Some of our GCCRWA members are hard at work putting finishing touches on a contest for a little later in the year. Finalists will be read and judged by industry professionals, with winners announced at the 2012 Silken Sands Writers Conference. (Which is scheduled for March 16-18th, 2012! Info and link at end of post.) That means *shudder* judging will be involved.
Anyone who has entered contests knows how nerve-wracking they can be, because face it, part of what we’re after in a contest is the critique of our work to see if our writing meets certain standards. To see if, with our written words, we can draw the intended emotion from the reader.
Things would be so much simpler if a standardized code for each genre was available. Alas, there isn’t. Some people even believe judging means you must red-ink an entry until it looks as if it’s bleeding. To death! Example: as a judge a few years ago I worked with a gentleman of that persuasion. Some of us always had to go behind him and rescue not only the entry, but our contest. He would literally read the phrase “A gentle breeze brushed her cheek.”, grab a red pen and write “Was the wind blowing before?!? How is this pertinent to this scene?!?” (yes, with those exact punctuation marks), even before reading the next sentence to find, “If she’d known the playful air a harbinger to the coming storm she would have stored the moment to draw on the memory; for gentleness would not exist in her world again for some time.” What do you think are the chances that person would enter that contest again? Or any contest. I’d bet never.
Because there is only the most basic grammar, punctuation, POV, and voice information available– along with inferred and “I heard” this-is-how-it’s-supposed-to-be-done guidelines– horror stories abound.
Just to toss a couple out there for understanding, the use of contractions in a MS is encouraged because it saves type space, ink and paper in printing. Bottom line is critical for any industry. So most judges go through with that red pen and strike through words to create contractions. Acceptable?
NOT IF IT’S REGENCY OR HISTORICAL! Certain genres require a very formal mode of speech for the elite and upper-classmen. During particular eras there was great distinction in speech between the classes. For a Duke, Duchess or Earl to use contractions just would not have happened. Yet points get taken off by good-intentioned individuals simply because they don’t understand the genre.
Another problem comes with –ly and –ing words. I wanted to dance when Lindsey Faber of Samhain tweeted she likes adverbs! For some reason the stern warning not to overuse them has turned into the complete annihilation of their species! Overuse is bad, but there’s a horror story here as well.
A judge– going on the premise -ly and -ing words were not to be used under any circumstance– would run entries he/she was to judge through spell check and have every one highlighted. The pages of an entry lit up with color. When the entrant got her submission back she found this side note scrawled in the margins: ‘On seeing this many editing errors I only gave this a cursory look’, and issued a miserable score. You can’t take that type of shortcut when judging. You have to read a submission in its entirety. Why?
In this instance the character’s name was Holly; the scene was about a shooting. Hol-ly. Shoot-ing. Another judge– one who practiced practical judging– gave this same entry 215 points out of a possible 230, one of the highest scores achieved in the entire contest!
Snarkiness is another issue. It emotionally cripples a new writer and should be avoided when you judge. Snarky is all those unnecessary remarks that do nothing to ‘grow’ the writer. I have a friend who entered a Regency contest. In her synopsis she said her character wrote historical romance. Red-inked on her entry was “So your character writes historical romance. Too bad the author can’t!” If your remark is unprofessional, or can’t offer a way to correct a problem, think twice about putting it down. On a side note, publication is the best revenge. This same entry is now published. (Wonder if the author sent Madame Snarky a complimentary copy?)
Where is all this leading? I’m putting together presentation material for a chapter meeting with basic judging information, by genre. It’s easier to remember things or be more sure of their use with an example to refer to. That’s where I need your help.
I need you to tell me your best, and worst, contest experience. I want real examples of both. If you have one but don’t want to share it publicly, email me off loop at RunereMcLain@hughes.net No identifiers will ever be used, so you don’t need to name the contest. GCCRWA wants our contest to be outstanding in the fairness and correctness of our judges. There’s an art to keeping constructive criticism tactful, but with the correct tools it is possible.
If my girls (and guy) feel it’s good enough, I’ll be willing to share the completed package.
So please, give me your highlights and lowlights. I want that toolbox full!
Thanks, and good writing!
March 16-18, 2012 in beautiful Pensacola, Florida.
Kickoff speaker: BARBARA VEY
Keynote speaker: BEVERLEY KENDALL