Judging a Writing Contest

Reading entries of the James River Writers Best Unpublished Novel contest.
Reading entries of the James River Writers Best Unpublished Novel contest.

Last year, I had been invited to enter the annual James River Writers, “Best Unpublished Novel” contest. I had strongly considered submitting my manuscript, but I knew what trusted friends confirmed: it wasn’t ready for the looming deadline. A day or so after deciding not to enter, I was then invited to judge the same contest. This was by far the better choice and I’m glad that it worked out this way.

I had never judged a contest and I looked forward to the experience. It turned out to be a wonderful way to spend a Saturday, sweetened by the location. A JRW member lent out her delightful home, situated on the James River. Every bit of it had character, charm and warmth.

I would guess that some two dozen people came and went throughout the day to help go through the 70+ entries. Judging involved reading the 50 submitted pages and filling out a form at the end. Judges score on elements ranging from basic spelling and grammar to voice, dialogue, plot and so on.

Generally a slow reader, I had finished five by the time we wrapped up for the day. I won’t get into the details of what I had read, but there was one that I hope to see become a finalist.

Good luck to all those  who entered!

Writing Show: Social Media Do’s and Don’ts

This should have gone up sooner. Anyway, it was a packed attendance at last month’s Writing Show.

This should have gone up sooner. Anyway, it was  a packed attendance at last month’s Writing Show. Questions came up almost immediately, especially regarding Twitter, which was highly recommended by the panelists. Below is my review, published in the James River Writers newsletter, Get Your Word On. I’ll add that the discussion was mostly geared around Twitter, Facebook, and blogging, but that there are many other social networking opportunities. Consider MeetUp, Goodreads and LinkedIn. What do you think?

Social media do’s and don’ts for the smart writer

Suppose you have a finished manuscript, a connected agent and a savvy editor. Then all that’s left is to enjoy the launch party and take a long deserved vacation, right? Sorry, but this is no time to relax. It’s time to market your masterpiece, a challenging task that an Internet presence makes easier, said the panelists at the August Writing Show.

Kelly Justice of Fountain Books led the discussion before an audience brimming with questions. What is Twitter? Should I have a separate FaceBook account for my book? How can I make money on my blog? Editor Ron Hogan, “Book Lady” Rebecca Schinsky, and writer Joe Wallace provided the answers with humor, personal stories and cautionary tales.

Twitter is the little birdie telling people about the great novel that was just released. Simple and versatile, Twitter is a fun platform way to network 140 characters at a time. Wallace credits it for his success. Schinsky called Twitter the great equalizer for the way it puts you in immediate contact with other writers at all levels of fame.

Blogs and online journals  — two other popular ways to build an audience — are tools Schinsky knows well. Her blog’s success attracts not only paying advertisers, it also allows her to promote authors, booksellers and others in the industry. Reciprocity is key to all forms of social media: The more you give of yourself, the more you get in return.

Facebook falls between blogging and tweeting. It allows for quick communication and network building like Twitter, while being a central place for people to learn more about you in the manner of a blog.

Plot versus Character Driven Story

Apropos my recent writing group meeting, I had described my novel in progress as character-driven.

Apropos my recent writing group meeting, I had described my novel in progress as character-driven. But was that accurate? So let’s see. The reason I consider it so is because my approach is take great characters and throw them together and write the story that emerges, rather than begin with a plot and creating characters to suit the needs of the story’s course.

I feel my characters are fully formed and not props to be summoned when needed and discarded soon after. They have their own lives, motivations, personalities. If I’m successful to presenting them to the reader, does that make the novel character-driven? Or is there some other definition? Then what is plot-driven? Is one better than the other?

What do you think? Which do you prefer reading and/or writing?

Writing Show: Scene and Subtext

I attended June’s Writing Show. It centered on writing compelling plays.

Author and actor Irene Ziegler and JRW Administrative Director Anne Westrick.
Author and actor Irene Ziegler and JRW Administrative Director Anne Westrick.

I attended June’s Writing Show. It centered on writing compelling plays. I do not write plays, but I enjoy the shows and meeting new writers and catching up with friends. As it turned out, much of what the panelists discussed could be applied to any form of writing and the panelists were enjoyable to listen to. They were author and actor Irene Ziegler, and playwrights Douglas Jones, Marta Rainer and Bo Wilson.

A memorable moment for me was when Jones, appropos the topic of stage direction, recounted a David Mamet monologue involving two characters. With exacting detail, the speaker described how he wanted his deli sandwich prepared – spread the mustard with a spoon, slice the meat this thick, stack the ingredients in this order. The only stage direction was that the speaker held a gun.