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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

From a Judge’s Point of View

I frequently judge contests (my own chapter’s Touch of Magic contest and the unpublished Maggies come to mind) and enjoy doing so. It’s a way to give back to those who judged the contests I entered before I made my first sale. If I may, I’d like to shout out a belated “thank you” to all of them.

It’s important to note that when writers volunteer to judge a contest it’s almost always because they want to. If they don’t, they do a crappy job and will probably not be asked to judge again. Hopefully you won’t get the reluctant judge on their (or your) first time out. As a whole, judges are predisposed to like your work. They are hoping for a new spin on an old idea, a fresh voice, something fun to read. They want to help you in your climb up the writing career ladder. They are not planning to score you down so that their critique partner, sister, chapter mate, etc., will win instead of you. There are not interested in stealing your great idea.

So relax. Contests are good for you.

Here are a few things I tend to notice when judging contest entries.

Font. I mention font a lot when I talk about contests. I prefer Courier New because I find it easy to read, but mostly when I mention font I’m talking about using a font that allows the entrant to squish more and more words on the page for the specific intent of putting additional text in front of the judge, to the detriment of other entrants. Please note that no one is fooled by this ploy.

Having the POV character describe her/himself. Butch the Bounty Hunter scanned the crowded room for criminals. He allowed his warm, chocolate brown eyes to peer into every corner. He brushed his long, wavy hair off his shoulders, thankful his expensive black Resistol cowboy hat shaded his craggy face from the harsh overhead lights. I mean, honestly, what self-respecting hero would think of himself in those terms? Same with heroines. Do you really want to read a book about a woman who constantly describes herself? P.S. Describing what a character sees in the mirror is cheating, too, unless your character is the wicked stepmother in Snow White.

Incomplete sentences that lack punch. It was dark. And cold. How about
The night was dark and cold.

Abrupt changes of point of view within a scene. When changing POV, give the new POV character a movement, or better yet, a facial expression, before he/she delivers dialog or leaves the room or thinks about shooting someone, etc. Don’t head hop, and don’t let your scene be hijacked by someone who is not integral to said scene.

Not ending with a hook. We talked about his one last week when Maureen Hardegree blogged about hooks. It’s important enough to repeat. Make every effort to end each scene and chapter with a strong hook. If the contest entry is 50 pages and you have a great scene ending hook on page 45 or 46 or 47, etc, stop there. End on a high note, a strong note. Never, ever end mid-paragraph or mid-sentence.

You may be thinking, picky, picky, picky, but actually, you want me to judge your entry. I’m predisposed to like your work. I want to help you in your climb up the writing career ladder. I really want you to win!


At 1:08 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

All great reminders, Karen. When I judge, I love to be sucked into the story with great sympathetic characters and a well balanced plot.

All the things you've mentioned make it tough for a reader to enjoy the story if the judge must slog through messy prose or if they're stopped by an abrupt POV change.

Any other pet peeves anyone?

Mine would be slogging through backstory. Backstory grinds the REAL story to a halt and makes me yawn.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

My WIP is a 3rd person POV with multiple viewpoints, and mostly I've written in first lately. I'm thinking I need a workshop.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Good tips, Karen. I especially want to point out the one concerning a pov character describing himself/herself. This one really bugs me because it makes the character come across as conceited or self-interested.

Esri, maybe we can talk about pov on the blog.


At 3:19 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Pris, I'd love to have a discussion on POV on the blog. It's seems to me there are a lot of subtle distinctions there, and a spectrum of ways to do it well or poorly.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Karen said...

Thanks for your comments, ladies. POV is a biggie for me. My first manuscript meandered all over the place. I think even the cat had a POV moment. On my second effort I really cracked down--and that was the book I sold.

I recently did a short workshop on POV for my chapter and we talked about the point of view character being the one with the most to lose. Sometimes it takes writing the scene in both the hero and heroine's points of view to really see the distinction, but it's certainly a valid way to figure it all out.

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I agree with you and Pris. Characters describing themselves drives me crazy!

At 5:09 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I'd never judge a manuscript down for ending mid-sentence, but that's just me. Psychologically, it's better to end on a strong hook.

Re: POV. Sometimes a scene in the character who is observing the character who has the most to lose is very effective. The heroine watching the hero in danger, for example.

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

That's a good example, Diane of which character to use for POV. I always have a hard time figuring out whose POV I REALLY should be in because my first instinct is to go with the character who is in danger and not the one watching the person in danger...but that makes sense!

At 8:42 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Ah! Two very good insights into POV Theresa and O Divine One. I try to check to see if the POV I use is the most effective one. The idea of who has the most to lose is intriguing as well. Hmmm. Definitely some points to ponder. AND a POV workshop or blog sounds great! Sign me up!


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