Well, I enterd the Mills & Boon New Voices writing contest. It's been thrilling, like a roller coaster ride. I posted my chapter at the last moment. There have been over 800 first chapters submitted. You have to register to comment or vote, but do drop by and take a look around. there are some really great entries. The range of writing submitted is impressive. The 10 semifinalist will be posted tomorrow.
Entering the contest was supposed to be an opportunity to get feedback from other readers and aspiring authors. And the comments that I've recieved have been observant and helpful.
The real benefit though was in the act of writitng the entry itself. I had started a new novel just for this competition. I was about 8K words into this manuscript when I felt a bit stalled. For me this is almost always caused by a lack of clarity in my mind about the conflict. I own a lecture CD from an old RWA conference and I popped in a talk given by Christine Ridgeway on conflict. And Christine starts talking about the inciting incident. As I am sitting listening to this, I had a big lightbulb moment: the first two chapters of my book were backstory.
I mean, it involves the first time the hero and heroine meet and very exciting things happen, but the events that begin the story don't happen until later on. I was just being too linear. I'll have to rework what I'd originally written into the book as a flashback perhaps, because the events are central to the conflicts facing the couple, but, structurally, it will be much stronger. Maybe I had to write it in a linear fashion, but it wasn't the best way to lead the reader through the story.
So, after the contest had already begun accepting entries, I started writing a new opening. The prose wasn't as polished as my first attempt, but I finished on time. I was forced to recall that I really like working under time pressure. Firm and fast approaching deadlines certainly make me more focused in my work. I feel like I learned so much more from the process than I could have expected.
So thanks Christine!