Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Donna says ...A Bit About Judging

I'm what they call a veteran contest judge. I've been judging romanace writing contests for ...oh...about eight years now. I've co-ordinated writing contests, I was on RWA's committee for judge training a few years back, and I've certainly entered my share of contests - including the Golden Heart. I mention all this because I'm judging some contests entries now, and that make me pause and think about how far we've come.

I'm sure you all know - it's not easy entering a writing contest. It's hard to put your soul out there and wait for someone to tell you all the places it's lacking. I just wanted to remind you that it's not easy being a judge either. Often, it's just as hard to award a low score as it is to receive one. I remember when I was the contest co-ordinator, one of the judges asked if it was okay to just not give a score on certain questions because she didn't want to hurt the writer's feelings with a low score. Of course, I said, "No. That wouldn't be fair to the author as anything is better than a 0."

It's hard as well to suggest through the scores that an entry is average. That, for whatever reason, there's no spark, no magic. How do you offer constructive suggestions on capturing stardust? You try. You offer suggestions, considerations, but you know that sometimes whatever you say will be taken as criticism. And unjust criticism at that.

So here's to all the Golden Heart finalists who triumphed through many, many contests. Who managed to combine excitement, action, and characterization - all within the first couple of pages. Who managed to use dialogue to move the story forward and not to tell backstory. Who incorporated enough plot twists and complications to make the judge disappointed that the entry has ended and she can't read more. Who learned how to capture magic and transform it into prose that takes on a life of its own. It can be done. It's not easy. It takes a lot of skill, a lot of craft, but it can be done.

So here's to the Golden Heart finalists - who by rising to this level have shown that they are all ready winners all. Congratulations, Ladies. You've come a long way.


Keira Soleore said...

Thanks for the flute of champagne, Donna.

Here, Here!!

And may you be all be published ere long to wide acclaim.

Donna, a refill, if you would please....

Caren Crane said...

Thank you for the much-needed reminder, Donna. I was reading it, feeling like those GH finalists were really fortunate. Then I realized you were talking to me, too!

And thanks to you and all the judges who take on this very difficult task. It is a huge responsibility, but one that benefits so many people. So thank you for all your hard work.

Extra champagne for Keira and the hard-working Donna! Oh, and for me, too. Typing is thirsty business. *g*

Anonymous said...

Yes, congratulations to all the GH finalists, and all those other finalists out there--RWA chapter contests and American Title contests alike. It's never easy to throw your baby to a judge, not knowing whether they will be kind or cruel. We do it because we are writers and are determined to be published, but it's never never easy.

No champagne for me (migraine trigger--even a sip at my wedding triggered one!) but I'll raise my glass of lovely English breakfast tea! :-)


Anna Sugden said...

Inara - good choice of tea!

Great post, Donna. In the hurly-burly of the rest of our writing lives, we sometimes forget what a huge achievement finalling in a contest is! For me it was validation of a major step-change in the quality of my writing. And I couldn't have done it without help from contest judges who read the earlier ... work!

I too am a veteran contest judge and I know what you mean. I'm sure your entrants will value your constructive cristicism.

Christine Wells said...

Well said, Donna! Congratulations to all the Golden Heart finalists of 2007. It's such an exciting time. I hope all your dreams come true.

Suzanne Welsh said...

Great post, Donna.

My congratulations to the 2007 GH finalists. I hope you have as much fun and make as many friends in this next year as I did!

And contests are indeed stressful for the judges as it is for the contestants. The hardest part is to be constructive without being too critical, and also NOT destroying someone else's voice. That is a very challenging thing to do.

Anna Campbell said...

Absolutely here's to everyone brave enough to enter a contest and here's an extra 'here's' to everyone who has struggled through to finalling or placing or winning. In the long dark days before I sold, contests were my lifeline. It was someone who wasn't related to me telling me that my stuff had potential. I know a lot of writers distrust contests - they say they rob new writers of their individuality, or you can strike a really destructive judge. But for me, without contests, I don't think I would have stuck it out.