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Posts tagged ‘Mark Bouris’

“You’re still not fired” – more ways to hook a writing contest judge

Last week Warwick Capper looked stunned to hear the words, “You’re fired” from Mark Bouris on Nine Network’s “Celebrity Apprentice”.  As much as his lack of fund-raising results in the car wash challenge, I think Warwick’s ego trip was a bigger flaw. Who wouldn’t be turned off by his conviction that he was such a big celebrity,  rules didn’t apply to him?

In writing contests and even in submissions to editors, there are always “Warwick Capper” type writers who think rules are for everybody else. I’ve now read nearly eighty entries in the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Still a long way to go before we have a short list but patterns are emerging. As few as one in ten entrants either knows or researched what a synopsis involves. My friend and fellow writer, Julie Cohen, says a synopsis should “show the editor/agent/scout/reader/marketing department that the story is structurally sound, that it has conflict and events and a suitable ending.” Does telling a contest judge that this is the greatest work since (fill in famous author) or is an allegory about (fill in the gap) meet any of these requirements? To avoid hearing “you’re fired” after this, the work needs to be extraordinary. Sadly, if the synopsis starts off so…I have to say it…arrogantly, the work all too often follows. Some entries rise above a poor synopsis. They just have a harder time doing it.

In Apprentice’s art challenge, the women’s team described their “hands” photo as “beautifully simple and all about connecting.” This also sums up the best writing. A clever idea that’s simply told and connects with readers is more likely to stay in the game than a showy piece full of big words, footnotes and obscure concepts.

I don’t mean you can’t tackle big issues. Would War and Peace be considered such an important work of literature if Tolstoy had taken a bird’s eye view of the French-Russian conflict instead of focusing on the lives of five aristocratic families? And entries in the WA Award do explore some important issues. But the most effective are shown through the characters’ eyes, rather than being told from the writer’s godlike viewpoint. Show, don’t tell, is a vital writing skill to master. As with Celebrity Apprentice, you need to paint word pictures that bring your story to life, letting readers feel as if they’re experiencing the events first-hand rather than being told about them by the author.

As I pointed out last time, we need to feel we “know” your characters before we’re involved in their dramas. On Apprentice we’re shown what really matters to the celebrities through the charities they’re working for.

Give us a sense of time and place before plunging into dramatic action.

Who's the boss? Mark Bouris, centre, with the celebs. Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

It’s no coincidence that the boardroom set of Apprentice is a replica of “Mr. Bouris’s” actual boardroom, down to the Sydney Harbour views. Being in his familiar high-powered environment adds to Mark Bouris’s air of seriousness and authority. We know who’s boss even before he utters the fatal words.

Whether you’ve entered the WA Award or are submitting to an agent or publisher, you can dodge these words yourself by following some industry rules. As with the celebrities, luck plays a part, but a much smaller one than we often think.


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“You’re not fired” – how to keep on the good side of writing contest judges

The sleeper TV show of the season may well be Channel Nine’s “Celebrity Apprentice”.  It’s a train wreck but you can’t look away. And financial guru, Mark Bouris, is a lot easier on the eye than The Donald. The combination of ego and insecurity from the celebrities  is totally compelling, as long as you don’t call “Mr Bouris” honey! His seriousness in the board room is half the appeal as he corrals his celebrities and makes them take the deal seriously if they want to stay the distance with him.

What does this have to do with writing contests? I feel as if I’ve been cast in the Mark Bouris role with the judging of the first Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award now underway. With a $10,000 prize plus $2,000 for mentoring of the winner’s choice, there’s a lot at stake. So much that instead of the 100 entries expected, over 400 filled Writing Australia’s inbox. The entries cover all genres and everything from suspense to paranormal, and all stops in between. That’s a lot of reading and I thought it might help if I provide an idea of what I look for in a good contest entry, the equivalent of not calling me honey! My fellow judges might have completely different ideas, and I look forward to comparing notes when we have our short lists.  But until then, these are the criteria I use to decide which entries reach the short list, and which go on to the discard pile (“you’re fired”).

First is presentation. Email has changed this somewhat but I still need a good, basic font that’s easy to read. 12 point Times Roman is the most acceptable. Size is less critical with ereaders, but on an iPad, which is how we’re reading the entries, larger fonts mean more scrolling. Make your entry as user friendly for the judges as possible. Follow the contest conditions to the letter.

Get right to the meat of the story. I can’t imagine Mark Bouris sitting patiently behind his table while the celebrities ramble on with long background and intro. Cut to the chase. Get the story moving.

Mark Bouris, boardroom hunk (just don't call him that)

Identify your characters. In both the WA contest and the Valerie Parv Award, I see any number of novels where the protagonist is only introduced as The Man, The Woman, She, He, and this can go on for pages.  I assume the writer means to hook me by being mysterious, but a cornerstone of fiction is that we need to care about your characters before we can invest in what happens to them. Give us some idea of who “the man” is, particularly his name, so we feel we know him before we’re involved in his problems.

Polish the writing before submitting your entry. This sounds obvious, but many writers have the idea that errors of grammar, spelling or awkward style such as repetition will be overlooked, or can be fixed at a later stage. Particularly when judges reach the short list where there may be little to separate the entries, these small points can make or break your chances.

There’s more but like Celebrity Apprentice, I’ll  be back after the break.


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