Has this ever happened to you? You slave away polishing your writing contest entry. You wait weeks or even months for the results to come. Then, when you finally have those judge's score sheets in your hand, the results seem to contradict each other.
One judge remarks that your work is stellar and scores you in the range of near perfection. The next judge is more conservative with her praise and lists several areas where the manuscript could be improved. The final judge failed to connect with your characters at all, felt your voice was flat, and your plot contrived. How are you supposed to make sense of this wide discrepancy in scoring?
I've found myself in this situation in the past, and even this year as a finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest, I still had discrepancies among the judges' comments that I had to reconcile in my mind.
Like any devoted parent whose child is under scrutiny, we tend to be a bit defensive with anyone who has negative comments about our baby. Those who recognize its greatness are obviously more intelligent and insightful than those who decide to nitpick over insignificant details. And those who blatantly bash our work? Well, they are nothing more than mean-spirited critics who are probably sourpusses by nature.
It's normal to experience these emotions, to savor the praise and discard the critiques. Go ahead and indulge in this for an hour or even a day. Rationalize all you want, defend your baby to your heart's content, and rail against those brainless judges who didn't comprehend your genius. Get it out of your system then take a deep, cleansing breath.
Done? Good. Now flick the emotion switch to off (or at least turn the dimmer down as much as possible) and use your mind to objectively consider the merit of each and every comment, whether positive or negative. Like the parent who has to eventually accept the fact that her perfect child was in fact guilty of hitting the teacher in the forehead with a spitball, we too must accept that there are aspects of our manuscript that require improvement. The parent who continues to deny that her child has done anything wrong and fails to address the problem, does her child a disservice. It is the same with a writer and her manuscript. However, the one who adopts an open mind and a humble spirit will reap benefits for her manuscript.
So, back to your score sheets...Judge 1 raves about your hero's sensitive nature and his tender vulnerability while Judge 3 calls him a wimp. Instead of simply writing Judge 3 off as a Grumpy Gus, go back and view your character through that judge's eyes. Purposely search for aspects that could be interpreted as wimpy. Rework those sections. If you don't find any, maybe you could add some contrasting images to battle against that impression. For example, you could incorporate a situation that demonstrates his physical prowess. Or you can show the reader his strength of will and fierce determination through his internal thoughts. Judge 1 will probably like him even better, and Judge 3 will no longer see him as a wimp. Not only have you made your manuscript stronger, but it now appeals to a broader audience. And isn't that what we ultimately want for our stories?
It is certainly your prerogative to disagree with a judge's comment and choose to disregard it. Only be sure you make this decision based on sound logical reasoning and not on the defensive emotions of the moment. Let the praise and high scores you receive buoy your confidence, then take up your less-favorable score sheets and go to work. In the end, you just might thank the judge who had the wisdom to point out the spitballs in your manuscript. After all, editors and agents tend to have a rather strong aversion to those slimy little wads of goo.
Karen Witemeyer is a deacon's wife and mother of three who believes the world needs more happily ever afters. To that end, she combines her love of bygone eras with her passion for helping women mature in Christ to craft award-winning historical romance fiction. Her first novel, Fire By Night, was awarded top honors in the 2007 Romance Writers of America Hearts Through History contest. Find out more about Karen at http://www.karenwitemeyer.com/