Monday, August 31, 2009

Anyone Judging Contests?

Judging the work of someone else is a daunting task. It's nothing like buying a book and tossing it aside it you don't like it or throwing a dart and hitting a number. Author's actually like feedback. Even if you never judge a contest, these guidelines are guaranteed to help improve your own writing. Use them to evaluate your WIPS.

Of course this year, I ventured into the EPIC arena and agreed to read and judge five historical books. It's been hard on the eyes, and very difficult to make myself not compare each entry to the previous one. Books deserved to be judged on their own merits, so I've kept that in mind. I hate discovering the type of historical competition out there...and it's growing every day. Oy vey!

I also agreed to judge in the Southern Heat Contest held by the Romance Writers of America - East Texas Chapter. These people have narrowed judging down to a fine art. Instead of the + and - system that leaves you wondering how to assess a final score, the coordinators of Southern Heat have provided me with such great guidelines, I have to share them (by permission of course) with my fellow authors, and also readers who can see what criteria is considered for award winning books.

BTW...if anyone is interested in entering the contest, do it today... the deadline is tomorrow. You can find information and entry forms on their website.

I've learned so much just from reading their judging aids:

Keep your specific category in mind when judging tone or pace. Remember, Historical or Single-Title may have a slower pace than Contemporary. Setting and back story will be handled differently. Information that is vital to the beginning of a Series story may be withheld in Romantic Suspense for the purpose of prolonging the intrigue. Also, the hero may not be introduced in the first chapter, and this may be perfectly acceptable for your category.

Focus on looking at the entry as a whole. Was this an enjoyable read? Often judges focus too much on perfection: margins, grammar, marketable hook, did the author follow all those unwritten rules we've heard so much about?

Often it's best to read the manuscript first before the synopsis, which may "give the story away." After reading the entry, see if the synopsis matches what you've read - in tone, style and storyline.

Here are the things on which the story is actually judged:

Does the entry "show" rather than tell." Is information fed naturally - not too much or too little at a time.

Is the writing vivid and evocative? Does it have a certain spark that keeps you reading?

Are sentence structure and length varied for a smooth read? Are narrative, dialogue, action and introspection balanced?

Is viewpoint always clear?

Does spelling/grammar/punctuation show appropriate skill?

Does the opening pull you immediately into the story?

Do the setting/descriptions enhance the story? Do you get a sense of time and place?

Is the plot original and well-executed.

Is there enough internal and external conflict to sustain a novel-length manuscript.

Is the pacing appropriate to the type of story? Does each sentence move the story forward?

Are the characters skillfully developed - compelling - three-dimensional?

Are the characters' motivations apparent in the first ten pages?

Are actions and reactions believable?

Does the dialogue progress the story?

does each character have their own distinct voice?

Does the dialogue sound like real conversation?


Is the heroine strong enough for her starring role? Do you want to keep reading about her?

Is the hero?


Is the main character strong enough for his/her starring role? Do you want to keep reading about him/her?

Are relationships between the characters intriguing?

Each section of the score sheet has a certain amount of points possible so there is no guesswork involved. I like that, a lot. I've always questioned myself when no values have been assigned or a value as given but there is no equation for how to define it. Example: Twenty-five possible points but seven questions to evaluate the section. When you have twenty-five points and five questions, it's easy to determine each has a value of five. This certainly makes it much easier.

I want to thank Sarah from the East Texas Chapter of RWA for allowing me to share this information. I think it's most helpful and gives great insight into how fairly this chapter treats each entry. Good job!


S said...

Thanks so much for mentioning the contest, Ginger! And THANKS for judging!
I really wanted to make guidelines that focused on story-telling rather than all the nit-picky "rules," and I wanted the scoresheet to be easy and understandable for both the judge and the entrant receiving feedback. :)

Maryann Miller said...

The guidelines are terrific. Much like the ones we used in Dallas at the Craft of Writing Contest that was part of an annual conference. It helps so much to have the criteria spelled out like this.

Sarah L. Catherine said...

Okay, I guess I was logged in under the contest email address for that last comment, so it didn't show my profile...
Thanks, again, Ginger!

Tabitha Shay said...

Hi Miz Ging,
These guidelines are very similar to those used for the OWFI contest. I've judged for the last two years and although it's time consuming, especially if I'm on deadline,it's also fun to read the different stories and such varied ones for the same category. I usually have about 55 entries to judge. I pace myself and try to read about five a day, that way I can take my time and thoroughly enjoy what I'm reading...Tabs

Trent Kinsey said...

Ugh! I think I'll stick to reading where the only judging I have to do is "Do I like it or hate it?" :D Thanks for the read, it was very informative and gave me more insight to what happens behind the curtain of the writing world.

Ginger Simpson said...

Thanks for the comments thus far. I added another thought to the post...even if you never judge a contest, these guidelines are guaranteed to help sharpen your own writing. Use them to evaluate your own work-in-progress.

Paige Ryter said...

GREAT POST!!! I, too, judged a contest once, and opened my eyes to a lot of things! The hook, POV switches, grammar, etc. I didn't focus as much on formatting, because it was more important to me that the content was there.

I entered a contest, too, and had a judge who told me Penn Station didn't run any more (which it does) and that two spaces after a sentence isn't right at all (WRONG--see this article:'s still accepted and both editors PREFERRED 2 spaces).

Anyway, I intend to keep this list...good list to remember when writing.

Thank you!

Rayka Mennen said...

Thanks Ginger. Even if I am not judging, it certainly helps me as a writer to know how my work is bring evaluated. Another great post!

Ginger Simpson said...

I've always used two spaces after a period, but as you'll discover moving from publisher to publisher, there are some rules that are "house specific." Learning to follow all the different guidelines is sort of like dealing with different ATM machines in the stores where you shop. Nothing is consistent. *lol*


Jannine said...

Hi Ginger:
I recently judged a contest with the + and - values. I didn't like it one bit. I know now that I'll stay away from contest judging with that kind of scoresheet. I don't think it gives a fair evaluation of the writer's skills and storytelling abilities.

You're absolutely right: These guidelines are not only suited to jodges, but also to writers wanting to hone their craft.

Great post, Ginger.

Kayden McLeod said...

Hey Ging,

This was very informative, and I learned at lot.
Thanks for posting it!

Phyllis Campbell said...

I have judged several writing contests, and yes, it's a real eye opener. Makes me realize what I need to have in my own storie.

I wish every judge would think like you do, Ginger!


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

I hadn't thought of using contest judging sheets to check my own work. Good idea.

I, too, am judging for the Southern'll be only the 3rd or 4th contest I've judged....

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Ginger,
Great article. Very interesting, you have given me a very good insight into the judging procedure. I was never quites sure hwo it worked, but now I know.

Donna Marie Rogers said...

Great post, Ginger! I've judged many contests over the past few years, and this is my third year judging the EPIC contest. It's never an easy task judging someone else's hard work, but more often than not I've been blessed to read some amazing entries. :-)

Ciara Gold said...

Judging is very difficult because you have to leave any preconceived notions behind and disregard certain prejudices you might have for a particular genre or writing style. But I love seeing all the variety and I love when a contestant writes back and thanks me for my suggestions.

S said...

I recognize several of my Southern Heat judges here! The ladies of Texas (and the South) have been very generous!

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