So…huh? What does the one have to do with the other?
Something you should know about me: I grew up in the Wisconsin Arabian Horse Association, and worked a lot of weekend horse shows at State Fair Park in West Allis (Milwaukee). Watched a lot of judging!
Now that I’m a published romance writer who also judges writing contests – the WisRWA Fab 5 deadline is right around the corner – I’ve been noticing some similarities I thought I’d share.
First off, Arabians in halter get judged on five main things: type, conformation, soundness, balance and quality. An Arab has to look like an Arab. Watch “13th Warrior” with Antonio Banderas. Did that little gray mare look anything like the other war horses? Nope, but she was nimble and agile and ran circles around them!
Unfortunately, many halter show horses never get trained to ride or drive, but they have to be built and able to. Conformation and soundness – they had to be able to traipse through the desert on next to nothing for weeks on end and still be able to carry a rider into battle at the end. And the all elusive “quality” – that fire and presence and grace that makes one individual stand out in a good lineup.
Now, there are no perfect horses. One has great legs but straight shoulders, another a great topline but crooked legs, etc. What we look for is balance in the whole, everything working together in an attractive, useful package with spark. I liked that the judges were always from out of town. They didn’t know the people, the farms, or the horses’ pedigrees. They didn’t know the back stories, the rivalries, the politics. They judged “THAT horse, on THAT day.” Period.
Where am I going with this? Romance writing is a lot like that. A romance has to have “type” – it has to BE a romance, rocky relationship leads to HEA. (My apologies to the Women’s Fiction and Romantic Elements writers out there. Give “type” less weight and go with the other qualities.) No matter what sub-genre you’re in, it’s still a romance theme.
“Conformation and Soundness” – Story Structure. Grammar and punctuation. Active verb tenses. Multi-sensory description. POV. GMC. Plot. Here’s where writers have the advantage, because these things can be learned, practiced and improved. Some people are better at something than others, we all have weak spots we need to work on.
“Balance” is the story as a whole. Three-dimensional characters. Logical plot with winding story progression. Believable problems, interesting twists, sympathetic characters, good world-building. Does the story draw you along?
And that elusive unmistakable “quality” – voice. It’s like a distinctive flavor you either love or hate. It’s what gives pubbed writers their readers, why readers tend to own every book by so-and-so and can’t wait for the next one to come out.
This is what writing contest divas can struggle with. If you have three judges, and two love your voice but one hates it, you final, because most contests toss the low score. If one judge loves it but two hate it, you go home with some interesting and valuable critiques. If you’re entering contests for the feedback, great. You can learn a lot from them. If you’re entering a contest for the final judge, to land on that particular agent’s/editor’s desk, it’s a roll of the dice.
You want the overall balance of type and conformation to rise to the top, and then make it to the one editor that recognizes quality, loves your voice, and buys your book. (And the next one. And the next one.)
Hone your craft, and have faith. You know you’ve got a good story, and you’ve worked hard to make it a great book, the best it can be. Believe in yourself, and have persistence. Horses or books, quality is quality – it will be recognized and rewarded someday, by someone. Just keep writing!