Annual Contest Preliminary Judging Guidelines

We’ll be announcing the winners of the SAWG annual contest at our April 6th meeting. In the interest of transparency, and to help people understand the process, I’m going to include some instructions we sent out to the SAWG members who volunteered as preliminary judges.

Judging Guidelines, Please Read

The score sheets are a good place to start when judging an entry. Please read the text with each item and ensure you are scoring accordingly. Here are some additional guidelines that will help make sure we are as consistent and constructive as possible.

In another organization’s contest that I helped judge, there were two questions they asked in addition to the usual craft items. These were:

From strictly a reader’s perspective, did you enjoy reading this entry?
Do you want to read more?

Those questions are really the heart of what this contest is all about. Good writing reaches readers, connects with them, and makes them want to continue on the journey. If you’d like to answer those questions in the comments, you may…but if you just want to keep them in mind, I think it is useful so we avoid becoming overly critical in a negative way.

What does a score of 1 mean? “Does not meet basic requirements.” This isn’t about preferences. This is that the entry is completely deficient and it is necessary to explain why such a low score is given. These should be really rare. I think most entries that “need work” would be scored a two.

Any score less than three should have a comment along with it to explain the low score, though comments for all scores are ideal (though not always possible or necessary…).

What does a score of 5 mean? “Excellent.” We’re not saying Hemingway or Poe would enter our contest, so judge these as amateurs. If the writing is really good and you could see it being published, that’s probably a five. Not that they should be given out like candy, but I’d rather see the scores trend high than trend low.

Style and Preferences – there are some items we seem to prefer in critique which are general guidelines, but are not “rules” including:

Use of a prologue.
Minimal use of dialogue tags and descriptive words.
Incomplete sentences.
Point of View choices.
Number of characters in a story.

Additional notes on Point of View: There are some new and developing forms of “point of view.” If you don’t understand them or aren’t sure how they’re used, please let me know. I personally don’t care for first-person POV, but I judge it according to the guidelines of the review element, which says: “POV is clear, consistent and includes the five senses. Readers experience only one character’s point of view at a time. Changes in viewpoint are clearly marked with page break or other device.”

Good writing will make me forget it’s first person POV. Be sure you are conversant on whether it’s first, second, or third person POV. Third person POV can be omniscient, objective, limited, or deep. Deep POV is one of the newer forms and less well understood.

If I feel like I can’t fairly judge a story due to the way it’s told, the content of the story (or poem) is objectionable, you recognize the author, or for any other reason, please mark it with the tag “Unable to Judge” and I will reassign it. You do not have to explain why you do not want to judge a certain piece.

If you have suggestions for future changes to the score sheets, please pass those along as well.

From Our Contest Coordinator: Remain Constructive, My Friends.

From the SAWG website:
Our purpose is to share information with our fellow writers and help each other grow in our craft. Through contests, critiques, newsletters, our website, and our Facebook page, we seek to provide assistance and encouragement to writers of all skill levels. 

Each entry cost the submitter money, and each entry is meaningful to the person who submitted it. Please honor that by providing feedback that will help make their story or poem better. Also let them know if there’s something that really stood out or was significant. I just want to make sure we’re constructive and not destructive. A little snark is okay, but I will reject score sheets that are insulting or that don’t justify low scores with some explanation.

Thank you for your time and your assistance with the contest!

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