Entering the Montegrappa Writing Prize is an amazing opportunity and that’s why it’s important to work hard on that winning submission – experiment, edit, delete, rewrite, and fine-tune. You need to make sure your story stands out, and the best way to do this is to pull the reader in from the very first page. Think about how you want the book to start, which doesn’t necessarily need to be at the beginning of your story. It could be a flashback or a significant event (e.g. a murder) that has set everything in motion.
Think about your voice. Is it dark, funny or romantic? And is your extract showcasing this? Don’t fight what comes naturally. Once you have been nominated as a winner (let’s be positive), you will need to finish that manuscript. That means many hours of writing and if you’ve already found your groove, the easier it will be to keep on track.
My Own Experience
In 2016, I was in the process of writing my own 2,000-word submission and before entering, I decided to attack my story from different angles, to see what would work best. At the beginning of the book, a popular teacher and mother – Anna – has been attacked and is in a coma. What happened to her? That’s what I wanted to leave the reader with after the first couple of pages.
In my first version, the story was written in the first person with Anna lying motionless in a hospital bed, commenting on what was going on around her. It flowed but felt limiting. Instead, I played out an event that would later have an impact on the attack – however, neither of the characters were Anna. This posed as a problem because I wanted the reader to meet the main character within the first pages. I tore my hair out and tried again.
Eventually, I decided to tell the story from the husband’s perspective, as he sits next to Anna’s bed at the hospital. This provided more creative freedom, as he cares for his wife, interacts with the staff and his mother, and deals with their children and their teacher. Suddenly a number of characters could be introduced quickly without it being overwhelming.
This was the version I submitted, and it apparently appealed to Luigi Bonomi, the literary agent and judge of the competition. He liked that the story posed a number of questions within the first pages.
Kill Your Darlings (But Not Necessarily Your Characters!)
In my early writing days, I used to be attached to every sentence I wrote, but faced with rejections, I became more ruthless. The ‘delete’ button on my laptop is frequently in use these days so do kill your darlings. If a sentence doesn’t add to the story, it should go in the trash. Less is more. You don’t have to explain everything to the reader – if anything, show them through the character’s actions or via dialogue.
What Happens After The Competition?
If you’re one of the lucky winners (and believe that you are when you click submit), you will have a chance to speak to Luigi, who will encourage you to finish your manuscript. That’s important: make sure you do pen the rest of the novel, if you haven’t already. Knowing Luigi wanted to read the rest of my manuscript was definitely a major motivator for me to crack on. It did help that I’d had a brief chat with him about my synopsis after the competition. He has industry insight and has worked with a number of successful authors.
For more info and feedback on the first 1,000 words of your submission, please do join the workshop with author Annabel Kantaria, and myself, on the 17th of November. Click here to join the workshop!
I wish you the best of luck!
Written by Jessica Jarlvi
Born in Sweden, Jessica moved to London before her career in publishing, editing and PR took her to the USA and the Middle East. Jessica won a Montegrappa First Fiction Award at the Emirates Festival of Literature in 2016, catching the eye of her agent Luigi Bonomi. Having since secured a multiple book deal, Jessica balances her time between her writing and growing young family.
Jessica’s debut novel, the psychological thriller When I Wake Up, featured on bestseller lists in the US and Australia. Her second book, What Did I Do?, was published in 2018.