Accentuating the PositiveGetting back a contest entry can be stressful. Perhaps in the last few months, your trip to the mailbox yielded a Tyvek Priority envelope crammed behind your bills and coupon circulars. Or maybe you enter online contests and your heart skips a beat, and not in a good way, when you see the e-mail with attachments from the contest coordinator.
If you're a procrastinator like me, you sort through the rest of the mail first, then you take a deep breath and read. Skimming through the comments in the margins of the chapters, you’re relieved to see a smiley face or two, but then you flip to the synopsis. You wince as you see myriad question marks. That’s good, you tell yourself. That means you have a blueprint for improvement. Wishing it was late enough in the day to justify a martini, you down a glass of water. At least you’re hydrated. But as you read the typed paragraph summarizing the good and the bad in your entry, you may feel overwhelmed, as I once did.
So where do you begin? How do you take these critiques and make them work for you and improve your 55 page entry in time to send your best work to the Golden Heart contest?
It’s as simple as the lyrics written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer in the 1940’s, “You gotta accen-tu-ate the positive, E-lim-inate the negative, An’ latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with mister in-between!” We’ll focus on the positive today.
So what’s working for you? Make a short list of what several judges have given you high praise for—what they think you do best. Can you use what you do well to even better advantage?
For example, if you write description well, rather than dismiss it and move on, ponder how you can use this strength to your best advantage. How can you add more sensory detail to your story without overloading it? How can you make your description even more unique? If what you do well is snappy banter, focus on the dialogue. Does each line of dialogue sing? Are there a few places where changing a word or two would make good dialogue even better? If everyone loves your hero, what are the traits that make him so lovable? Did you show all of those traits in every scene he's in? Can you amp up his charm even more?
Make your strengths stronger; hone what you do well first.