How to Make Your ENTIRE Novel Contest Ready PART 2

How to Contest-Ready Your Novel

This week, we’ll be looking at another aspect of your novel that will bring it from good to GREAT just in time for entering contests. Just like last week’s tip, this one will require you to actively search your manuscript and seek out the areas that need improvement.

This week’s contest-ready tip:

Be Specific!

What do I mean? Here are four tips to make your novel more specific:

Consider the sentence:

George’s emotions took him over; he went out the big, heavy, wooden door
to greet the fiancée he hadn’t seen in several weeks.

**Note: I’m going to use the same sentence to demonstrate each point.
By the end, our sentence will be much more specific.

1. Be specific about character actions. Verbs are your friends. More specifically, precise verbs are your friends. Are there verbs in your writing that could be replaced by stronger ones? Consider our sample sentence. Why use “went” when you could use something that isn’t so vague? Remember, the point is to help the reader visualize the scene. “Went” could imply walk, trudge, skip, run, moonwalk . . . the list goes on and on. Think about the sentence–George is greeting his fiancée. Let’s have him run. Also, it’s a little wordy to say “took him over.” Let’s be more precise and say overtook.

George’s emotions overtook him; he ran out the big, heavy, wooden door
to greet the fiancée he hadn’t seen in several weeks.

2. Be specific about character emotions. It’s not enough to say that your characters have emotions. Rather, we must be specific about what those emotions are. Sometimes that means naming the emotion. For instance, in our example sentence, what is George feeling? Is he excited to see his fiancée, since he hasn’t in a while, or is he anxious to meet her because he has a bone to pick with her about something that happened before she left? For the sake of time, let’s say he’s excited.

George’s excitement overtook him; he ran out the big, heavy, wooden door
to greet the fiancée he hadn’t seen in several weeks.

Usually, however, it’s better not to name the emotion. Instead, show us the emotion.

George couldn’t believe his eyes. Was it really her?
He smiled and stood from his desk. The paperwork could wait. There were more
important things to do. He ran out the big, heavy, wooden door
to greet the fiancée he hadn’t seen in several weeks.

3. Be specific enough to let reader’s imaginations take over. There is such thing as being too specific with your details. Watch the amount of adjectives you use. Why use three if one will suffice? Even more, why use one if zero will be less distracting? I once read a battle scene where the author tried to capture every detail. There were some great moments of description, but the author wanted to include everything—what happened on the right, the left, behind, in front . . . pretty soon, my mind’s eye was overwhelmed. Only describe the most important details and trust that the reader will connect the dots in their own imagination.

George couldn’t believe his eyes. Was it really her?
He smiled and stood from his desk. The paperwork could wait. There were more
important things to do. He ran out the big, heavy, wooden door
to greet the fiancée he hadn’t seen in several weeks.

The description of the door isn’t important to George’s exit, so by keeping it in the sentence, we’re distracting the reader from the sentence’s real focus. However, if the door was so heavy that it delayed him in seeing his fiancée, then some level of description would be helpful.

4. Be specific about numbers. Words like several, many, a bunch, and a lot of really don’t mean anything. Instead of saying your character walked up to a group of men, say he walked up to three men. Unless the number is too large for a person to notice right off the bat–a crowd, say. Or even a group reaching six or seven people is debatable. If it’s a small enough number to notice easily, use the number and skip the general terms.

George couldn’t believe his eyes. Was it really her?
He smiled and stood from his desk. The paperwork could wait. There were more
important things to do. He ran out the door
to greet the fiancée he hadn’t seen in three weeks.

There you are: tips on being specific in your novel, so it’ll
be ready for that contest
.

In what ways do you try to be specific in your writing?

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