Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TALES FROM THE LEDGE~My Contest Results

Okay, it's Tuesday and I thought I would have a really great post today. Well, I know all my posts are awesome. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink. But I thought I'd be posting about how I'm not on a ledge and in a really great place.

Breathe, I'm not jumping ship again. The bitch is back people. And she's friggin' frustrated, to say the least.

I decided to rejoin one of my crit groups today. It's a really active place and I need my writing homies around me. (Yeah, I said homies. Problem with that?)

No sooner do I click to rejoin- excited about getting back in the LOOP-do I see another email waiting for me. *Charli claps* It was from a contest I entered for FEEDBACK alone. I really did not expect to place. I had about two hours before the deadline when I found it so I was sure there were probably mistakes in my submission. I really needed to know about how my story opened, was it the right genre, and things like that.

Well, I open the email and I didn't final. No surprise there. I'm more excited to read the judges comments.

Lovely Judge #177, gave me one of the biggest ego boosts I have ever received as an aspiring writer.

And I quote:

1. What did you especially like/dislike about the characters? Why?

This story is ready to go. I’d buy it in a New York minute. She is very good, very good.

2. What areas do you feel were handled the best? (Tell why if appropriate).
The whole thing

3. What if anything seemed clichéd to you? (plot, characterization, dialogue, etc.)
nothing

4. What areas do you feel need work? (Tell why, offer suggestions)
notes on ms

5. Anything else?
Send it to the publisher.

"Wow," I scream in my head. "You like me, you really like me!"

This judge gave me a 99 out of 100. The lady bathes in AWESOME. Everyday. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Her bio states she is pubbed in fiction, non-fiction, short stories, full length, and a contest finalist. Not too shabby.

As a former teacher, I know that the 99 is a bit much. I already decided to revamp my opening but it was nice to hear she loved the old one. (I get nostalgic for my writing and for about 10 seconds I thought about going back, but I know my MS is stronger now.)

But she connected with my characters, my world. I love that!

I pause before opening the next 2 because this much I already know: the scores must be awful if I didn't place, getting a high 99 already. I take a deep breath and open.

Lovely Judge # 249 gave me a 70. She did not write anything on the form at the end. She is a contest finalist and an unpubbed author.

She found some great typos but mostly commented on my character motivations and sentence structure. She wasn't buying some of the things my hero did, she really didn't like him. 

Some things gave me pause but others I knew why she felt that way. The intro to my story was choppy and threw too much at once in the wrong way. I get that and have since revamped.

There were comments about my use of run-on sentences. This really confused me. "He raised one hand to her face, if his skin met hers all would be lost." She says this is a run on sentence. Ok, it technically is, but I was taught (and maybe taught wrong) that putting them together provides more impact, one extended thought. In my head his hand is up, he know if he touches her he won't be able to leave. One extended thought for a more emotional impact. To me, that's not a run-on sentence in a bad way. She notes more throughout, a lot more. She notes its my style but she finds it "annoying".

I agreed with the opening bit, she made me think about if my character's motivations are clear enough, but the run-on stuff has me confused.

 Lovely Judge # 247. She gave me a whopping 57. She is pubbed in full length and short story.

Comments on mechanics:

The lack of punctuation, the use of run-on sentences, of adjectives where adverbs are called for, missing words and the incorrect use of many words made this manuscript difficult to read. The nucleus of a good story is here, but the pacing is very uneven and the characters too one-dimensional. The author “tells” too much about the characters, rather than showing us who and what they are through their actions, feelings, emotions. (I nearly puked right here. She also noted run-on sentences, telling, GAWD. Some were typos from sending it in under a quick deadline but the rest? I am cringing that I am some literary hack. Hooked on phonics didn't work for me apparently...)

Comments on story:

The opening of this story could be really, really good, but unfortunately the author writes a very uneven prose that makes the reader have to work to plunge into it. The conflict is evident but is not presented strongly enough to reel the reader in. The narration suffers from a lack of emotional impact and the dialogue is stilted. The poor punctuation and use of the English language diminishes even more what could be a really good story. (Totally get the beginning bit, I entered for it to be confirmed it didn't work. But lack of emotional impact, stilted dialogue, at this point how did I even get a 57? Oh, I did the math. The lowest score I could get was a 20. This judge gave me a 2 in most categories, the lowest score possible.)

Comments on characterization:

Despite the poor mechanics I really fell in love with the characters. Their flaws are an integral part of them and make you like them even more. While their actions are realistically motivated their emotions never reach out to the reader. The author needs to invest the characters with actions and habits the indicate their emotions. While the goals are identified and logical, the uneven pacing of the story makes it hard to keep them in focus.

Comments on general:

I really love the basic plot of this story. It has the capacity to reach out and tug the reader’s heartstrings, with all of its angst. The problem is, the reader doesn’t feel it, and that makes me sad. Despite everything I fell in love with Grace and Miguel, so there is definitely the kernel of a good story in there. I hope the author won’t give up on this, but will take advantage of the many online workshops that help us polish our craft, and applies them to this manuscript.

1. What did you especially like/dislike about the characters? Why?

 I loved their vulnerability. That gets me every time.

2. What areas do you feel were handled the best? (Tell why if appropriate).

3. What if anything seemed clichéd to you? (plot, characterization, dialogue, etc.)
I’d say some of the characterizations were a little too clichéd—the Irish brothers, the Main Line family, etc. They are good characters in the story but they need to be more individual, less stereotypical.

4. What areas do you feel need work? (Tell why, offer suggestions)
I really hope the author takes advantage of workshops the deal with the development of characters, pacing, and especially basic English grammar and punctuation. She is so close to having a really good story to present.

5. Anything else?
Please keep at it.

This one absolutely has me on the LEDGE FOR REAL. I was a Lit teacher for Christ sakes. Grammar is not my strong point but damn I thought I had the basics down, LOL. I had a lot of peeps comb through these chaps, one a grammar GURU, and they never said these things.

I need a better grasp of the ENGLISH Language?

Ok, so after this I need to sign up for a grammar refresher, no prob. Every writer should prolly at some point. But am I really this bad?

I know taste is subjective. Not everyone will connect with my voice (Jaws just told me that). Character motivation problems, I get because I know the issues with how my story opened. No problem there, I already changed it. But the run-on sentences, grammar, and the telling bit throw me. I worked really hard on show vs. tell. I thought I had the right balance. Now I am not sure about  the quality of my MS. Do I need to pay an editor? What's next?

What are your thoughts? What are your contest experiences?

25 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your good score and we all have to take refresher courses sometimes. I had to one correct verb tense! There should be some really great workshops going on.

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  2. There are some times when a reader won't connect. You know, you pick up a book at Borders, Chapters, here in Canada, read the back and think it will be great, but are not entirely convinced. You open up the book to the first chapter and read a few paragraphs, they either draw you in, convince you to buy it, or place it back on the shelf.

    Get off the ledge, and get your arse back inside. You have A LOT of writing to do! Two out of three judges offered good scores, and even though the last score was low, she offered some constructive, compelling arguments. Now its your turn to take the suggestions that will IMPROVE your writing, and toss what doesn't.

    YOU will find an editor/agent/publisher that is as drawn to your characters as you are. But, the more I write, the more I learn, the MORE I realize, this business is tough, and I need to suck it up, and keep going.

    :-)

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  3. I have the suckiest grammar on the face of the planet! I get the basics but after that I'm totally lost. I know I should take a beginners course in grammar! It's hard to gage what is 'wrong' with your MS when one judge raves and gives you a 99 and the other one dogged it completely and gives you a 57. Just goes to show it's all in the eye of the beholder. Oh BTW where do you guys find these contests, since my kids will be going to school soon I'l have more free time to dedicate to writing...

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  4. Oh, no. I am keeping at it, no worries there.

    But it shakes your confidence in your ability, that you have no clue what you are doing.

    I don't believe I write run-on sentences. But if 2 out of 3 say yes, I guess I do.

    How do you know? That is the question. To go from a 99 to a 70 at a 57. It's not 2 great scores to me. It's all over the place. What is their expertise level on grammar? I know it's subjective but grammar is grammar. No?

    Where is Liza? Hello, Liza?

    *Charli shakes head*

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  5. Hey, first, there was one judge that CONNECTED with your story. That says a lot. Put it this way, I have BOUGHT--paid $12 Canadian--for a pubbed novel and can't read it cause I just can't connect with the characters. So remember not everybody will. We all have different tastes. It really is a personal thing.
    Now that that is said, have a look through your MS before you go nuts. Not every damn thing has to or should be shown. Take a yellow and a pink highlighter and go through one of your fav novels and mark the living shit out of it. Mark up all the telling in yellow and the showing in pink. Now granted there should be more pink than yellow, but study where this author tells instead of shows. Also, maybe grab a blue highlighter and mark where that author used run-on sentences. Chances are you will find a few.
    I do this all the time. I check for the use of words like was, and, the, it, she, he, the characters names, etc, etc. It really helps to put crap into perspective.
    I still take online courses. I just finished one on dialogue. We are all still learning.
    Don't jump, C. Don't jump.
    Brenda

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  6. Kris, contests are posted on our group, RWA contests mostly. One the RWA site they have links, I believe. Google writing contests, tons will come up.

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  7. I am looking into online grammar courses as we speak, some books. I get the subjective part, I really do. But I didn't think I'd have 2 out of 3 commenting on my mechanics. That worries me.

    Great tips, Brenda.

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  8. Glad to see you're back, Charli. But, on the ledge again? The gap in scoring proves that the industry is subjective, just like you said. I remember reading an article one time that says you get your best feedback from the judge that gave you the worst score or hated the ms the most. Why don't you capitalize on that? :)

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  9. I really enjoyed reading this, Charli! Wow. That was some great feedback and in your favor.
    So awesome!!

    Penny just told me about auto crit. Do u use it? It could help catch what cps missed. I am for sure getting it! I am hooked.
    I think the link is www.autocrit.com and you can sample it 800 words.

    SO GOOD to have you back!!!

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  10. I would think being a teacher you would know more than anyone else. Trust yourself on that one girlie.
    I really can't believe one of the judges said your emotion didn't come through. My God, I cried my eyes out reading an opening to one of your books!
    The wide range is irritating to me as well. There were things some people thought were fantastic and the same part would be ripped apart by others in my recent contest results. So how do we weed out the ones that are important from the ones who are not qualified to judge? Seriously, I'm not one to change something just because one person says I should but still it makes you doubt things. I have a story I'm working on right now that is hated by some and loved by others. I'm okay with that. I know that as you said, some just won't get the story. But the doubt crawls in and lays eggs just the same.
    AnneN

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  11. Take it from me, it is a good sign that the judges had strong opinions about your writing. It is generally understood in contest circles that wild swings in scores means you have a strong voice. Editors love original, strong voices. The trick is you will have to run the gauntlet of first round judges to get to those agents and editors.

    I entered THE YARD MAN in at least one (sometimes two) contests a month for about eight months. He only finaled five times.

    Revise and re-enter! ;) Jill

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  12. Thanks Jill, you are the contest guru. LOL. You opinion means heaps. Are you commenting from your layer? Does Mason know you're blogging? You have deadlines lady! Tsk, tsk. I need to buy me some Phaeton soon. Hurry up!

    I am revising, taking it all in. I was ready for criticism in some areas but was floored by the grammar bit, but it just makes me open my eyes to something I may have missed.

    Now, back to work lassie!

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  13. Hi Charli,

    Thanks for being brave to post the judges' comments. That couldn't have been easy. The judges had some great things to say about your work, so use those comments to keep yourself off the ledge.

    However...

    "He raised one hand to her face, if his skin met hers all would be lost."

    Yes, this is a run-on sentence. They are two independent clauses, which means they can stand alone. If they can stand alone, a comma isn't going to cut it. Commas are weak punctuation marks that depend on something. Periods are strong and are used for independent sentences. Weak commas = dependent. Strong periods = independent.

    Hope this helps. The misuse of commas drives me up the wall.

    Good luck.

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  14. Thanks Jamie, esp the run-on sentence bit. I knew they were 2 independent clauses but in a creative writing class we were taught how to combine for more emotional impact. Guess they were wrong. Funny how I've had many crits and betas and this is the first it was pointed out.

    Drives me crazy, the unbelievable conflicting information out there. We are told as writers, we get certain liberties. That even sentence fragments have impact.

    So, when are grammar rules ok to break?

    You hate misuse of commas, I apparently have tons in my ms. LOL. I should hit you up for a read.

    Thanks for stopping by and teaching me something.

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  15. This is the first time I've seen scores from a contest. Scary but exhilarating. Studying the craft like the novice I am, I see so much conflicting crap. And all contests are subjective, aren't they? Just like agents.

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  16. It is subjective, that is true, Mika.

    What gets me are the rules. People teach clases, workshops and may be giving misinformation.

    All this time, I am think I'm writing in a way that provides for more emotional impact and it's grammatically incorrect.

    Pulling hair out. But, hey, I learned something. Gotta brush up on those commas.

    Thanks everyone.

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  17. Hi Charli,

    As to the example of a run-on sentence which you felt was not a run-on: it IS a run-on. You even gave the reason WHY it is a run-on. It is two independent clauses. You can combine two independent clauses and make them one sentence, but a simple comma is not strong enough to make the combination. You need a semi-colon or a comma plus a coordinating conjunction in order to make it a complex sentence and not a run-on. Sadly, IMO, the effect you are achieving with putting these two complete thoughts together without the proper grammatical/punctuational requirements is the opposite of what you're hoping to achieve. It doesn't give greater impact to either thought, but lessens the impact of both thoughts.

    That said, I think the feedback you received is great, even if the scores weren't so hot--it sounds like you have a great story and engaging characters, but need to work on mechanics. That is easy enough to do. I highly recommend getting Strunk and White's Elements of Style. It is a concise, easy to read reference that will help you immensely.

    As to showing vs. telling, I don't think it is possible to really completely "master" this concept on your first MS. You need to constantly work at it, learn new ways of accomplishing it, etc. Now that I'm working on my fourth MS, I know that, even though I've greatly improved in that area, I'm still learning and growing, and finding ways to improve that skill. Keep at it. Keep your chin up.

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  18. And now that I've read the other comments, I have another comment for you. LOL. You asked when it is okay to break the rules of grammar. That's a fine line. Yes, it is okay to have an occasional run-on sentence. Yes, it is okay to have an occasional sentence fragment. But how often?

    This is why you have to KNOW the rules before you can BREAK the rules. If you do it too often, it becomes distracting (as evidenced by two of your three judges commenting specifically on your run-on sentences). If you don't ever do it, your writing might feel stilted or too precise. The key to finding balance is making a conscious decision to break the rule, and having a reason for doing so. When you usually follow the grammar rules, and then break one, it will stand out. That means IMPACT. You want there to be a reason for the impact. There should be a reason you want that specific bit of information to stand out from the rest.

    Hope this helps.

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  19. Thanks Lassie. The mechanics bit was an eye opener but I am glad. It irks me that people can teach the wrong things and get away with it.

    I was actually taught that with writing fiction some rules are bendable, that throwing a comma in there made for more impact. And this was explained by a professor of English.

    I hate commas. LOL. I am brushing up on them as we speak.

    I'd much rather have root canal but its part of the process.

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  20. Yes, Catherine, balance is key. In the 50 page submission for the contest they found about 10 run-ons. Some were not for impact but me being me. Some I purposely did.

    I guess what is hard is that I have had this MS ripped to shreads my many CPs and this is the first it was pointed out. My CP's rock. I wouldn't be here without them. I guess grammar isn't our strong point. I mean that first judge who gave me the 99 didn't even notice them. LOL.

    It's not something I envisioned having to work on- FRIGGIN' GRAMMAR.

    I know a couple of Nuns, maybe they can help.

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  21. Welcome back, it's nice to hear your voice and I do mean hear it, in your writing. I haven't read your story, but there's a lot to celebrate in these -- maybe some you could just ignore. Get off the ledge and sit down at your desk and don't let the damn Joneses get you down. Give 'em the finger instead and do it your way.
    Kathy Fox

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  22. Feedback is tough--I'm glad you got so much encouragement!

    The biz is sooooo subjective, makes it tough to find a steady foundation.

    Bottom line--take what fits, keep the other stuff in mind, and be yourself. AND: KEEP GOING!

    (Somehow, I think you probably already figured this out. ;) )

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  23. So maybe that's your next blog. How do we know we're being taught by someone who is qualified? Also, I wonder, are there differences between Romance and other fiction writing? Is what is acceptable for one not acceptable for the other? Just a thought.
    AnneN

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  24. Dear Charli,

    Oh, writing contests! What can I say?

    During the past two years, I've finaled in more than 20 RWA chapter contests with four different stories. So I can understand a contest entrant's yearning for validation, grief from feedback, and elation with success.

    From RWA chapter contests, you'll always receive criticisms and compliments. Some of the criticisms will infuriate you in outrage, some will leave you in confusion, and yet others will provoke you to genius, whereas all the compliments will thrill you with delight, of course.

    Occasionally, though, you'll come across a judge who writes words that shatter your heart and sear your soul. Don't let this experience crush your creativity. Don't let this experience destroy you as a writer. I've found that more often than not when this happens, those shattering and searing words are more about the bitterness of the judge than the promise of the author.

    Happy Writing!

    Best, Madeline Smyth
    http://madelinesmyth.blogspot.com

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  25. Kathy, I AM BACK! LOL. Been at the desk banging on these keys.

    LB, couldn't agree more. I am taking it all in. I have already applied what I've learned. Brushed up on some grammar. This has been a great experience for me.

    Anne, I am researching that for my next post. We talked about it in my crit group last night. That's what floored me the most with all this, I was mislead by a supposed professional.

    Madeline, Congrats on your contest success. This was my first. I am happy, honestly. But what I thought I'd be raked over the coals for I wasn't. The grammar thing drove me to drink last night. LOL. And yes, some of these judges maybe harsh out of bitterness, I agree.

    Bottom line I learned at least two things from this contest. I was right about my opening, it needed to go and didn't speak for my characters the best way. I write run-on sentences. Now I know and am aware of that.

    All in all, not bad.

    Thanks for all the comments fellow scribes. You like me, you really like me. LMFAO.

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