Today's guest post is from author Suzanne Jefferies, one of ROSA's founding members, a long-time member of the committee, and judge and mentor in ROSA's previous Strelitzia contests.
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What’s the thing - that seemingly undefinable thing - that will make a judge leap from their chair and exclaim, yep, this one!
It’s been two years of Strelitzia now and both times, when I've read the winning manuscript, I had that feeling. It trick-tracked gooseflesh up over my neck. I itched to turn the page (one I read at the hairdressers and sat sat sat there for hours, for once delighted to be delayed). I ached to know…what…happens…next.
How can you make sure yours is that entry in 2019? Here’s a few tips that might set you on the right path to Strelitzia glory:
- Internal conflict. What emotional wound's driving your sexy protagonist and how’s he/she going to be forced to face it in his relationship with the antagonist? And vice versa. Hint: if everything's going smoothly between the two of them when they hook up and continues to do so, you’ve got no internal conflict. No conflict = boring. No conflict = I’m skip reading to the end of this. No conflict = no.
- External conflict. Does your protagonist have a goal? What is it? If you’re launching into a ‘it’s complicated’ explanation, he/she doesn’t have a goal. What are the obstacles in the way of their goal? How is the love interest one of those obstacles? Hint: don’t clear the path here and make it less complicated. Turn up the heat. What’s the worst that can happen? Make that happen.
- It’s a love story FIRST. Your protagonist and antagonist should spend at least 80% or more of the book in scenes together, conflicting with each other. If there are lots of scenes with the two of them apart, you’re running into trouble. Your book’s going to be about something else and not their love story.
- Does this couple have a shot together, long(ish) term? Or are they fundamentally different characters who need a good one night stand? There has to be some emotional ‘glue’ that holds them together, otherwise, not buying it.
- Unlikeable male characters. I’m going to be blunt here - if your character, for any reason, carries on about how much she hates the male character (him, not his behaviour), you’re courting a napalm-laced cocktail. There’s a fine line with Alpha-holes - don’t cross it. I get where it comes from: slapping guys as a prelude to passion was all the rage in 80s soap operas. It’s not now. Nagging a woman repeatedly for a date was de rigeur for decades. It’s not now. Even when it’s enemies to friends, try not to use ‘hate’ unless it’s an obvious exaggeration. If in doubt, don’t do it.