The 2019 First Chapters Writing Contest Winners
It’s time to announce the winners!
Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten tons of awesome first chapters from The Novel Smithy’s readers, including some that surprised me. You all submitted everything from dark urban fantasy to childhood stories of adventure, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your entries.
Of course, some entries stood above the rest. So, today I’m excited to announce the winners of the 2019 First Chapters Writing Contest!
This writing contest has received a major overhaul since this article was published. You can find the updated contest page, as well as a record of past winners, here.
What Made a Winning Submission?
Just like last year, I judged your submissions based on a few common criteria:
- Did the submission have a strong Hook that encouraged me to read more?
- Was there something unique about the story’s world or characters?
- Had they undergone a basic level of editing for prose and clarity?
- And did they follow all the rules and submission guidelines for the contest?
While most of the submissions fulfilled one or two of these various requirements (such as having a solid Hook, but very little editing to speak of), only a handful were able to meet three or more of the requirements above.
From that group, two stood out above the rest.
For starters, their Hooks were engaging and intriguing, and they didn’t slow down the opening paragraphs of their story with excessive amounts of backstory or exposition. Instead, they wove necessary details and worldbuilding into their stories naturally—through things like dialog, inner monologues, settings, and the other people and objects that filled their worlds.
Best of all, they made sure to leave a bit of mystery at the end of their first chapter—a promise that they would reveal something ten or even twenty chapters down the line, providing one more reason to get invested in their stories.
- 3 Steps for a Balanced Approach to Backstory
- How to Preserve the Magic of Your Story (Hint: Keep Secrets)
These strong openings already made the winning submissions stand out, but their writers also paid attention to the other elements of a strong entry. The winners each had a unique element or character that gave their story an individual voice and identity, whether that was a mysterious power only the protagonist had or a mystery about the hero’s heritage.
Alongside these elements, the winners also took the time to polish their entries.
While I never expect entries for this contest to be on the level of final drafts, I do look for a basic level of editing. Is the story clear and easy to follow? Does the writing flow, or does it feel stilted? Are there major errors in punctuation or grammar that detract from the story being told?
Of course, the winners each had their fair share of errors—misspellings, missing punctuation, strange sentence structure here and there—but on the whole I could tell their writers gave them a solid once over (or two) before submitting them to the contest.
- The Complete Guide to Self-Editing Your Novel in 8 Steps
- Show Don’t Tell: How to Write Like a Movie Camera
Plus, they followed all the submission guidelines!
Every year I get a handful of submissions that completely ignore the rules for the contest, and every year I have to disqualify these chapters regardless of how good they may be—so if you plan to submit a first chapter next year, please, please read the guidelines!
The Winners of the 2019 First Chapters Writing Contest
I’ve talked a lot about what made this year’s winners stand out, but that raises the question: Who won this year’s First Chapters Writing Content?
Well, I’m thrilled to congratulate Holly O. and J Laurel Q. for their winning submissions!
“A superstitious woman with a PhD in physics takes a leap into the unknowable when she gives up her life to save her beloved grandmother’s soul from an eternity in nothingness.” — Holly O.
Holly’s first place prize will be a round of developmental editing for her manuscript, and J will win a full critique of her first chapter submission as well as a storytelling consultation as the prize for second place.
I was thrilled to get to read both of their submissions, and I hope they’ll end up as published novels in 2020. And of course, thank you so much to everyone who entered—every entry had the spark of a great novel in it, and I can’t wait to see how your stories grow and evolve in the New Year!
“Harper Chase knows three things: Sam bought her magic from her father, Harper has feelings for Sam, and Sam’s father wants Harper’s magic by any means necessary. Unfortunately for her, he’s not the only one.” — J Laurel Q., Firstborn Daughter
What’s Coming in 2020?
Just like I said at the end of last year’s First Chapters Writing Content, everyone will have another chance to enter their stories next December—whether you submitted a story and didn’t win or didn’t get to throw your hat in the ring at all, I hope you’ll join in on the fun again next year!
After all, a lot will be happening at The Novel Smithy in 2020.
Not only will there be new articles and resources for you to enjoy, but the third book in The Ten Day Novelist series will launch in the spring. Plus, I have a lot of secret projects and new books in the works! I’m so excited (and maybe a bit nervous) to share them with you all, and I can’t wait to hear what you think. 🙂
Ultimately, it’s your support and enthusiasm that allows me to do what I do, and there’s no way to fully express how grateful I am. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and a safe New Year, and I’ll see you again in the next decade!