Friday, April 22, 2011

Some tips for crafting a dynamic entry

On Monday, I'll post the 9th writing prompt. By now, I've noticed some trends in what's working and what's not. Here are 7 tips for crafting a dynamic prompt:

Uniqueness counts
We're averaging about 40 entries each round. If 20 of them involve a gun, 10 of them involve an eating disorder, 5 of them involve running late for school, 4 of them the Amish, and 1 bungee jumping ... which one instantly stands out to the judges? Bungee jumping, right?

When you're reading 40ish entries back-to-back like that, a unique topic can overcome a lot.

Don't answer all the questions ... but don't leave too many either
Some of you have received feedback about the judges being confused about your entry. If one of the judges is confused but the other isn't, then maybe that's something you chalk up to a matter of taste. If both are confused, then it's definitely a point to consider.

Remember, this is supposed to be the opening paragraph of a novel. You're drawing the reader in to story world. Here's an example of questions being raised:

I wanted to refuse Eli, but I couldn’t after the night we’d had. At the snap of the gas pump, he pulled back from the kiss and looked into my eyes, awaiting my reaction. If my giving in surprised him, it didn’t show. He smiled, and instead of saying what I already knew—that getting together was a mistake—I forced myself to smile back. Just like that, I became Eli’s girlfriend.

A couple key questions that arise from these 72 words are - What happened last night? Why does the main character feel it's a mistake to become Eli's girlfriend?

But also notice what you don't have to question - the setting (we're at a gas station) and what's happening in the scene (they just kissed). Help your judges out. Give them enough context to know where we are and what your characters are doing.

Easy on the plot
Some of you are trying to cram way too much into your 100 words. In the above example, Skylar woke up that morning in the back of Eli's Land Rover after being drugged at a party. He's now taking her home. But do you need to know all that right away? Nope. That would be way too much too soon. The focus in that opening paragraph is the kiss and how Skylar feels about it - like it's a bad idea, but she owes Eli an doesn't know what else to do. Try picking a focus for your 100 words and don't worry about cramming in the plot.

Write tight
Cut whatever you can. Try not to use any dialogue tags (said, replied, etc.) Instead, use beats. (Jamie speared her broccoli. "This dinner sucks, Mom.") Contractions are your friends. Not only do they sound more natural, you can save a word by using didn't over did not. And easy on the adverbs. Instead of saying Jamie walked quickly, tell us Jamie rushed.

Use your words
While there's no extra points for using 100 words on the dot, I definitely recommend using at least 85 of your words. You're putting yourself at a disadvantage if you use under that.

Watch your grammar
I've asked that the judges not be too harsh on grammar. They've been wonderful about that. But misspellings or misuses of words are distracting. We all have typos slip through now and then, but with just 100 words ... it should be clean. Run spell check, and watch yourself for the most common misuses (you're/your, to/too, its/it's, they're/there/their).

Hook 'em
Not every entry should end with, "And then he pulled out a gun," but every entry should end with a hook of some sorts. By which I mean something that makes the judges think, "I want to know what happens next." Something intriguing. Something that raises a question.

And there's one more thing I want to mention. After Go Teen Writers hits 150 followers, the following writing prompt will be whatever you want AND you can use 150 words instead of 100. So, that means you can submit the first 150 words of your novel and receive feedback from published authors. If you're not already a GTW follower, show some love and click that "follow" button over there to the left. And spread the word to your friends, because I can't wait to see what kind of stuff you guys are working on.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


  1. Thanks so much for this Stephanie, it will definitely help a lot.I'm so excited!I can't wait!
    Thanks for doing this whole thing, it's awesome!

  2. Great tips, they're things we can use in all our writing not just the prompts.
    My only question is, how do we know if we're being unique? We don't know what the others are writing about!

  3. Sierra, you're so welcome. It's a lot of fun for me too!

    Tonya, unfortunately there's no way to know for sure. All you can do is try your best to choose something that doesn't seem obvious to you.

  4. Thank you for having these contests ~ such great opportunities for exercising our writing muscle, no?

    Can't wait 'til it hits 150! Excited!

  5. I just like going with whatever I think goes best with the writing prompt. Its fun and if I have several ideas I pick one that is uniquesh. :)

    That'll be fun!! Come on people!! 150 followers =D

  6. Thanks so much for these tips, Steph! I feel like I'm trying everything with no success:P So this shall help a lot!
    Ooh, now that's exciting! Quite a sneaky way to get feedback on our novels. ;) Only thirty to go... or did I do my maths wrong? Maths is definitely not my strong point.

  7. I'm not sure about picking my own prompt, I like the ones you pick too, Stephanie!
    But sounds great. And I am looking forward to more words! And the tips were awesome! It's good to know how it works and what to watch myself for.

  8. I just joined and I am loving it. I read through some of the prompts that you have done in the past and I thought that they were wonderful. I am really excited. I have been told that I am a good writer, but I never thought of myself as one. Hopefully I will learn to develop my own style.


  9. Will the 150 & prompt choice be permanent? Or just 150 follower week?

  10. Rachelle, I know! I'm always kinda tempted to write my own 100 words :)

    Jazmine, I think writing several is a great idea. It's good to not get boxed in.

    Emii, NO success? I'm rolling my eyes at you over here, girl. I believe your name is on that sidebar.

    Aww, thanks, Faye :) I like writing the prompts. They strike me at the oddest moments.

    Alyson, glad to have you! Developing your own style takes time, but it's fun :)

    Anonymous, the 150 word "free write" will be a one-time thing. At 175 we might have another, and same at 200. Don't have it all figured out yet, and I always welcome suggestions!

  11. I am now a follower via GFC! (I was planning to follow anyway but hadn't gotten around to actually doing it :). Thanks for the reminder!)

  12. Lol. Alyssa. Thrilled to have it be official :)

  13. We can just enter one entry per prompt, right???