Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blog Me Baby Welcome and Questions about Judging Contests

Today I want to take time to welcome my newest follower, Abby from Something to Write About. If you get a chance pop on over to Abby's blog and check it out. Thanks for signing on, Abby. I hope you visit often and join the conversation.

I could use some advice.

I have been a contest judge several time in the past and am going to judge a contest in the immediate future. When I've judged works of fiction I first look at the basics (format, spelling, grammar, etc). Then I focus on story elements: character, voice and the story itself--does it have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I also like titles that enhance the story, and the language and images are also important. If an entry has a  unique voice, strong characters, and good writing I'll overlook minor spelling and grammar hiccups. I separate the entries into Yes, No, and Maybe piles and work from there.

The final question I ask to set the winning entries from the others is: Will I remember this story a year from now? For me, that's the key to pick the winner.

But I'm wondering if there are some elements other judges focus on when they decide which entries are the best.  Is there something I'm missing?

So, for my questions:

* Have you ever been a writing contest judge? 

* If you have been a judge, what do you look for in a winning entry?

Thanks for any suggestions.


  1. I've been a judge a few times. Other than the basics/requirements you already mentioned, I often just "feel" that a story works, that it connects with the reader/me on another level. I have found this is true no matter the genre, even if it's something I don't normally read. A great story transcends any genre barriers and just works. (Hmm, not sure that helped you at all...)

  2. I've never judged a fiction contest but I'll give you my two cents. The basics are a given but the winner is truly a story that sits with you. Madeline is a good example with her flash fiction she wrote just this last week with the start,"the door opened." Her story has stayed with me. With this criteria, though, stories hit people differently, one you might find you are unable to put down I won't pick up. The good thing is there is usually more than one judge.

  3. I look for a story to grab me at first reading. Those that do, typically have done a great job utilizing each of the elements you mentioned. After that, things get subjective. A certain well-written genre will appeal to me more than another genre that may be equally well-written.


  4. I've never been a judge. The closest comparison I have is with my critique group. When I critique their work I do an initial "fist impression" read, not looking for anything but story and flow. I might read each story three or four times before I feel as if I've given it my best, but I always find when our group meets and the others offer their critiques that I still missed things! Not sure I'd want to be a judge . . . there must be a lot of pressure there to give everyone a fair shot, even with story lines that would never appeal if you were reading on your own. Kudos to you for judging!

  5. I've judged, Donna, and I use a process almost identical to yours (See? We're like twins!)

    What I also check for is pacing, if the tension builds in the story. Do I HAVE to keep reading?

    And I look for something unique in the story. A story can be beautifully written, well-crafted, and sound just lovely, but not go anywhere or say anything different. Then again, I'll read a story in some la-ti-da journal and wonder what THAT story's saying.

    So, you know, judging's tough. :-)

  6. Hi Madeline,
    You are so right about needing to connect with the reader and transcending genre barriers. Thanks!

    Hi Sally,
    Yep. Stories that sit with me are the ones I usually select. For this contest there's only one judge as far as I know.

    Hi Pat,
    Good points. A good hook brings me into a story, but great stories maintain my interest.

    Hi Lisa,
    Good comparison with a critique group. Thanks!

    Hi Cathy,
    Excellent points about pacing and tension. Another one I forgot to mention that I look for is conflict, oh, and change is yet another--does the main character change by the end of the story.
    You are right--judging is tough--and I know for a fact you've been an excellent judge before!


  7. I agree with Lisa, about the pressure of being a judge. Even though there were a number of other judges for the contest, I still tried very hard to give each entry my best. I made a point to not read them when I was too tired, cranky, hungry, etc. (Okay, so it was a limited window but still...) :)

    (Oh, and thanks Sally for the compliment - I hope the story stayed with you in a good way, not a creepy way. :))

  8. Hi Madeline,
    Thanks! Your observation about mood affecting judging is right. I try not to judge when I'm rushed or in a bad mood.


  9. I've judged for contests and awards. I look for the the same things you do. All things being equal, it's the story that sticks with me or the story that has multiple layers that I usually choose.

  10. Hi Carol,
    I agree! Thanks for your comments.

  11. I would say, did the story capture you? Did you want more when you finished?

    Good luck with judging. :)

  12. Hi Sharon,
    Thanks. You made some excellent points.


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