by Anita Mae Draper
I now have 3 entries sitting in my laptop. And the weight of those words are heavier than I ever imagined.
But I'm not alone. Other writers, more experienced than I, are just an email away. And I have a judging package with all the information I need.
I just need to go down the list and give each aspect of the story a score like so:
1. Excellent, ready to submit
2. Almost there, needs only a little polish
3. Average, shows promise
4. Below average, needs work
It seems so easy and it would be if I had an entry that was off-the-top stupendous or below-the-belt bad. Except my entries are middle-of-the-road average. Nice stories but they don't take my breath away.
When I was an entrant, the scores showed me where I needed to improve. But as a judge, there seems to be one huge jump between:
2. Almost there, needs only a little polish; and
3. Average, shows promise.
If I judge on the high side, am I helping the entrant, or am I giving her a false sense of her writing ability? And if I judge on the low side, I'm basically saying, "You look like the other chunks of coal. Keep brushing the dust off and one day you'll shine. Maybe."
Along with the contest entries, though, I’ve been thinking about the Saskatchewan Romance Writer’s (SRW) meeting I attended last weekend. The planned exercise was to critique snippets of stories posted by members on the SRW blog (private for members only). I waited until the last week to read the blog. My excuse being that I wanted the words to be fresh for the meeting. But then our internet service failed repeatedly over a four day span and the most I was able to do was skim through the offerings. So, I was inadequately prepared for the critique session. (Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your copies with me.) As anyone at that meeting could tell, I’m not a fast thinker and my mind went blank a few times. Later, I realized my criticism may have been constructive, but I sure didn’t pat anyone’s back and for that I’m sorry. Because I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t able to help others.
So that’s been on my mind this week as I read over the contest entries. I don’t want to rush them. I don’t want to judge them against each other. I don’t want to let my biases influence my judging.
As well as giving back some of what others have given me, this is supposed to be a learning experience all around. Other writers have said how much more they learned while judging, so I’m hoping some of that will rub off on me.
Here is a checklist I made to reinforce the one I received with the judging package:
- don’t assume the green squiggly lines are correct
- don’t assume a red line is a misspelling
- check facts before making a comment
- clichés are allowed in dialogue
- incorrect grammar is allowed in dialogue
- remember being on the other end
- and again, encourage often
This post was written over a couple days, interspersed with reading the contest entries. I’ve remembered that while I may not be an expert grammarian, I am an experienced reader and book reviewer. I may not know the proper names for the parts of a sentence, but I know if a sentence flows with rhythm and grace or is stilted and awkward. Come to think of it, here’s a few more if’s: