Ten Fun Ways to NOT Win the Harlequin Presents Writing Competition

If you have your heart set on NOT winning the Harlequin Presents contest, here are some (slightly tongue-in-cheek) ways to achieve this.

1. Have no internal conflict.
That doesn’t mean car chases and villains. Internal conflict is what keeps your h&h from their HEA if they met in bar one night. And it can’t be just because he’s a Montague and she’s a Capulet – that’s external conflict people. If you have to introduce a scheming mother-in-law to keep them apart then your conflict isn’t strong enough.

2. Have your hero be the shy, easy-going type.
Sorry guys, he may be sweet but that ain’t alpha. And alpha is what goes in Presents/Modern.

3. Have as many sub-characters as possible.
You love the heroine’s best friend, her wise-cracking husband and their three adorable children. But devoting a whole chapter to them isn’t a good idea.

4. Include vampires and werewolves.
I know, you really liked Twilight, but paranormal isn’t where Modern/Modern Heat is at, even if you think it should be. Remember the guidelines.

5. Force your characters to act the way you want them to for the purposes of the plot.
I’ve been there and it ain’t pretty. You may want your hero to eat some bad cheese so that he gets sick and the heroine has to look after him, but you do have to ask yourself: does he even like cheese? And if not, why not? These are character driven which means you let the characters act they way they want. So go on, let them have their head!

6. Have things happen to your characters rather than have your characters make decisions and act on them.
A fire might make your hero rescue the heroine after their black moment but what would have happened if there hadn’t been a fire? Would he have made up with her anyway? What decision would he have made if you hadn’t cruelly sent him into the fire? Again, character driven.

7. Have your hero enter the story in chapter 2.
If that’s the case, then shouldn’t that be chapter 1? Don’t make us wait! He’s the reason we’re reading it – at least he’s the reason I’m reading it.

8. Make your characters act in seemingly random ways.
Such as your heroine suddenly kissing the hero whereas up till now, she hates his guts. Where is her motivation? Why would she do that?

9. Have either or both of your h&h be drug addicted alcoholics.
This may provide heaps of conflict but not much in the way of sympathy. Your h&h must be sympathetic and though drug addiction and alcoholism are real issues, they’re probably a little too real for category romance.

10. And most important, you definitely won’t win if you don’t enter. πŸ™‚

Good luck!

23 thoughts on “Ten Fun Ways to NOT Win the Harlequin Presents Writing Competition”

  1. LOL! Damn . . . there goes my whole drug addicted turned prostitute heroine! And I thought I’d found that “fresh twist” they were looking for.

    Seriously though, I’m so sick of my first chapter every time I see it I want to toss my cookies. Maybe it’s time to just send the sucker in.

    Thanks for the excellent reminders, Jackie!


  2. I shall follow your advice to the letter, Jackie!

    Just picked myself up off the floor.
    This is beginning to feel like preparing for a marathon. I’m working out tactics. Send now? Mmm, what if I’ve missed something… It’s amazing what the same pair of eyes miss one day and pick up the next. Grrrr.

    Meanwhile, I’ve spent the morning muttering to myself – ‘Chapter 4’ – which is far better than a few weeks back when I was walking around, raising suspicions about my mental health because I kept murmuring (sigh!) the opening line to ch 1.
    The finished synop ‘ain’t’ helping as the crucial climb to the first darkish moment (with a bit of fun first) will take 3 chapters and it’s all summarised in – gulp – five lines. Better get cracking with a longer synop before I totter off into la la land!

  3. Sometimes it’s better just to send it, Veronica. Five lines is all you need for a dark moment – heck, you can probably do it in 3 if you set your mind to it. πŸ™‚ Anyhoo, the chapter is more important than the synop so don’t fret.

  4. What a great post, Jackie! I am going to have to refer to this from time to time just to keep myself grounded.

    Not quite ready to submit, but I will soon.


  5. I think in the FTH contest, they had several entries that had vampires in them but trolls? Wow, perhaps trolls are the next big thing! Don’t hold back, Lacey. πŸ™‚

  6. Yep, am well on the way to not winning – guilty as charged on at least half the counts. Never mind, have three weeks to rethink my chapter.

    Great post, Jackie.


  7. Jackie,

    I tend to be a very serious person. So, I meant this would be a great read to help me ‘lighten up’ from time to time through the querying process.

  8. Good advice as always Jackie! I’m with Amy – getting a tad tired of my 1st chapter and synopsis – it’s been fine tuned more than a Formula 1 supercar! *Sigh* – time to send it off into cyber space and forget about it me thinks! But why is THAT so difficult? It’s like sending your first born off to school for the first time! Nerve wracking – never knowing who is going to cry first – you or them! Double *sigh*. Take care. Caroline x

  9. Suzanne – take out the trolls and you’ll be fine. πŸ™‚

    Lorraine – stop adding vampires to your chapter okay? πŸ˜‰

    Rach – that goes for you too! Fairies are ok though.

    Sandra – thanks! I was hoping at least some of them were right. πŸ™‚

    Barbara – this is a serious business but sometimes we do need to have a laugh eh?

    Caroline – sending it away is NOT easy. But once you’re at the stage where you’re just moving words around and not actually adding anything then it’s time to let that baby go. Good luck.

  10. Jackie, I love your blog. You always post such interesting stuff.
    Copied your comp tips–they’re just what I needed.

  11. Need a boost, do you Jackie?

    Since stumbling upon it, I’ve been visiting your blog every morning – I read it while munching my breakfast. It’s enough to rev me up for the day and to know there are many others out there in the same boat, sharing similar aspirations and having the grand courage to pursue their dreams no matter what.

    By the way, I did add fangs and horny things to my hero just for fun. He didn’t much care for them, he claims it’s enough I accessorised him with a load of angst and a twinkle in his eyes.

    cheers to you πŸ˜‰

  12. Sigh, yes Veronica, a boost is needed this morning. The wait is getting to me. I know, what else is new eh? lol!
    Anyway, glad to hear you like the blog. And hearing from people like you and all the others is pretty much why I’ve got one – to know that I’m not alone! πŸ™‚
    BTW, your hero sounds very cool indeed… πŸ˜‰

  13. Oh! Jackie I have another one. How about making your heroine, fat (rather than just voluptous), with glasses and terrible acne. And throw in stress incontinence for good measure. Keep it real (but not that real, probably…)

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