Essay Contest Score Sheet

I’ve judged a few contests for published and unpublished authors over the years. Because I entered several contests this year, I paid a lot more attention to the judging process. Reviewing my own scoresheets made me a better judge. At least, I hope so.

Things you may not know:

1. Your judge may have entered the same contest. Don’t worry, you’re not in competition. A judge cannot score entries in the same category she’s entered. However, this means your judge may not be as familiar with the genre of your entry. I agreed to score entries only from genres that I have read a lot of books, but I could have judged “short contemporary” or “romantic suspense”–categories that I don’t read. That means I enjoy the genre I’m judging and have a sense of the way those books are generally constructed. For instance, I read historicals, so I get the vocabulary, the dialogue and the importance of setting.

My experience as a contestant: Once I received a comment from a judge “just to let me know” that she didn’t like science fiction. What? Why would she judge for a science fiction contest?Last month I posted Writing Contests: Hell or Heaven? I believe the judge who scored my entry so low is not a science fiction reader. Why? She commented that she googled a building material used in my spaceport and couldn’t find it anywhere on the internet. She told me I needed to research proper building materials. Uhm, they are not made yet. We’re talking two hundred years in the future. Guess what? That entry made the finals in the other two contests I entered. Yep, one of them is The Sheila.

2. Your judge may have agreed to score three entries and ended up with five or more.Yes, this happened to me this year. I contacted the contest coordinator, because two extra entries at thirty-five pages each wouldn’t fit into my schedule. Well, they were short on judges. Luckily I had two months to return the scoresheets, so I was able to work all the entries into my schedule and I didn’t feel pressured. But what if your judge doesn’t have the luxury of time and is rushed, and therefore grumpy, about having to complete more than he signed up for?

My experience as a judge: I made sure I had a block of time for a single entry, and I only read and scored one entry per day. Not only did I make a lot of comments on the scoresheet, but the contests I judged for encouraged feedback directly on the manuscript. This can take as much–or little–time as you have to give it. Sometimes a lack of feedback may just be an over-committed judge.

My experience as a contestant: I’ll take that perfect score with no comments any day!

3. Your judge isn’t necessarily trained to give you feedback on your entry. As a judge, the directions I received ranged from a paragraph about how to fill out the form, the deadline and address for returning my scoresheets and who to contact if I had trouble to a three-page set of instructions on how to score each category, cautions on offering nurturing comments and not a scathing review and not line-editing the entry. A judge may write brilliant prose but not-so-compassionate writing advice.

My experience as a judge: I tried to gear my comments to my perception of the writing. This year, for one novice writer I suggested a couple of books on writing with the encouragement that by studying her craft and writing, she would be able to transform her story into something an editor couldn’t put down. For those entries that made me wish for more pages to read, I offered editing suggestions to tighten the action and enhance the pace and  wished them luck selling their book, because from the synopsis and what I’d read it’s just a matter of getting it into the right person’s hands.

My experience as a contestant: If you read Writing Contests: Hell or Heaven? you know that you have to sift through all the comments and suggestions and take what resonates and forget the others. One of my judges liked my entry, but tried to rewrite parts of it to fit her idea of my story. She was trying to be helpful. Letting go of something that might be on that scoresheet isn’t easy. But your judge is a human, and humans, by nature, are imperfect.

4. Your score might be affected by the other entries a judge is reading.Years ago I trained teachers around the country how to score to a rubric, a set of scoring criteria with strict guidelines. This prevents personal biases, usually related to grammar or certain types of construction, from overly influencing a score. When you read over a hundred essays in a day and you’re scoring to a rubric, even if you’ve just read ten very poorly written pieces, you can’t score the eleventh from that perspective. Similarly, none of the contests I judged had a first-second-third ranking system for scoring entries, though some judges, from comments I received, might use this method. If your judge had to read too many entries in a short timeframe, this can happen, and your entry gets muddled with others.

My experience as a contestant: One time my scoresheet justified a deduction of points for a scene that was not part of my entry. I guess you could say I took one for another contestant. Another time, the only two points I “lost” from one judge was explained, “You had one misplaced comma. I wish people would learn the comma rules.” She took off two points out of 5 possible for grammar, editing, and typos because of the Oxford comma rule. Thank goodness I didn’t go the modern route twice! (Not complaining, she loved everything else!)

Why did I agree to be a contest judge? Because I believe that the feedback from contests, for both novice writers and those on the cusp of selling a book, can help a writer hone her craft and make it possible to get the call.

What gives me the right to score another’s submission? A lifetime of voracious reading. More than a decade of professional training, writing experience, craft classes, critique groups, and many of my own contest entries. As a teacher, I know that hammering about mistakes can kill a student’s spirit. In last month’s blog, I shared with you what one scoresheet did to me-and I’m not a novice. I hope I have learned to give feedback commensurate with the level of the writing. When I critique for my friends here at Writers in the Storm, I note things that made me smile. I think that’s important to do for a contestant, too. I want my comments on scoresheets to encourage the contestants to improve their craft. Who knows, maybe someday a best-selling author will give a keynote address and say that she entered a contest once and got feedback that kept her writing. And that feedback was mine.

Have you judged a writing contest and have additional secrets to share? If you could share one thing with your contest judge before your entry is read, what would you say?

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak.   Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules then watch what happens.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than horrors of arithmetic lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now enjoys sharing her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.

 

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2018 Colorado Gold Writing Contest Scoresheet

Category:
Title:
Entry #:
Subgenre:
Critique? Yes _____ No _____

SCORES
__________ Formatting & Presentation
__________ Genre
__________ Storytelling
__________ Writing Craft
__________ Synopsis
__________ Bonus Points
__________ TOTAL SCORE (80 points possible)
(Judges: please double-check your addition)

SCORING GUIDE
All judging criteria apply to the area being judged. For categories that go up to 5 points, adjust scale accordingly.
7 = Entry is of publishable quality, ready to go in front of an agent or editor. Both writing craft and storytelling ability are equivalent to published work of the same genre.
6 = Entry is close to publishable. Only minor edits or adjustments in storytelling and writing craft seem necessary to bring the entry up to publishable standard.
5 = Entry is above average for a writing contest. Entry exhibits most of the basics of the writing and storytelling craft, but weak points are distracting.
4 = Entry is average for a writing contest, with weaknesses that make it not ready to go in front of a publishing professional. Writing and storytelling ability are not honed.
3 = Entry is below average for a writing contest. Writing and storytelling ability are significantly lacking.
2 = Entry lacks both storytelling and writing ability. Judge can clearly see areas for improvement and has noted them.
The criteria generally apply to commercial fiction. Judges may select those criteria most applicable to the work and assess each entry on its own merits. Criteria and scores are subjective. Judges: Please explain your scores in the space provided.
_______________________________________________________________________
Judges: In order to maintain consistency and ensure contestants aren't penalized for technical glitches beyond their control, Formatting and Presentation will now be scored during the Intake process. Please include the score in your final total.
FORMATTING AND PRESENTATION: __________ TOTAL SCORE
Category--5 points possible
The manuscript and synopsis are professionally prepared according to contest rules. Maximum 4000 word manuscript, 750 word synopsis. 12 point Courier, Courier New, or Times New Roman font; double-spaced; 1” margins; ragged right margin; header, including page numbers on every page. 24 to 25 lines per page. Chapters and synopsis begin 1/3 down the page. Contestant's name doesn't appear anywhere on the entry.
__________________________________________________________________________
GENRE: __________ TOTAL SCORE
Category--5 points possible
The story meets the general standards of this category and subgenre, evident in both the manuscript and the synopsis. (See the category and subgenre guide for criteria.)
5=seamless fit for genre; 4=good fit, perhaps ordinary or stock; 3=some difficulties with genre elements, world, or research; 2=difficulties determining genre or wrong genre
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:
__________________________________________________________________________
STORYTELLING: __________ TOTAL SCORE
Category--28 points possible

__________ Beginning
(Score between 2-7 points)
The writer opens with a setting that doesn’t overwhelm the reader with description and an interesting POV (point of view) character with a definite problem or stuck in a critical situation. The story starts in the right place. The story question and/or premise is foreshadowed or established. There's a strong hook.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

____________________________________________________________________
__________ Narrative/Voice
(Score between 2-7 points)
The writer has created a compelling, readable narrative. The narrative voice is clear, strong and consistent. The voice matches the characters’ dialogue, motivations and goals, and doesn't read as authorial. The writer has avoided stumbling blocks to the storytelling flow, like too much description, not enough description, language that doesn't suit the tone, verb tenses that don't match, telling rather than showing, etc. Metaphors and similes are suited to the character, setting, and time period/world-building. Choreography is clear and easily visualized. Writer does not rely on a lot of passive verbs and/or helping adverbs.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

_____________________________________________________________________
__________POV (Point of view)
(Score between 2-7 points)
The POV is the right one for the story. The POV is clear and consistent without a lot of head-hopping. Changes in POV are deliberate, enhance the story and propel the plot forward. POV stays true to character viewpoint and doesn't include info the POV character can't know. The POV is deep enough and close enough when appropriate.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

_____________________________________________________________________
__________ Emotional Content
(Score between 2-7 points)
The writer succeeds at connecting with the reader on an emotional level. The emotional intensity of the character’s crisis or predicament is convincingly dramatized. The stakes are clear and are high enough. The writer avoids a heavy reliance on coincidence, backstory, or info dumps that undermines the drama and hinders the reader’s emotional connection to the story.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

______________________________________________________________________
WRITING CRAFT ____________ Total Score
Category--26 points possible

__________ Scene Craft
(Score between 2-7 points)
Scenes have a beginning, a middle and an end. The scene goal is clear. Scenes drive the story forward and are not gratuitous or arbitrary. Changes in setting are clearly staged, and the transitions between scenes are clear. Scenes are fully fleshed out, not narrative summary nor a list of events occurring in sequence.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

_____________________________________________________________________
____________Characterization
(Score between 2-7 points)
Characters are compelling and interesting, with inner lives, conflicts, and flaws as well as outer conflicts and problems. They have clear motives and goals. The characters shape the plot rather than the other way around; that is, they act in ways that make sense for that character instead of changing to fit the plot. The protagonist and antagonist are well-defined and clearly in conflict with each other. Secondary characters are used to good effect and are not underdeveloped or intrusive. The characters feel fresh, unique and real.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

_____________________________________________________________________
_____________ Dialogue
(Score between 2-7 points)
The dialogue reveals character, evokes emotion and tension, and advances the plot. The writer avoids using empty dialogue that doesn't add anything relevant to character or plot development. Characters don't talk in "info dumps" or tell each other things they already know as a short-cut to storytelling. Tags are essentially invisible (he said, she said) and not wrought with distracting adverbs. The characters have distinctive, age-appropriate voices and don't all sound alike. Use of dialect and/or idiom doesn't cloud the dialogue’s meaning or pull the reader out of the story.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

____________________________________________________________________
____________Grammar and Mechanics
(Score between 2-5 points)
Author demonstrates understanding of the rules of grammar and of punctuation, and manuscript exhibits minimal grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes. Rules may be broken for effect, but this is clearly the conscious choice of the author. There are minimal typos, spelling errors, and misused/mistaken words.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

_____________________________________________________________________
SYNOPSIS: __________ TOTAL SCORE
Category--14 points possible

___________ Plot
(Score between 2-7 points)
The synopsis opening matches the manuscript’s opening. The plot contains a spine, a central conflict that begins to unfold in the opening paragraphs, continues throughout the story, and is settled satisfactorily in the end. The synopsis is clear from the beginning, the inciting incident, through rising stakes and turning points, to the black moment, climax, and resolution. The entire story is told; no secrets remain. The synopsis outlines a captivating idea that makes the judge eager to read the book with enough conflict, tension and suspense to sustain reader interest.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

_____________________________________________________________________
____________ The Character’s Journey
(Score between 2-7 points)

The plot is intertwined with the main character's journey. What do they want? Why can’t they have it? What must they do to get it? What’s at stake if they fail? Motivations and goals are clear with a minimum of coincidence and random occurrences to explain character actions. Minor characters don't muddle up the synopsis with unnecessary information. Subplots enhance the story and affect the outcome. Win or lose, the protagonist has undergone a life-changing journey and has an arc.
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:

______________________________________________________________________
BONUS POINTS _________
(Up to 2 points possible)

This is for the judges to give an extra boost to those entries they feel are special, that excite them and make them root for the writer to make the finals. (Judges please explain the reason for the bonus points.)
JUDGE'S COMMENTS:
______________________________________________________________________
A final note from the judge:

______________________________________________________________________

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