Feedback for Not In the Plans

A couple of weeks ago, I entered Not In the Plans in a contest for the first two chapters and the query.  I just got my scores back from the judges, and I’m really pleased.  I’ve never entered a contest like this before, so I was a little surprised by the amount of feedback each judge gave on their score sheet and on the manuscript itself.  It was well worth the $25 entry fee!

I ended up tied for 7th place out of 16 entries.  Two of my scores were very high, but I also had one low score. 

The judging categories were: Query, Opening Hook, Characterization & Motivation, Setting & Description, Plot & Conflict, Pacing, Dialogue, Writing Style, Mechanics, Overall Impression.

The first judge gave me 9 out of 10 on the following categories: Query,  Characters & Motivation, Plot & Conflict, Pacing, and Mechanics.  I got 8s on everything else except Setting & Description, which got a 6.  Apparently I need to spend a tad more time on describing things like the condo. 

The second judge gave me a 10 for Mechanics, which I can’t wait to tell my mother.  They also gave me 9s on Plot & Conflict and Dialogue.  I got 8s for Characterization, Writing Style and Overall Impression, a 7 for Opening Hook (this judge didn’t like that Chapter 2 is the night before Chapter 1), and a 6 for Pacing.

Judge #3 hated me.  I’m kidding.  Although I was upset to see the low score, so much lower than the other two scores, I have more clarity now that I’ve read her notes.  The real hit to my score came on Characterization, where I got a 4.  This judge found Savvy to have no redeeming qualities.  She also gave me a 4 for Pacing and a 5 for Opening Hook, because she didn’t like the chunk of back story on how Jackson and Savvy met.  She gave me a 6 for Plot & Conflict and Overall Impression, and 7s for Query, Setting & Description, and Writing Style.  The high scorers were Dialogue, which got an 8, and Mechanics, which got a 9. 

Here are some of the comments from all three judges that put a HUGE smile on my face:

“On whole, the dialogue is quite good.”

“Pretty good job of showing versus telling.”  (This has been something I’ve been really working on, so good to hear!)

“Author does excellent job with the mechanics.  Sentence styles vary; active verbs are used; grammar and punctuation are spot-on. No complaints here.  Well done!”  (Forwarded immediately to my mother.)

 “…[the characters] differences and the unique voice for each is very present in the writing.”

“Clearly, this author has excellent writing skills…”  (Love that part!  Might frame it over my desk for bad days, lol.)  “…but this is not a book I would personally choose to read.”  (Oh well, you can’t win ’em all!)

“This is really good.”  (This was in reference to my query, so thank you to all those on Query Tracker who have helped me improve those skills!)

“Not only is there conflict, but it’s something most readers can relate to.”

“I would continue reading – I’d like to know how these two work it out…or not.”  (Yay!  Someone wants to read it!)

Several (very valuable) things I learned from this experience:

  • Everyone’s taste is incredibly different.  What one judge scored as high another judged low.  One judge thought I didn’t describe enough scenery, the other thought it was just enough.
  • No one likes Savvy off the bat.  However, none of the judges said they’d stop reading because of their initial reaction of her.
  • My mechanics are good, which will make my mother (who is a former proofreader) proud!
  • I rely too much on flashbacks in (all) my writing.  I’ve solved that problem with implementing the “two nows” for Back To Me, but I’ll have to work it out differently here.

Really, my only two complaints with the contest are minor.  First, I got comments from two of the judges because my query said my manuscript was “expected to be completed at 80,000 words.”  This contest specifically allowed submissions for manuscripts that were not finished.  Lesson for next time?  Write query as if it is finished anyway. 

Second, I got a comment from one of the judges that I was walking a fine line with Savvy and Jackson in terms of expectations in romance.  I did not submit in the Romance category, I entered in Commercial Fiction.  Not a huge deal though.

For the writers out there, I strongly encourage competitions like this one where you receive feedback from judges who are published authors and editors.  I received invaluable line-by-line edits from Judges 1 and 3, and some great comments from all.  I will be writing thank you notes!

Not In the Plans

Not In the Plans suddenly has a double-meaning.  It is the working title of a manuscript I started writing awhile back, but it also describes the current state of affairs of said manuscript.  Some interesting things have been happening since I posted the two chapters I’ve written of Not In the Plans, suggesting things that were, well, not in the plans. 

I started Not In the Plans about six months ago and then abandoned it after just two chapters.  I’ve had some thoughts of going back to it once I finish Back to Me, but no strong feelings one way or another.  So, I decided to throw out what I had for the first two chapters and see what people had to say.

Imagine my surprise when I checked my blog stats yesterday and today and the most read post (of this blog’s short life) turned out to be Not in the Plans (Jackson Calhoun).  This is where Interesting Tidbit #1 comes into play.  Jackson’s story is supposed to be Chapter 2 of Not In the Plans.  The first chapter was posted the day before and is from Savannah “Savvy” Davis’ point of view.  Interesting Tidbit #1: Jackson’s post has been read 3x as much as Savvy’s.  This is despite my warnings at the top of Jackson’s post that his story begins after Savvy’s and that hers should be read first. 

Interesting Tidbit #2 popped up on Twitter.  A follower (a male follower, I might add) suggested that Jackson’s chapter come first, before Savvy’s.  He went on to suggest that the whole book be from Jackson’s point of view perhaps.  Maybe even make Melanie Clark into Melanie Calhoun, Jackson and Savvy’s daughter.  I smell a soap opera brewing.

I don’t foresee making Melanie the daughter of Jackson and Savvy, but the rest is intersting.  I got an email from a friend who reads the site who also suggested that Jackson’s chapter come first.  So, now I’m thinking, maybe that’s the way to go.  Part of the reason I lost steam on Not In the Plans was that several people from a writing group hated Savvy so much they said they wouldn’t read the whole book.  I wonder if they’d feel differently if Jackson’s chapter becomes the first, that way the reader sees Savvy through his eyes first. 

As for telling the whole story from Jackson’s point of view, I’m not sure about that one.  I don’t think I’ve ever read fiction told entire from a male’s point of view where the story was about a male-female relationship.  So, I wanted to throw it out to anyone who’d like to chime in: have you read fiction told entire from a male point of view that was about a male-female relationship?  If so, did you like it?

Honestly, I don’t think I can write an entire novel from Jackson’s point of view.  In fact, Not In the Plans is the only manuscript I’ve worked on that I haven’t written in first person.  I liked the idea of telling the story from both Jackson and Savvy’s point of view. 

Would love to hear feedback on the male point of view issue and whether you agree that Jackson’s chapter should come first.  I’d especially love to hear from those of you who read Jackson’s chapter and didn’t read Savvy’s at all – why?  I know you’re out there; I can see the click counts!  🙂

Maybe I’ll write a full manuscript for Not In the Plans after all….

**Update (7/18/10): I have decided to flip Jackson and Savvy’s chapters.  Thank you to everyone who commented on this on Twitter, Facebook and here!  Also, a big thanks to Inside the Book for linking over to Not In the Plans.  Inside the Book has a tremendous book (on baseball, if you’re interested) and has been a huge supporter of my efforts on my other blog, It’s a Swing and a Miss.  Their post has driven over 500 unique visitors here in a 3-day period, many of whom have given me some great perspective as male readers.   

Check out more on Not In the Plans here and the first two chapters in their new order here.

Not in the Plans (Jackson Calhoun)

**Update: I checked my blog stats this morning and far more people have read Jackson’s story than Savvy’s.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that you’re taking the time to read at all.  Really, thank you.  I just want to make sure you know that Savvy’s story is the chapter before Jackson’s.  Believe me, Jackson’s story will make more sense if you read Savvy’s first.  Just a suggestion though, you’re free to do as you wish.  🙂

Check out yesterday’s post before reading this one to get Chapter 1 from Savannah “Savvy” Davis’ point of view.  This is Chapter 2, which is from Jackson Calhoun’s point of view.

When Jackson awoke the next morning, he was prepared to roll over, stroke Savvy’s beautiful hair and apologize for overreacting the night before.  It wasn’t in his nature to hold a grudge.  When he turned, however, Savvy was nowhere to be found. 

Despite being an attorney, Savvy was one of the least confrontational people Jackson had ever met.  She had to play it tough to make it in the predominantly male legal world, but deep down, Jackson knew Savvy simply wanted everyone to like her. 

Savvy had never let him go to bed angry with her.  She always snuck in and quietly slipped into bed and cuddled up next to him.  It was her way of saying sorry.  She hated to fight, but she wasn’t very good at admitting fault either.

Jackson felt his muscles tighten and his fists clinching under the thin cotton sheet.  If Savvy was ok with him going to bed angry, did she care what he thought at all anymore?

Jackson ripped back the sheets went about getting ready for work.  As a manager for his father’s construction business, he awoke a couple of hours before Savvy every morning.  With her long hours, he was often frustrated at their tendency to pass like ships in the night.  This morning he was thankful for it.

Jackson slipped past Savvy on the couch and crossed the condo to the front door.  Savvy wouldn’t be awakened by the alarm all the way in there on the couch.  He should probably wake her so she could move to the bed for a couple of hours or at least move the alarm into the living room.  She’d be furious if she slept in and missed the opportunity to bill some hours at the firm.  With that in mind, and the need to teach her a little lesson, he took extra care to quietly maneuver out the front door. Continue reading “Not in the Plans (Jackson Calhoun)”

Not in the Plans (Savannah "Savvy" Davis)

NOT IN THE PLANS is a manuscript I started almost a year ago that never made it past the first two chapters.  I’m still considering picking it back up when I start sending out queries for BACK TO ME.  Until then, I’ll share it here.  The first chapter is from Savvy’s point of view.  I’ll post the second chapter, from Jackson’s point of view, tomorrow.

Affair.  Savvy couldn’t chase the word out of her head, not even with the top down on her convertible and female rock band Saving Jane blaring over the premium sound system.  It was the type of word that was hissed or spat out of someone’s mouth, not one that was casually bandied about in pleasant conversation. 

Savvy jammed her foot down on the accelerator and flooring it past her condo.  She wasn’t ready to face Jackson yet.  Affair.  Damn, there was that ugly word in her head again. 

That’s not what she was doing, was it?  No, she thought.  Sitting on a couch with Sullivan in his office while he expertly rubbed her feet was not an affair.  It was just two colleagues unwinding after another long night of pouring over voluminous corporate due diligence.

Savvy didn’t have the heart to pass her condo a second time, knowing Jackson hated when she worked this late.  She slowed as she circled back to the front of the building and eased her car into the underground parking garage.  After making her way to her assigned spot, she took her time raising the top to her shiny new BMW Z4. 

Savvy had purchased the car as a reward for successfully closing a multi-million dollar real estate development that was certain to make her a lock for partner when the vote came up at the end of the year.  She loved the little red convertible and how sexy it made her feel when she slid behind the wheel.  Even though her long blonde hair, blue eyes and tall, lean frame would have made most women jealous, she hadn’t felt attractive in awhile.  Maybe that’s why she hadn’t stopped him when Sullivan began flirting with her a few months ago.

Savvy knew she was stalling as she stood there staring at her car, trying to avoid the crisis of conscience she might have when she walked through the door and saw Jackson’s adoring face.  She took a deep breath and turned on a perfectly spiked heel to head towards the elevator.  She spent the ride up to her 22nd floor condo assuring herself that weeks of flirtation with Sullivan, and the occasional foot rub or shoulder massage, did not qualify as an affair. 

By the time Savvy made her way down the long, narrow hallway and put her key in the front door, she was convinced she had nothing to feel guilty about. 

When she swung the door open, however, and saw the candles burning on the mahogany dining room table, a lump began to form in her stomach.  Judging from the wax that had streamed down the sides of the white tapered candles, they’d been burning for quite some time.  Silhouetted behind the dim glow was Jackson’s face, hardened into a glare as he held his arms tightly clenched against his chest. Continue reading “Not in the Plans (Savannah "Savvy" Davis)”