Writing 101 : Critiquing vs. Judging

As I finish judging a packet of contest entries, I thought about the differences between being a contest judge and being in a critique group.

They are NOT the same thing.

Both groups can benefit the writer if the writer realizes what each group brings to the table.

The following is just my opinion on the topic-- 

Critique groups:

  • offer support
  • brainstorm
  • meet on a regular basis
  • gently point out story problems
  • will correct your grammar
  • will offer solutions to various story problems
  • know your story inside and out
  • offer sympathy when perceived bashing occurs from a contest judge 

Contest judges:

  • MUST follow the criteria set by the contest 
  • MUST score according to the the contest score sheets
  • MUST give an educated opinion about what does or doesn't work with a submission
  • have never seen your story before and must score on the story's merit, flaws and all. 
  • must explain why a score of 3 (or less) out of 5 is given on any one judging criteria
  • must score opening scene, plot/pacing, characterization, writing technique, conflict, dialogue/narrative technique, sub-genre criteria, and the one this judge hates the most--romantic relationship. Many times the romantic relationship isn't established in the minimal length of a contest entry. And, unless a synopsis is provided, can't give a good score on this element. Our judging hands are tied. 
  • If we are judging a paranormal entry, then there had better be some paranormal elements. Remember, if you remove the paranormal aspect and the story falls apart, then it is a solid paranormal story. These points should be easy to get. 
These are just a few examples of the different between a crit group and a judge. 

Contest judges are unpaid and under appreciated for the time and energy they use to score your submission. True, there are many judges out there who will simply put a number down and not comment, or will wait to the last minute to look at their entries and just throw scores out there. 

But there are contest judges who, to the best of their abilities, will try to give you feedback on your submission. 

Remember, we have never seen your story before, so we can give you our first impression. 

If we say that something doesn't make sense, it's because it doesn't. 

The contest judge doesn't know your story, or the back story of the main characters. We don't know all the versions of your story. We don't know anything, EXCEPT what you have submitted. If it doesn't make sense, or we are confused, then you failed in your ability to tell an engaging story. 

Don't go whining to your crit group about how mean and horrible this particular judge was. Instead, step away from your story and critically look at it from the judge's point of view. If you are scored low on some element, read the criteria for that element, and try to find out what was missing in your story.

Look at it this way: contest judges will give you input as to what is wrong with your story, while agents/editors will simply send you a form rejection.

It might not be the comments you want to hear, as we are not here to stroke your ego, to fix your grammar, or tell you how to fix your story. 

We simply comment on what we read.   

It's your job as a writer to write effectively. 

Later, Peeps!


Marilyn said...

Aw, Margaret, I wish entrants saw judging comments the way you do. As a contest coordinator, I heard way too many say, "Well, your judges might not have liked it, but it finaled with contest xyz, so I'm not changing a thing." Or "Your contest was a waste of money. I paid $25 and got nothing but low scores and a bunch of complaints." (No, honey, those are COMMENTS. Constructive, trying-to-help-you-sell comments.)

I admire you for still judging. When I quit RWA, I quit getting the calls for judges, so I'm not doing that anymore, either.

Margaret Golla said...

I understand, Marilyn.

What a lot of entrants don't realize is how a judge's hands are tied to the score sheet. If there are points tied to a 'relationship', but no relationship is hinted at in the submission, we have to mark down.

When I judge historical or paranormal entries, I fully expect the entrant to score all points allowed for the "sub-genre" category--a total gimmee--but I don't know how many times paranormal stories have absolutely no paranormal elements in the submitted entry.

If there is no blurb or synopsis, we have to score according to what we read, thus points are lost.

I feel for the entrant because I have a tough time dealing with judging comments. Sometimes they do point out things that I was too close to the story to see.

As much as I love judging, I will probably quit judging contests this year. It takes too much energy.

I wish all contests were run like the Golden Pen, which judges the entry like the Golden heart, but along with a numerical score, comments are mandatory.