More Deets on the Mary Stewart Contest

Readers and/or fellow Zesties, prompted by your questions, I have a few clarifications/additions for the Mary Stewart-contest in this post:

1. Yes, you can certainly enter a paragraph from your work-in-progress, but I would ask that you don’t enter already-published material. (Because I didn’t specify before, if you have, you have a grandfathered entry.)

2. A few details for those who want to enter, but who aren’t familiar with the genre: The genre of romantic suspense requires the protagonist to face problems of both a suspenseful and romantic nature. The story would fall apart without either element. That said, in any given scene — and certainly within one paragraph — only one element might prevail. Does that make sense?

3. Because some of you haven’t ready Mary Stewart yet, here are a few of her opening paragraphs. If you’ll notice, they generally contain a woman in an exotic setting, microtension, and oftentimes include a male stranger. She’ll spend the bulk of the book deciding whether he’s friend, foe or love interest, all in the context of life- and limb-threatening events.

From Madam Will You Talk?

The whole affair began so very quietly. When I wrote, that summer, and asked my friend Louise if she would come with me on a car trip to Provence, I had no idea that I might be issuing an invitation to danger. And when we arrived one afternoon, after a hot but leisurely journey, at the enchanting little walled city of Avignon, we felt in that mood of pleasant weariness mingled with anticipation which marks, I believe, the beginning of every normal holiday.

From The Gabriel Hounds

I met him in the street called Straight.

From Wildfire at Midnight

In the first place, I suppose, it was my parents’ fault for giving me a silly name like Gianetta. It is a pretty enough name in itself, but it conjures up pictures of delectable and slightly overblown ladies in Titan’s less respectable canvases, and , though I admit I have the sort of coloring that might have interested that Venetian master, I happen to be the rather inhibited product of an English country rectory. And if there is anything further removed than that from the bagnio Venuses of Titian’s middle period, I don’t know what is.

From Nine Coaches Waiting

I was thankful that nobody was there to meet me at the airport.

Lastly, The Moonspinners 

It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it. I won’t pretend I saw it straight away as the conventional herald of adventure, the white stag of the fairytale, which, bounding from the enchanted thicket, entices the prince away from his followers, and loses him in the forest where danger threatens with the dusk. But, when the big white bird flew suddenly up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do, when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the White Mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead, flicker in and out of deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossom?

Contest entries belong in the post below , but if you have questions, I’ll endeavor to answer them.

4 thoughts on “More Deets on the Mary Stewart Contest

  1. You know — a work in progress is going to be a better opening paragraph than one done for the contest — just saying! But it, in very general terms, it truly is.

    This assume….All things being equal. Which is to say, assuming the contest came down to TWO equally talented, equally smart writers, one with a contest paragraph and one who just posted a work in progress, the paragraph that opens a work in progress will be better and richer.

    The farther along the book is, the truer this gets. Because the drafted book’s opening has the WEIGHT of ACTUAL HAPPENINGS driving it. It makes a difference — the author will have written themselves to some wonderful things, and then gone back and revised the beginnign to reflect that.

    And since, in a good book, the end is seamlessly and invisibly contained in the beginning, it’s a huge advantage–I say this not as a novelist, but as a writing teacher.


    1. Could you bung it up more than I have? Could you? (That’s my way of saying I’ve learned a lot about how not to structure a contest from this one.)

      Re the quality of paragraphs: That makes sense. There would be a texture in a WIP not available to a contest-provoked paragraph.

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