Friday, April 30, 2010

A Judge's Perspective - 4 reasons for Low Scores

Well, today is the day that Genesis judges are supposed to get their entries turned in so that scores can be tallied and finalists determined. The authors of the top 5 scoring entries will be notified sometime in the next couple weeks, followed by a public announcement of all the finalists. As a Genesis entrant myself again this year, I am waiting with bated breath and praying for "the call," if only for one of the three manuscripts I submitted.

But, I'm not going to blog as a contest entrant. Today, I'm speaking as a judge.

I had the honor of judging for the first time this year (no, not in the categories I entered - that's obviously not allowed). I'll admit, I was a little nervous. I am still convinced that I am not qualified to judge any contest, let alone one as highly esteemed as the Genesis. But I wanted to give back to ACFW, the organization that I've come to love and depend on for excellent advice, teaching, and encouragement.

I have to say I loved every minute of judging. I will also say that I awarded one perfect 100 - I seriously could not find one thing wrong with it. But that was an exception. The others ranged from the low 50's to one in the low 80's. Because many of you either have entered or will be entering contests during your writing career, I want to mention a few things that warranted lower scores from me. They may be things you want to pay close attention to when preparing your entry.

1. Weak opening. They say it takes editors one page of your manuscript to know whether it's one they want to represent. While that may be exaggerating a hair, the point is your ms needs to start with a bang. Horrify me, surprise me, or make me laugh. At least give me something that makes me want to -- no, have to know more about your character or story.

2. Basic blunders. I'm not talking about the ocassional typo or punctuational error. But when the entire submission is laced with poor grammar, incorrect sentence structure, and misplaced commas, scores get docked. The good news is, this is the easiest aspect of your writing to improve and fix.

3. Too much telling. You've heard it before: show, don't tell. As often as this phrase is tossed around, you'd think we'd all have it perfected. Again, it's not the ocassional paragraph or two that "tells" too much, but an entire story I can't get into because I can't "see" what's happening. I want to be plopped right in the middle of your scene instead of only allowed to be a bystander.

4. It's boring. This may seem harsh, and I suppose it's a matter of opinion, but if your plot isn't fresh and original, or your characters fall flat, I'm going to quickly lose interest. Too much backstory, too many characters to keep track of, excessive description (especially flowery), turns me off. Don't save the excitement for chapter two. Or, if there's nothing majorly thrilling, at least give it a dose of clever humor, real heartache, or something to make me care about what happens next.

While these points may not be a newflash, I figure it never hurts to remind writers what to focus on, particularly when entering contests that are being judged on only the first several pages.

So did you enter the Genesis this year? And are you as anxious as I am for the finalists to be announced?


Cindy R. Wilson said...

It's really interesting to hear, from a judges perspective, what kind of things are important to you and what has been lacking.

I entered for the first time this year. Actually this is the first contest I've ever entered for one of my manuscripts. I am nervous, and excited and ready to learn and grow from whatever feedback I get.

Karen Lange said...

Good tips, and interesting to hear from a judge's side. Will file this away for future reference:)
Blessings and happy weekend,

Amy Deardon said...

Lynda, thanks for some good observations! Good luck with your own entries :-)