First, I should explain that writing a romance novel is a little like learning a new language. I had no idea how many categories existed in the romance genre (called sub-genres, I believe). Historical romance, paranormal, inspirational, mystery, and many more. It's nice to have such diversification, but good luck when you're trying to define which category to enter. You will feel as though you should have stopped to think about this before you started your novel. Which is a good point.
I decided to enter Carry Me Home into the inspirational romance category and later felt that I had forced the novel into the category. Here is the beginning, and one judge's comments.
Ivey Lancaster knew that her God was a God of second chances, and of new beginnings.
“KNEW” IS A TELLING WORD AND WEAKENS THE SENTENCE. THE OPENING WILL HAVE MORE PUNCH IF YOU ELIMINATE THE HIGHLIGHTED PHRASE
True, she had never lived in a town quite as small as the little town of Starlight Hill, population 7,000. It had been easy to fall in love with its small town charm, and she knew this was the place where she could get a second chance. She had visions of getting to know everyone in town, chatting with the postman like an old friend, visiting the coffee shop or hair salon and greeting everyone by their first name.
LOTS OF KNEWS AND KNOWS. ONLY THE LAST ONE WORKS. NOT A PARTICULARLY RIVETING FIRST PARAGRAPH. YOU’RE STARTING WITH BACKSTORY. PLUNGE RIGHT INTO THE ACTION, AND THEN WORK IN THE BACKSTORY.
When Elizabeth Anderson had first approached her about taking over her midwifery practice in Starlight Hill, Ivey had at first been uncertain. She had spent the past ten years building her own thriving practice. She had prayed for guidance, for certainty, but her prayers were not answered immediately.
About the time that Ivey desperately needed change, Elizabeth had called once more as a last resort, and invited her for a weekend visit to the town she had called home for the last twenty-five years. It seemed that everyone in town knew Elizabeth on a first name basis, and Ivey found that she felt a peace about being there, a peace she had not felt for a long time. She never went back after the weekend, and asked her ex-husband Joe to send her things.
WE WILL NEED SOME INDICATION OF AGE AND PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, BUT NOT IN AN INFO-DUMP. WORK IT IN NATURALLY WITH ACTION AND DIALOGUE.
Looking back, I think my judge was rather kind. Granted, this was my first contest but looking back I'm pretty embarrassed by this attempt. Here is the completely revised beginning, since I decided to start some place in the middle and with some action. What has more action in it that a birth scene? The following includes one judge's comments.
“Just one more push – you’re almost there!” Elizabeth said.
“I AM pushing,” Michelle grunted.
BIRTHING SCENE IS GOOD AS AN ATTENTION GETTER.
“One more push should do it.”
“I can’t!” Michelle shouted. Her face was red, and drenched with sweat.
Michelle reached for Elizabeth’s shirt, took as much of it as she could into her also sweaty fist and hissed. “Just get a gun and shoot me! Please! Ohhhh!”
Elizabeth held Michelle’s sweat drenched face between her two hands. “You can do this.”
Michelle Murphy was about to give birth to her fourth child. Her husband Dave stood by her side holding her hand, his face turning an interesting shade of green. It seemed clear to Ivey that he would rather be having a root canal than be in this room, as he made every effort to avoid looking at what was going on “down there”.
I DIDN’T REALIZE WHOSE POINT OF VIEW WE WERE IN UNTIL THIS PARAGRAPH.
“I can’t!” Michelle shouted with such certainty that she had Ivey convinced, even if Elizabeth did not appear to fall for it.
Elizabeth Anderson, Starlight Hill’s nurse midwife of twenty years was about to catch a baby, and Ivey Lancaster assisted. Michelle’s mother and three sons waited in their living room in anticipation. As with her three other children, Michelle had chosen to be surprised by the baby’s gender. Unlike her other pregnancies, she had skipped the hospital this time, and instead decided to have an old-fashioned home birth. With one last Herculean effort, Michelle pushed her large baby into the world.
Ivey watched as an arching stream of liquid accompanied the newborn’s arrival, uniquely announcing his gender.
Here are some of the other judge's comments about this one scene:
THIS READ “TOO CLEVER” AND ALSO COULD BE SEEN AS AUTHORIAL INTRUSION OR A POV PROBLEM. I DON’T BELIEVE IVEY THOUGHT “OH, HOW UNIQUE!” IN TERMS OF DISCOVERING GENDER THROUGH THE BABY’S URINATION. AND IF THIS IS NOT IVEY’S POV, THEN IT IS AUTHORIAL INTRUSION (A COMMENT BY THE AUTHOR VS. BEING INSIDE A CHARACTER’S HEAD.)
I'm a little confused about who's in the room, and who they all are. If Elizabeth is the nurse or doctor, who's Ivey? And it's not quite clear whose POV this is.
As a reader, what do you think?