This week I read the opening pages of a terrific story by a new-to-me author. Sadly I can’t offer you a recommendation because the pages were a contest entry. I don’t even know the author’s name yet, though I’ll be checking the contest website when the finalists are announced.
I try to judge at least one writing contest per year—mostly because in the past I’ve received super-useful feedback on my own entries, but also because I learn a lot. It typically takes me four to six hours per entry to read the pages, decide on the scores, and write the comments. Many entries are by writers still in the process of learning the basics, but I’ve never read one totally without merit. The challenge is to identify and acknowledge the writer’s strengths, isolate the areas that require work, and make constructive, actionable suggestions without rewriting. It’s hard to do well but even if the pages aren’t my cup of tea it never feels like a thankless task. Whether or not the entrant appreciates my efforts, I get valuable food for thought and most of my insights are applicable to my own writing.
This contest is the first time ever I finished an entry in under an hour. Almost immediately I started reading for pleasure. Then I sipped my coffee and mentally wrote the rest of the book. After that I got to work, which mainly required a heartfelt but most un-judge-like squee. And then I set to thinking about what had made my reading experience so good.
The writing was smooth—not complex, showy or in any way distracting. Just simple, clear and so easy to read the story slipped directly into my brain.
The world building was fabulous. Everything about the story—the setting, descriptions, word choices, dialogue, actions, social conventions and characters’ worldview—was consistent, and all the choices strengthened and reinforced one another.
The main characters were sympathetic and relatable. They didn’t exactly have goals—more like compelling needs that arose from their personal situations.
Both characters behaved with restraint, which created a lovely tension given the emotional urgency of their positions. Everything was in the subtext or shown by their actions. It gave the reader plenty of work to do, but the characters and their motivations were so clearly drawn it was easy to decide what I thought they should/would do.
The potential conflict was compelling, because the obvious way to solve the external conflict was the choice that would create the greatest internal conflict.
The way I think the author will wrap up the book gives the characters a resolution that is broader than just a declaration of love and commitment to one another. It gives them a complete and satisfying life together.
I guess this author is very close to publication. I really hope so anyway. And I hope the rest of her writing is as strong as the pages I read. In the meantime, reading her work has left me inspired and thinking hard about my own stories. That’s a win/win that makes me very happy 🙂 .
Did you discover any new authors, published or unpublished, lately?