Confessions of A Contest Judge-Believability

I was supposed to talk about beginnings, and I will next Friday, but I just finished judging a few entries and I have something on my mind.

I love judging. I love reading stories and I love the prospect of encouraging unpublished authors. There is an excitement when you delve into a fresh manuscript and when you get to the end and realize you didn’t have one single comment. Sometimes I’m left sitting there trying to figure out how to get a hold of the author so I can read the rest of the story. Those are the best entries. Their characters are well drawn and have believability, the voice is distinctive and fresh, the scenes flow, they have plot and believability.

Folks, one of the things that drives me absolutely nuts is when the characters’ goals, motivations and conflicts aren’t believable. You can have your characters do all sorts of things, but their motivations have to be believable. If there is no believability things start to get a little hokey.

I have a friend who wrote a superb story. The heroine is a quirky, private investigator who performs a Bolero strip tease, she also rides and elephant down main street. Now, with just this bit of information you might be thinking yeah right, sounds hokey. However, I will tell you that it was one of the funnest and quickest stories I’ve ever read. I read that book several years ago and it has stuck with me all this time. My friend’s characters can get by with doing quirky things because she has drawn them so well that when her heroine does things like ride an elephant down main street it’s totally believable. Another thing that makes this quirky story so believable is that the goals and motivations are solid.

Your characters need to well drawn. Their goals and motivations have to be on-spot. They have to have a darn good reason for doing what they’re doing. You wouldn’t have a librarian who is content working at the library and planning summer reading adventures for young kids just up and leave to go on an adventure on her own. Well, you might, but then your story also might fall apart. However, if your librarian received a letter from her favorite great aunt, the one she’d do anything for, that the father, who abandoned her as an infant was in trouble and needed her help, she just might take some time off, but only because her great aunt asked her, not because she felt any loyalty to her father. Of course, you’d have to have your librarian followed by her father’s enemies, but she’s also followed by a good guy who ends up kidnapping her for her own good and ends up taking her on a sailboat where they encounter pirates and storms and end up shipwrecked on an abandoned island. Eventually, they are rescued by good old dad, but your librarian doesn’t know it’s good old dad until she encounters her prim and proper aunt in Bermuda shorts and a straw hat lounging on the deck of a yacht. By now your librarian is miffed. These sort of things only happen in books and never to women like her. She wants to go back to the library and away from the man she’s half fallen in love with while stuck on that awful island, except the island wasn’t too bad, especially since her hero knew how to survive and fish, but he’s in cahoots with her dad and that’s a bad thing. Because if her dad abandoned her, then so will the hero.

I could go on and on, but you see how the librarian’s goals and motivations were solid. She didn’t do something just because, she did it because a woman she highly respected asked her to do it, but then the whole thing turns out to be a great adventure just like the ones she’s read in her favorite books.

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of A Contest Judge-Believability

  1. What’s fun is to take the GMC even deeper. What if she’s always been a little curious about this absent father? What if she only tells herself she’s contented to be a librarian, but now and then feels a little stifled? Nothing big or troubling. Just one of those wistful-moment things we all experience now and again.

    What if the story starts with her reading to kids for story time, and they make fun of the story because it doesn’t match their expectations of what father is like? Or maybe they say the heroine in the story is boring because she’s never been on any kind of adventure? Then when the call to adventure comes in the form of her great aunt’s request, she will have more reason to go even as she tells herself it is merely a sense of duty.

    Using the tension in the GMC on the surface and the GMC on another level can give depth to the story.

    Ah. Sorry. I meant to say thanks for saying such nice things about my book.

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