|Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at freedigitalphotos.net|
When we enter a contest, we begin the process of digging for treasure.When we receive our results, the real work of evaluation begins. We, as writers, must first process through the emotions our scores evoke within us. Joy at a final, disappointment over scores that were not what we hoped they would be.
Whatever the judges’ scores, we all come and stand at the mouth of the mine where we must decide what our next step is going to be. Will we stomp those nasty scores and negative comments into the dust beneath our feet? Or, will we step through the mouth of the mine, fasten on our hard hats and get ready to excavate, digging for the precious among them?
When I entered my first writing contest, My Book Therapy’s Frasier Contest, I just knew I’d receive at least a bronze for my amazing writing (listen as Jeanne, two years wiser on the writing journey clears throat. Loudly). When the email arrived in my inbox, I opened it, read the greeting and then clicked on the judges’ comments. In case you have to ask, no, I did not final or receive a bronze rating in that contest. What I did gain, though, was solid gold. The scores and comments unearthed both strengths and weaknesses regarding my newbie writing skills and style.
Because that’s what this left-brained girl does best is analyze, I printed out every page of the score sheets and my entry, double-sided. I began laying scores side by side. Within about a nanosecond, twenty pages lay in a disorganized jumble around me. Trying to match up judge one’s and judge two’s scores next to each other turned into a frustration. There had to be a better way.
Then, a light bulb flashed, in my mind, not literally. What if I did the left-brained thing and created a spreadsheet? I could input my scores, examine them side by side and evaluate my writing strengths and weaknesses. Thus began my quest to create a spreadsheet I could use for evaluating my contest results.
Now that I’ve entered a few more contests (not nearly as many as Supreme Contest Diva Tina Radcliffe though!), I have created a spreadsheet. I use it with the feedback received from the contests that provide results via a chart (Genesis, Frasier, Phoenix Rattler, etc).
Going back to the mine analogy, contest judges examine entries with certain criteria in mind. Their scores reflect what they find in our “mines.” Coals, rocks, ore, gold, gemstones, all of it.
|Image courtesy of dan at freedigitalphotos.net|
In studying result sheets, I found contests evaluate similar categories. The wording may vary by
contest, but the overriding ideas are similar. I’m going to put these ideas into my words, but hopefully they will resonate with what you’ve found. Let’s start looking from a big picture view and go into detail.
The big-picture topics many contests score on are Story Elements, Interest in Story and Professional Impact.
STORY ELEMENTS: This category usually includes character development, setting, dialogue, conflict, flow/pacing, and for CBA, the spiritual element.
INTEREST IN STORY: This category usually evaluates a writer’s understanding of the craft, the writer’s voice, the originality of the story (within genre structures), how well the story hooks in a reader, and if it holds a reader’s interest through the entire contest entry.
PROFESSIONAL IMPACT: This category determines how well the writer knows his/her grammar, punctuation and spelling, genre compatibility and how marketable this story would probably be.
Digging in a little deeper, I discovered common veins of descriptors judges assess. I “borrowed” phrases and ideas from score sheets I’ve received to compile the list below. Actual wording for specific contests will vary somewhat. You won’t find all these sub-categories in every contest.
1. Is time and place well established?
2. Does the setting support the story?
3. Are the five senses employed to enhance the scene?
1. Are the lead characters unique and distinct?
2. Are the secondary characters distinct? Do secondary characters contribute to the story?
3. Do characters show realistic emotions?
1. Does it sound natural or stilted?
2. Do the characters have distinct voices?
3. When narrative is used, is it used well?
1. Are the character motivations compelling and realistic?
2. Is conflict natural or contrived?
3. Is there good potential for conflict to move the story forward through the book?
1. Does the story flow smoothly?
1. Are spiritual elements organic, shown through the character and plot, or are they contrived?
Story Interest Elements:
Understanding of the craft:
1. Does the writer have an understanding of POV, and stay in one POV per scene?
2. Are POV transitions smooth from one scene to the next?
3. Does writer use back story sprinkles or backstory dumps?
4. Does writer use “show vs tell” effectively, especially when it comes to emotions?
5. Is pacing smooth and natural?
6. Does the story build plausibly, logically and believably?
1. Is the voice fresh?
2. Does writer avoid cliches?
3. Does writer write with clarity?
4. Does writer overwrite?
The story is unique, or has a fresh twist to a common story line
Uses grammar, punctuation and spelling correctly
1. The story’s tone and use of humor, drama and words fit within the genre
Once I know what’s being evaluated, I can begin excavating the precious out of the ore. I input the numbers from my score sheets onto the spreadsheet. This allows me to begin to pick away at the information in search of gold and the gemstones. They sometimes appear in unexpected places.
Viewing judges’ scores next to each other enables me to detect patterns. For example, if all judges scored me lower in a certain category, that is a great indicator of something I need to work on. On the flip side, higher scores from all judges indicate a writing strength. When I find a discrepancy in the scores that I don’t know how to explain, I talk to a mentor about them.
A few closing thoughts for evaluating contest results:
1. Pray and ask God to help you see the gemstones among any disappointments that come through scores.
2. Identify one area where you received lower scores to work on. No, you can’t shred the rest, but set them aside until you master the one focus area.
3. When judges offer positive comments and suggestions for growth, don’t focus only on the negative. Believe in your writing strengths. Even seemingly negative comments have gold nuggets hidden within their words. If someone says, “This story isn’t original,” you’ve just been given a great clue about a weakness. The challenge: mix things up in your story and add some sparkle.
4. Most importantly, have a teachable spirit. Remember, God gave you your story, and He’ll help you write it.
Make your contest results show you how to improve your story.
Here's the link to the “Contest Evaluation Spreadsheet." If you choose to click on the link and use it, please remember not to input any data in the “Total” sections highlighted in yellow. Scores can be automatically tallied and their sums placed in these sections.
Okay, so if you’re still with me after the longest blogpost I’ve ever written, I would love to hear how you take contest results and make them work for you. Do you have questions about what I’ve shared? Let’s talk!
I’ve left my favorite chocolate macadamia coffee straight from Kauai, along with my husband’s favorite chocolate truffle pie for you late night readers. For breakfast there are chocolate drizzled croissants. Enjoy!
Jeanne Takenaka writes women’s fiction that deals with real life issues with a heart to draw women closer to God and to those around them. She is wife to one amazing man who is her real life hero, and mother to two exuberant boys who hope to one day have a dog of their own. She loves being God’s girl always learning about His grace, hanging out with friends and enjoying a great cup of coffee. She and her family live near the mountains in Colorado. She is a member of ACFW and My Book Therapy Voices.
Seekerville note: Jeanne was kind enough to created a sample Contest Evaluation Spreadsheet. One with all the comments filled in to demonstrate how to use the form for all us form challenged writers. It's in pdf format-remember the actual blank form is available on Jeanne's blog.
It will be on the Seekerville web page through the weekend. www.seekerville.net.
Additionally, in honor of Jeanne's visit today, Seekerville will be giving away a Seeker book of choice (must be available on Amazon) to one commenter today. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
This is a great tool, so don't forget to Tweet and share on FB! Thanks Jeanne!