Finaling in a Contest-How do I do it?

by Janice Lynn

Copyright © 2004 by Janice Lynn. All rights reserved.

Want to write a first chapter that finals in a writing contest? Well, I won’t lie and say it’s easy. It’s not. And although I’ve finaled in numerous contests, I don’t final in all the contests I enter, but I do usually score fairly high in most of them. How do I do it? And more importantly, how can you? Let me walk you through an entry and show you how I’ve done it so you can take those points and use them to do the same.

ith my manuscript JANE MILLIONIARE, which won the 2004 Golden Pen and is currently a finalist in Romantic Times’ American Title contest, I’ll take you through the key points to entering a contest.

First line. Most all contests have a section on either the first line, first paragraph, or first page. Why? Because this is your opening hook. It’s where you snag your reader’s attention and make them want more. In JANE MILLIONAIRE, I use the opening to establish setting, hint at characterization, give a glimmer of what the story is going to be about, and, hopefully, hook the reader.

Uh-oh, the tall, raven-haired God circling Jill Davidson already knew she was an imposter.
“You look different from your photos.” The sexy executive producer scowled. His voice seemed to echo around the stone walls of the 14 th century European castle the film crew had leased.
“Uhm.” Jill stalled by glancing around the large, high-ceilinged room that had been converted into a studio. Her gaze landed on the cluttered far corner where expensive computer equipment screamed that this was a first-rate operation.

And she was a first-rate fraud.

“I darkened my hair.” Brilliant. That should convince him he had the right woman, her sister. Ugh. She mentally cringed at her lack of finesse.

Characterization. The characters have to come alive. From the get-go, you have to get the reader/judge inside the character’s head , make them feel the emotions the character is feeling. In the above section, I began establishing that Jill is a fake and feels uncomfortable in the role. For space reasons, I’m not going to post the next section, but I go on to reveal through brief snippets of thought that she’s impersonating her sister to save her flighty sibling from all kinds of legal trouble. Through those brief thoughts, I show that Jill is loyal, even at her own detriment. And in the GMC section’s example, I reveal that even though Jill’s tough on the exterior, she’s vulnerable underneath. She’s a character most women can root for and identify with in some way, whether it be from the fact that the men around her are going to use her, from bailing a sibling out, or from always maintain ing a tough façade while underneath battling insecurities.

GMC. And I’m not talking automobiles here. I’ve yet to see a contest score sheet where this wasn’t a key item. It’s got to be there. Doesn’t matter if the contest is for 3 pages or for 55, if you don’t establish that there are goals, motivations, and conflicts, odds are you aren’t going to final, even if you have a fabulous writing voice and your style is as smooth as satin. For space/time constraints, I’m just going to give a partial example of this.

“You’ve seen Jane. Viewers are going to love her. She’s tough, yet has an innate vulnerability in her eyes. She’s classy, yet not afraid to get dirty.” JP stood and walked to French doors leading to a private balcony. “She’s the ticket to my staying out of the retirement home for has-been producers and your shot for Gambler. How many of our colleagues would kill for this chance?”

“Every single one,” Rob conceded.

“We have to hit twenty million viewers.”

“How do you propose we do that?” Rob muttered, knowing the answer, yet unable to contain that very male part of him that didn’t like what JP’s response was going to be.

“We have to make sure Jane falls in love with one of the bachelors, all of America falls in love with both of them, and we give our viewers the fairytale romance of a lifetime.”

Okay, in this short section, I’ve established my hero (Rob) has stakes , both professionally and personally, in the show being a success . But I’ve also hinted that he doesn’t like what he’s got to do to make the show a success-which is to make sure Jane falls for one of the bachelors. Let’s break it down. Rob’s GMC (or one of them, anyway): Goal: to make the show a success. Motivation: to give his own show (Gambler) a shot & to help save his mentor’s dwindling career. Conflict: he’s attracted to Jane and feels an emotional connection to her, but has to make sure she falls in love with one of the bachelors.

Ending entry hook. Let’s face it. You want the judge to want more. To be upset there isn’t another page for her to read. Let’s look at Jane’s ending hook, which is the same section I used for GMC. Hopefully, by the time the judge has reached this point, he/she is invested in the characters and their story and will know what Jill/Jane and Rob are going to do. With my ending line, I’ve established what has to take place for Rob’s goals to be met. Will he be able to fight the attraction between he and Jill so the show will be a success? Since this is a romance and we know they’re going to have their HEA, he can’t stay away, of course. But it’s how they reach that HEA and how vested the judge is in wanting to travel that journey as to how well you’ve established your hook.

Always double-check your entry for grammatical, formatting errors, and that you’ve met the specific guidelines of the contest you’re entering.

This is a short glimpse at some of the key points and doesn’t take into account things like voice and style, but hopefully, the next time you enter a contest or go to write that all important first chapter to hook an editor’s attention, something in this article will have clicked and the process will be a bit easier for you. Good luck and happy writing/finaling.
Janice Lynn has completed ten manuscripts in the three years she’s been writing. She is agented by Caren Johnson at the Peter Rubie Agency. Currently, Janice is competing in the 2004 American Title contest. Don’t forget to vote for JANE MILLIONAIRE at and help Janice take that next step from contest finalist to published author. You can learn more about Janice and her writing at

Copyright © 2003 by Janice Lynn. All rights reserved.