Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Writing Contest Blues!

I recently got the results back to my contest entries, and I'm depressed. Hey, this is the same contest I finalled in last year. But this year, I crashed and burned.

I'm trying to be strong. One judge gave some very helpful feedback, and I already sent off my thank you note to her. It was easy because I was thankful, grateful even. But I can hardly bring myself to look at the rest. Some judges just didn't "get it." Or so I'd like to think. Ugh.

Here's the worst I got. I won't quote it because that's not allowed. Let me just say that out of a score of 1 to 5, 5 being the highest, I got a two for these opening lines because she didn't think it was a "good hook."

I'll include the whole scene after the opening lines so you can see what happens. The judge said she was "confused" because most women would have wanted to be there, but not Amelia. Why is that "confusing?" Isn't it clear why she doesn't want to be there in the context of the whole scene?


Gun smoke still hung on the air.

The preacher scowled. "Do you, Nathaniel Ward, take Amelia Taylor to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

Amelia's father cocked his rifle and aimed it at the reluctant groom.

"I do," Nathaniel said, his voice firm and unwavering. Despite her father's threats, Nathaniel's very presence exuded power, his raised chin, broad shoulders and wide chest unflinching against the barrel of the rifle.

Amelia didn't dare look up at him. What must he be thinking? How many women had hoped to get him this far, and now, here she stood where most women dreamed of standing—gunshot wedding, or not. If only she could melt into the wooden floor of the parlor like the candle burning in the nearby lantern. Or disappear like the smoke. Disappear into nothingness, with no remnant left of her existence.

The preacher's words rushed over Amelia like a gush of foul air as he asked her the same question.

She stood paralyzed, unable to speak. She'd vowed never to marry. How would she bear this cross? She'd seen enough loveless marriages in her life to know it wasn't worth the heartache, despite the shame of spinsterhood. And now, to be forced on a man? What miseries awaited her? Abuse? Neglect? Slavery? Any man in his right mind would despise her for the rest of his days. It would be impossible—unthinkable—to procure his affection . . . his love.

The minister, still in his nightclothes, cleared his throat. His wife, holding up the lantern, glowered from behind him.

Amelia swallowed, darting a glance at her terrifying father. With a snarl, he narrowed his eyes at Nathaniel and pressed closer with his rifle. Would he put another hole in the preacher's wall? Or Nathaniel's chest?

"Amelia, girl." Her father's voice sent a shudder down her spine as it echoed through the quiet house. "You know, I always keep my word." He'd threatened to kill Nathaniel if she refused to be his wife.

"I do," she said, her voice small and trembling, quite the opposite of the man next to her. The horror, the shame. How did her life come to this?

"I now pronounce you man and wife." The minister slammed his Bible shut and pointed it at her father. "Now get out."

Shadows clouded Amelia's vision and her legs wobbled like those of a newborn calf. Her knees buckled, but rather than landing on the hard floor, she found herself caught in Nathaniel's strong arms.

Now her husband.


It's been hard not to doubt myself. Am I just fooling myself into thinking I can actually WRITE a GOOD STORY?


  1. Hi Sandi,
    I think your opening hook was just fine. I wouldn't take that judge's comments seriously. you have a good opening; it's tight, intriguing and sets up the situation immediately.

  2. Thank you, Ruth. I thought it was good too. That's why I was so flabbergasted. She said she didn't know whose pov were were in and it confused her, so she marked it down--severely. See, this is where people get so up tight about the "rules" that they forget about the importance of the story. I don't think it was "bad" to reveal Amelia's pov in the fourth paragraph. I hinted at it in the second. I don't know how to get it in there sooner without ruining the hook in the opening lines and without creating a "gawking character."

    Thanks for commenting and for your encouraging words.

  3. Yet another example of how subjective writing and judging is. If the other two judges didn't mark you down, ignore it.

    The only way I can think of to introduce her POV earlier is to have the gun smoke sting her eyes. (And/or have her wonder if the tears are really because of her unreasonable father.)

    Tell the doubt to take a hike. You're a good writer.

  4. Sandi, I LOVED your beginning! It would definitely keep me turning pages... remember judges are just flawed human beings. Who knows what kind of day they had when they judged your entry? You are writing for the Lord and for readers.. not for judges. K? Be encouraged. Your writing is great!

  5. MaryLu, thank you! That means A LOT coming from you! xxx

    And Candee, what a great idea!! I'll play around with that and see what I can do. And she was the only one who marked me down for the opening. No one else did, but hey. I like your suggestion.

    Thank you, ladies!

  6. Line up five writers, five judges, five readers. Dang it: it's subjective, Sandi. I just read the results of another contest entry. One judge gave the story a 96 out of a 100. Another judge gave it something like 56. And the critique/reasons were the "letter of the law". In other words formulaic "rules violations" and the suggestion of all the "proper" craft books for the author to read.
    You know I don't read historicals, but this is a good opening.

  7. Glad you liked my opening, Nicole. It's always good to hear from you. And YES it IS subjective! I finalled in this contest last year, but even then, I felt like it was similar to a lottery win. I hate to say it, but there are some WONDERFUL writers out there who either haven't finalled or won who are just as good or better than those who do.

  8. At least you feel like you got some good feedback - but what makes you decide to take the good... it's like book reviews: one person says I use words like an artist; another says my prose is clunky and got in her way. What are you going to focus on? You have the right idea - it's your editor and your readers you have to wow!