by Narelle Atkins
I’ve been judging writing contests for a few years now, and I believe my experiences have helped me to revise my own stories.
My goal as a judge is to provide constructive feedback to the entrant to help them improve their story and grow as a writer. Sometimes this means providing gentle comments about why something in their story isn’t working for me. Or explaining why they need to improve a specific aspect of writing craft and directing them to helpful writing books. It always means providing positive and encouraging comments on the aspects of their story that work well. And occasionally I’m wowed by an entry that is ready for publication. In this instance I will give an entry a perfect score and let the author know I’m looking forward to buying their book!
It’s very important as a judge to explain why you are giving an entry a less than perfect score. The entrant will want to know why their story isn’t working for you and I offer direction or suggestions on ways to improve their story. It is not the role of a judge to do line edits or rewrite sentences.
Contest judging has helped me to hone the critiquing skills I need to apply to my own work. I find it much easier to see the flaws in other people’s manuscripts than in my own. Judging has helped me to step back and critically appraise my own work during the editing process.
By judging contests I’ve also learned more about writing craft. I need to understand point of view and characterisation in order to effectively judge these craft elements in contest entries. When reading a contest entry with a critical eye, I am learning the importance of writing craft in our stories. If a story isn’t working, I try to discern the aspects of writing craft that need to be improved. An understanding of story structure is also important and I believe we learn this by reading widely in different genres. I also look at whether a story fits genre conventions. For example, a romance must have a hero and heroine facing conflict and struggling to achieve their story goals and happily-ever-after romantic ending.
Contest judging is a way of giving back to the writing community. I’ve appreciated the time and effort volunteer judges have put into reviewing my entries and I hope my comments help contest entrants move forward in their writing journey. I’ve also received some lovely thank you notes and it’s good to hear that contest entrants have appreciated the time and effort I’ve put into judging their entries.
Have you judged any writing contests? What have you learned from your judging experiences? Have you been a reader judge for published or unpublished contests? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Narelle Atkins writes contemporary inspirational romance. She resides in Canberra, Australia with her husband and children. She can also be found at the International Christian Fiction Writers blog.