Be your own writing judge: Six tips to help you win contests and attract agents
One of the hardest things to do as a writer is see your own work objectively.
The past few weeks, I’ve been reading entries in a writing contest. It’s always a great learning experience to analyze other writers’ work, which is one reason I always recommend writers join critique groups.
It’s interesting to see how many issues are common among the manuscripts I read. See if these ideas and tips can help you judge your own work more objectively.
1. Create mystery. Every story should have questions that will spark readers to turn the page so they can find the answers. What does the protagonist desperately want? Make the stakes big so readers absolutely must keep reading to find out how on earth the protagonist will succeed. And while you’re at it, deprive readers of the answer as long as possible.
2. Create active protagonists. I frequently see protagonists who are living in their heads too much or being the victims of the action instead of the ones acting.
3. Don’t put too much backstory up front. You’ve probably heard this advice before, but it still remains one of the most common manuscript problems. Don’t risk rejection. Readers and agents want to see action and trouble from the beginning. They really will keep reading to find out more and will be happy if you weave the backstory in as you go.
4. Pace your story. Alternate dramatic scenes with calmer narrative to give the readers breathing space.
5. Create characters that readers can identify with. Not every character has to be a hit with readers but you don’t want readers to finish your book — or worse — stop part way through and say, “Actually, I don’t like any of these characters!”
6. Don’t overdo description. Description is an art. It’s an opportunity to be creative and use sensory images that put the reader in the grip of the story. But make sure you weave it in so that it doesn’t bog down your story.