|I wish I had an awesome wig to wear when I was judging the writing contests.|
Recently I volunteered to help On The Premises judge a writing contest, and the experience illuminated some truths that changed the way I think about and approach writing competitions. Plus, in my quest to be the ultimate writing competition expert, I need to see contests from as many angles as possible.
Judge Lest Ye Be Judged
- How creative we find the stories—have you read (or watched/seen) many other stories just like this one, or this story fresh and new?
- How compelling we find them—was the story dull or absorbing?
- How well crafted we find them—are there lots of typos and silly errors, or very few? (“None” is rare, even among our best entries.) Is the prose so good it adds to the story’s power, or bad enough that it detracts from it?
- How clearly entries use our premise—is the story obviously built around our contest premise or are you wondering how it connects to the premise?
JUDGING TRUTH #1 - THE TOP 10 WOULD ALL GET A's
JUDGING TRUTH #2 - ORIGINALITY IS TOUGH
Take what you've written and shuffle the chronology, change point of view, make a house plant the narrator, do something to make sure your story is not vanilla. Ask your friends what they would do with the topic, if their ideas have anything in common with yours, go looking for inspiration again.
JUDGING TRUTH #3 - EMOTION WINS
WARNING: Never write something like the Rocky Road Sentence. It's extreme, melodramatic, and a bit cliche in order to illustrate that actions need to have meaning, that decisions need to have consequences . To quote the editors at On The Premise (emphasis added):
"It's not any one well-written sentence that delivers emotional power, it's the whole story that leads up to that well-written sentence. Very few sentences, by themselves, are all that great. But some entire stories are."The best way, in my opinion, to generate real and powerful emotion, is to be authentic. That takes some courage and vulnerability, but know that someone else out there is going through those emotions. If you can connect to them, you will achieve something far greater than any writing contest prize.
In summary, next time you write for a competition:
- Make sure the writing fundamentals (craft and content) are solid and tight
- Challenge yourself to think out of the box and turn your writing upside down
- Search for things that pull at the heartstrings, and tug hard and tug convincingly.