ann Young's story Remember
will appear in the Mammoth Book of Regencies in August.