Who needs a blue ribbon anyhow? (A look back …)

This is a repost from 2009 (on my old blog), when Wildfire was submitted to a contest and shot down.  SO many revisions since then … the finished product is almost unrecognizable from its previous form.  It’s good to look back, though, and recall this part of the journey.  The advice I received was impactful.  And invaluable.  And I’d like to think I used it wisely.

Here she goes:

My entry into the Writer’s League of Texas manuscript contest did not win.


Other than winning (obviously), what I wanted from this experience was an honest critique of my work by literary professionals, and this promise, at least, was fulfilled.

The good:

“The author’s voice is fresh and entertaining.” Sweet, dude. Thanks. Gimme my ribbon.

“The synopsis was extremely well done.” Considering I thought the synopsis was hella hard to write (I’d rather just write another novel instead, thank you very much), this comment was unexpected and much appreciated.

“The dialogue works very well.” Yes, I have ways of making people talk.

“The plot described in the synopsis is fantastic.” Cool. So, I win, right?

The bad:

“The first chapter in no way ties into the synopsis.” Doh! Yeah, I s’pose the real adventure doesn’t actually begin till page 85, so … maybe I do a little too much character establishment?

“The plot alluded to in chapter one is not unique.” Hmph. Yeah, so what?

“The author needs to cut some of the backstory.” K. I get it, yo.

The ugly:

“The author needs to establish the main conflict of the story immediately. In my opinion, the first chapter is unnecessary.”  Yeah?  Well … your mama.

As I suppose many authors do, I latched onto to the negative comments much quicker than the positive.  At first I was defensive. “But … but … I want to get a feel for the characters, and their backstory is … important … dangit.”  Then I was despondent.  “I’ve failed. They don’t like me. I’ll be in my corner.”

Then I was inspired.  I could change things up.  I could fine tune and get rid of some fluff.  As I mulled over the best way to do this, I took some time to mourn the loss of my first 85 pages and consulted a trusted writer friend.

“Remember,” she said in all her wisdom, “you have to put all advice in a sifter, shake some out and only use that which is big enough to make a difference.”

I considered that for a few days and devised a plan.  I’m going to read those first 85 pages objectively and decide whether it’s all completely necessary (I have a suspicion that it’s not), or if I’m just keeping it for sentimental reasons (I suspect I might be).  There is one scene in particular that I know I want to keep, but what I’m looking for now is a definite hook.  Let’s hope I can find one.

“Kill your darlings,” Stephen King advises in his invaluable book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Now, to find my cleaver …

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  1. Oh, that was an old post! 🙂 Well, you certainly found your cleaver. The novel is excellent…some might would say, delightful.

  2. First of all, there is no unique plot or story. They’ve all been done to pieces. Just like there are no unique destinations left in the world. So then why travel? Why write? (OK, here it comes. You sitting don?) It’s not the destination, it’s the journey! I’m writing a novel where the premise is laid out in the first page, maybe it’s actually in the first paragraph, I’d have to go back to see. You know what it’s about? Find the missing person! How unique, right? But by the time the journey is done, you’ll have enjoyed yourself- I hope!


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