From a Judge’s Point of ViewI frequently judge contests (my own chapter’s Touch of Magic contest and the unpublished Maggies come to mind) and enjoy doing so.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!