Wednesday, April 14

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 25 comments
The happy day has arrived to begin announcing the winners of my Eleventy-one Celebration Writing Contest, in honor of making 111 blogging friends.

Contest entrants submitted a short piece, 700 words or less, that was dialogue-driven and displayed and instance of characters negotiating or persuading. I've selected four winners out of the thirteen entries: a grand prize and three runners up. Winners were selected based on how well they followed the prompt. Here are the questions I asked when evaluating each piece:

~Does each character have a clear point of view and emotional pulse?

~How skillfully does the persuader work his or her tools of persuasion?

~Does the persuaded character convincingly defend his or her ground before capitulating?

~Is the story coherent and smooth?

~Is the dialogue paced well for the situation?

~Does each character have a distinct voice?

As I post each winning entry over the next four days, I plan to include a short commentary afterward with some analysis and take-home tips to try in your own work.

Without further ado, my third runner-up winner is...

Jenna Wallace!

Jenna won The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield.

You can read Jenna's winning novel excerpt from The Shadow Scribe HERE.

(My publishing copyright arrangement with winners was a one-time short term use. All rights reverted to the respective authors after one week.)


I really like the economy of this interaction between MC Lara and Isobel. We pick up pretty quickly that they're in a restaurant without getting bogged down in excessive description. Just a few well-placed cues like pointing with food and the waitress interrupting. The setting is somewhat incidental, but not irrelevant--being in a public place puts certain constraints on how heated a conversation can become.

Jenna uses almost no dialogue tags, the "she said, I said" sort of thing. Instead, she makes each character's voice unique enough you can quickly distinguish each speaker. Isobel's speech is more formal and nuanced, while Lara's is colloquial and straight forward. A few actions sprinkled in keep us anchored.

This act of persuasion is very light-touch. Isobel builds her case in little increments, always starting from points of agreement with Lara, then pressing against Lara's areas of resistance with questions. This is an excellent way to shape a negotiation.

When Lara presses back, note how Isobel tries to appear nonchalant, as if she's willing to back down, when in fact she's just dodging a blow. Lara's internal thoughts show where and how the persuasion is working. Nice, huh?

I think Jenna's most compelling technique here is drawing in an off-stage character and building an alliance against him. She's subtly moved the line of conflict. Not longer is it Isobel vs. Lara, but Isobel and Lara vs. David.

What do you appreciate about Jenna's winning entry? Which of her techniques do you want to try in your own work?


  1. I need to worki on each character having their own distinct voice. That was awesome: a great example for me. :)

  2. I really liked the whole thing! I need to work on each character having a distinctive voice. I like what you said about the dialogue tags, that hit home to me. That's how I want it to be when I write :)

  3. I thought this was fantastic, and I really liked how you broke down the scene afterwards. You've given me ideas about how to strengthen dialogue in my own work. Thanks, Laurel! And awesome writing, Jenna!

  4. Such amazing talent floating around out there ..good work! And, congrats to Jenna!

  5. Congratulations to Jenna. I liked Laurel, how you mentioned the setting had an effect on the characters conversation. I'll keep this in mind now when writing. I look forward to reading the rest of the winners! Thanks for visiting me.

  6. Wonderful scene, Jenna--congratulations! I thought the argument was logical and interesting in its progression as Isobel slowly chips at Lara's disbelief.
    Laurel, this is such a great concept for a contest, and I learn from how you set up the questions and your discussion. This is the sort of thought-provoking contest that can only make our writing richer.

  7. I didn't even notice she didn't use the "she said"'s until Laurel pointed it out. Yet I never doubted who was speaking. Great job with the voices. That's not as easy as it seems.

  8. CONGRATS Jenna! Well deserved.

    Thanks Laurel for doing this...FUN!

  9. Congratulations to Jenna! Nicely done.

  10. Oh, nicely done. For some reason, my characters don't negotiate. They get in monstrous, emotionally-damaging fights, but they don't negotiate. I got issues...

    But well done, Jenna, for using the light touch with this. Impressive!

  11. Thank you everyone for the kind words. You've made my day. And a very special thanks to Laurel for the contest (and the fab book, which I can't wait to get into).

  12. Yes, I did not notice the lack of "said-isms" until Laurel mentioned it, but well done. I'm not the greatest at the debate angle this seems to track, so I respect anyone who can do it!

  13. In addition to the technique, I really liked the content. Would love to read more!

  14. Congrats Jenna. Really well done. :)

  15. I really enjoyed that. This passage really piqued my interest:

    “Sort of. Forces, like the life force, move through all of us. Some are more sensitive to it than others,” Isobel said with a meaning look. “Maybe you are channeling some of this energy as you sleep.”

    “Channeling? Like a medium? Ghosts? Are you serious?”

    ................I liked the contrast between the speakers. I also like the third, non present person. Let's face it. We all discuss third, not present persons all the time.

    Well done, Jena.

  16. Aubrie: This is a good passage to study. Look at the differing cadences and vocabulary.

    Christine: thanks for cheering her on.

    Bethany: Me, too. :-)

    Crystal: One way to achieve that is to write script style in the first draft.

    Anne:Thanks for encouraging her.

    Nicole: You know me, always working an educational angle. :-)

    Tess: Indeed! It was fun to read all the entries.

  17. Lynn: Thanks for coming by. More on setting and dialogue the next two days!

    Tricia: Thanks. I love well-done verbal sparring and thought it would be fun to explore.

    Janet: Elegant, isn't it?

    Lola: Glad you enjoyed it.

    Karen: Your kind words made her day.

    Simon: Negotiation and persuasion can be uglier than this, depending on the context and characters. The essential element is give and take--that both characters engage. When that isn't happening, typically you have passive aggression at play.

  18. Jenna: Well deserved! The book is on its way, hope it's helpful. I re-read my copy frequently.

    Victoria: Acts of quiet convincing aren't easy to write, for sure.

    Amber: Go swing by Jenna's blog--she has some other excerpts available.

    Sarahjayne: Amen to that.

    Tara: Her use of character voice is great, isn't it? And I loved the way the scene slips into the sisterhood versus science guy.

    Jen: Oh yeah!

  19. Beautifully done, Jenna. Very interesting story.

  20. Hey, Laurel! It's great to meet you! Thanks for coming by Write in the Way the other day! I look forward to getting to know you!

  21. Roxy: It is! Swing by Jenna's blog to see her intriguing synposis blurb for the whole book.

    Kristen: Thanks for coming by. I've been a lurky follower of yours for a while, not commenting often.