Monday, October 26, 2009

On the Far Side Contest, Judging, and Writing

I finally got my marks back for the On the Far Side contest, the first writing contest I decided to send my precious baby The Duke of Snow and Apples to.

Yeah, I didn't end up placing. Didn't even break the upper half. Still, though - I got some valid comments and some interesting grading. I got fantastic marks for Craft and Dialogue, average marks for Characterization, and lower marks for Plot and Pacing (most of the judges felt I started too slowly, which is a problem I know I have).

I felt the judging was harsh but fair - whenever I send something out I always think it's Buckets of Awesome so it always comes back as a slap in the face when I discover people think it's somewhat less awesome.

However, someone in the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal chapter of RWA (of which I am a member, and the chapter which hosted the contest) decided to open the proverbial can of radioactive worms by bitching about a particularly low grade given by one of the judges, going so far as to say the person's judgment should be questioned for giving her such a "hateful" low grade when the other judges had given her a, hmm, medium-low grade.

This, of course, led to a Greek Chorus of griping and whining about how some judges are just spiteful and contests are a crapshoot and the lowest grades should be thrown out and "discrepencies" should be rendered invalid, and the pervading tang of sour grapes grew so powerful it practically wafted off of my computer screen.

The Writer in me, still whimpering from not being considered Completely Awesome and Well-Written by all, remained silent - but the Reviewer in me shouted, "SUCK IT UP, LADIES."

I find the idea that a person's judgement should be rendered invalid because it doesn't match up with the others ludicrous. The judging is meant to be impartial - names aren't allowed on the manuscripts when they're turned in. Judging is also a volunteer effort that takes up a lot of time - the idea that someone would volunteer a massive amount of personal time to judge a contest just because she's a spiteful old hag who wants to piss on people's dreams doesn't make sense. It's like that lame-ass witch Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty: "You spent 16 years focused on punishing one teenage girl? Really? Instead of taking over the world or doing something else equally evil? Have you never heard of multitasking??"

One commenter said, "It was obvious the judge hated my work, so I don't see why her opinion should count." Um, because hate is an opinion? Because you're allowed to hate stories you think are poorly-written and plotted? Because this was a writing contest, not a back-patting, hand-holding contest? If a judge is allowed to mark you highly, they're allowed to mark you poorly - that's the gamble of entering a contest. I openly dislike critique groups or contests or other writing circles that discourage negative or critical comments (no matter how reasonable or polite) because they don't want to hurt writers' feelings. This isn't about feelings! Feelings are irrelevant! This is about writing! Okay, I'm sounding like a bad Superhero Movie Villain, but I'm firmly of the belief that CRITICISM IS YOUR FRIEND. Your nasty, bitchy, hurtful friend.

And I really dislike the notion that a judge whose opinion is different from the others shouldn't be counted. Everyone is different - why would you want them all to judge you the same? I guess, from the writer's point of view, when considering how to re-write a story it's a safe bet to consider the weaknesses/strengths that 3 people all pointed out to you rather than the weaknesses/strengths that only 1 noticed. I get that, but in the matter of judging, a person's opinion shouldn't be rendered invalid just because it's different.

Why do I say this? Because a discrepency happened to me - only in a different way. I got four scores, all out of 150: 114, 115, 118....and 150.

A perfect score. I GOT A PERFECT SCORE! From a published author! Yippee! Hooray! FIVE OUT OF FIVE ONE HUNDRED PERCENT! HOORAH!

But WAIT! It's a discrepency! It's so much HIGHER than my other scores - it must not COUNT! The judge obviously loved my story way too much to have a valid opinion of it!

I'm willing to bet that not many people in my situation would care to complain about that. If the worm-can-opener had received that score - a score so much more positive than all the others - would they have bitched about biased judges? Hell no. If they're willing to count an odd review even though it's oddly high, I don't see why they shouldn't count an odd review if it's oddly lower than the others. That's hypocritical.

Of course it sucks that someone stomped on your work. It's entirely your perogative to ignore their comments on your story and rewrite it your own way. But a judge's job is to judge your work - not to make sure they match up with the other judges. Their job isn't to make you feel better, but to give a careful analysis of your writing.

Now, I'm off to try and make my plot move faster!


  1. You still deserve a pat on you back. Not many would have the courage to enter in a contest.

    I've read your work. As an author friend told me, it's not IF you will get published, it's just the question of WHEN.

  2. I've sponsored AND judged writing/poetry contests. More to the point, I've judged in RWA type contests, using comprehensive criteria lists.

    Honestly, I spend more time on those I judge poorly than those that are patently "clean"--meticulously punctuated, nicely paced, carefully plotted, deeply characterized, etc. I agonize over those low marks, but I can't violate my conscience and just go along and fudge. If I think something is poorly crafted, then I must judge it as such.

    Whining and bitching about low scores shows a lack of professionalism. A pro takes harsh criticism and asks the questionn: "What can I learn from this to expand my appeal to this audience?" It's a chance to see if someone caught weaknesses others missed. It's a chance to grow. Or, it's a chance to realize that not everyone will like what you write, and you need to accept that if you want a writing career that will include reviewers ripping you to shreds. (Even top writers have their shredders.)

    I don't think very much of the bitching-whiners. They're immature.

    They do need to suck it up and grow up.

  3. Seriously, I could kiss you. That's not too weird is it?

    I mean, if you think your work is full of awesome and immediately jump to the conclusion that low marks are the result of a mean girl, vindictive judge - then why enter said contest at all? I've always gotten the impression that contest entering was a good way to get "honest" feedback on your work, and if you're not going to open your ears and consider valid criticism - why bother? Why waste your time, and the time of the judges?

    Anywho - good for you. And I'm glad to hear you got some good, constructive feedback.

  4. Vorkosigrrl8:27 AM

    Kudos for entering, and kudos for standing up for the judges.

    Some people are naturals. (You should see the gorgeous writing Linnea Sinclair did for a creative writing class she took on a whim, after her other successful careers.) But I bet most writers have had to accept and learn from their critics, gracefully.