Justine: The Benefit of Contests

writing contest, royal ascot, regency romance[First, a little housekeeping. Kat and I have switched days, so starting today, I’ll be posting on Tuesdays and she’ll be posting on Fridays. My apologies if you were looking forward to her post today…you can catch her this Friday! And now…onto my post…]

I’ve been working with the same beginning for awhile now:

  • Scene 1: Susannah and her uncle face off; he tells her she’s marrying his friend, she says no.
  • Scene 2: We meet Nate, learn he’s out for revenge with Susannah’s uncle as the presumed traitor and target, and must court Susannah (whom he’s never met) so he can get inside the uncle’s house to find damning evidence that’s been eluding him for years.
  • Scene 3: Susannah and Nate meet on the street (but do not reveal themselves to each other), then Susannah shops for a dress (necessary) and brainstorms with her seamstress friend an alternative to marrying her unwanted intended.
  • Scene 4: Susannah meets the marquess (the unwanted intended) and his mother at a dinner hosted by her uncle. Sparks fly.

The sum total of these four scenes is about 10,000 words…and Susannah and Nate don’t even know who each other are yet!

Enter a literary contest…The Royal Ascot. It’s focused specifically on the Regency, the due date is April 1st, and—this is the best part—you’re limited to the first 7,000 words.

Well, nothing like a word limit to whip your MS into shape! I realized quickly that I need to do a lot of paring down and consolidating. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I had been thinking for awhile that my first few scenes needed to change, but like an ostrich, I stuck my head into the sand to block out that reality.) Scenes that I’ve had since the very beginning (aka “my darlings”) would have to be stripped down or even cut entirely (*weep*). I had to fast-forward to key scenes and combine a few so that I could establish the basis of the book in 7,000 words or less, which should include (at a minimum):

  • Each of the four main character’s goal, motivation, and conflict
  • The love interests and their physical reactions to each other, as well as their impediment(s) to being together
  • Some of the minor players who will affect the story’s outcome and their respective GMCs
  • Setting/time period/pertinent world events

So here’s what I have planned:

  • Scene 1: Remains relatively unchanged. I like this beginning, it sets the tone, time in history, we learn who the uncle is, and his goal, as well as Susannah’s.
  • Scene 2: Again, remains relatively unchanged. It’s a good set-up for Nate’s GMC, and gives some pertinent (but brief!) back story regarding Susannah’s relationship with her uncle.
  • Scene 3: BRAND NEW/BORROWING. Before, I had Susannah shopping for a dress (necessary), but with her maid. Now she’s shopping with her intended’s mother, the dowager marchioness (aka “the Hag”), which not only gets Susannah what she needs (a dress), but also sets up the Hag’s GMC.
  • Scene 4: BRAND NEW/COMBO. No more dinner. Now, they’re at a ball (I know, another ball, but where else can a bunch of people be thrown together? Maybe I’ll make it a musicale). Susannah finds her friend Maggie and the two of them brainstorm an alternative to marrying the marquess, AND Susannah meets Nate…not only the first meet (where they don’t reveal names…if I can get it to work), but also the mortifying, “Oh my gosh, that’s who you are?” This scene will be a long one (it may actually end up being split into a few), but all of the events I had happening at different days, times, etc. throughout the first ¼ of the book are now being thrown together in one night’s event.

The challenge, of course, is going to be pulling this off. I have a lot of information to reveal in a short period of time, but the flip side is I have to make sure the characters, setting, GMCs, and such are well-established. I can’t just fly through everything to make sure it’s included, because it will be at the expense of character development and story realism.

The other problem that comes with this consolidation is it decreases my already-low word count. However, I can’t worry about that right now. If I can’t hook a reader, then what difference does it make what my word count is? They’ll have already thrown the book against the wall!

So, my fingers are poised above my keyboard, I have a goal (get it done quickly so some of the other Ladies can give me timely feedback), and I have a plan.

Ready, set, write!!

9 thoughts on “Justine: The Benefit of Contests

  1. Hooray! You can do this.

    I do the same thing with some problem areas in my story — just ignore them. But when I take the time to pay attention to them (and sometimes it takes me months before I can face certain scenes), trashing a scene that feels problematic almost always results in something better.

    (Sometimes, I wind up going back to the original scenario, but the new words are almost always better than the old words.)

    Nothing like a deadline to sharpen one’s editing scissors (-:.

  2. I agree with Michaeline that if you were planning to cut and consolidate anyway, there’s nothing like a deadline to spur you on to get it done. Plus, I might be a sicko about this, but I sort of enjoy cutting a scene that I know isn’t working. Poof! Problem solved! But I’d also (cautiously) caution you not to change anything to make your manuscript conform to contest rules (or beta reader advice, or anything else, for that matter). I’m sure you won’t do that. Just sayin.’

    • Thanks for the cautionary note, Kay. I don’t plan to conform my book to the contest rules; rather, the contest made me realize (with crystal clarity) the train wreck I have for a beginning. No more being the ostrich!

  3. What Kay and Micheline said. I’d also add that many of us are in the same boat (cutting our darlings). I’m tightening up my first chapter as well, cutting things I’ve hung onto since I began working on my own story. Usually, when I realize something I love must go, there’s a moment (or two) of pain (I think of it as growth pains), but afterward I feel free. Everything that grows from the cut (like pruning) has been so much stronger and more vital.

    What’s the old saying? You can’t reach for something better when your hand is full? Let go of the stuff you know deep in your heart isn’t working. I’m betting it’ll free up your creative juices and what comes after will be awesome!

    • Sounds like a great plan, Justine. I can’t wait to read the revised version. I’m especially liking the sound of scenes 1 and 4, I can picture them already with lots of zip, crackle and bags of conflict. Good luck!

      • To what Kat said about letting go the stuff that isn’t working…there’s some stuff I love, but it doesn’t do service to the book. Frex, the scene where Susannah is brainstorming solutions with her seamstress friend…I want to capture the essence of the conversation, but I think it’d be a better conversation to have with her good friend Maggie.

        Fingers crossed I turn out some crunch!

  4. You know, sometimes (maybe most times) it’s easier to fix the front end once you’ve written through the rest of the story. It sounds like that’s where you are and now you have a plan, so I’m sure you will meet your deadline! I’m sending positive writing thoughts out into the universe for you, as well :-).

    • Thanks, Nancy! I had a good writing day today…got to write most of a scene involving the Hag and Susannah and the dress-buying power struggle. Some good mini-conflict, I hope, with the attempt at setting up just how ruthless the Hag can be to secure both her and her son’s future.

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