Monday, March 24, 2014

The Subjective Nature of Judging

First off, today is the last day you can submit your inspirational stories to Unicorn Bell for the Real Imprints Contest.

Yesterday I received my batch of high school short stories to judge for the "Imagination Begins With You" contest. Brian mentioned that we have somewhere around 850 entries this year! 850 divided by 5 judges equals 170 for me to read through and pick my top 4-5 stories. I should mention that I've not been given any kind of rubric for how to judge. The only rule is to pick my  4-5 favorites.

Do you feel the weight of that task???

170 stories that are someone's brain child.

I try and look at how well the student used words with correct grammar and punctuation to share their story. Is there a beginning, middle, end? Is there something about the story that makes me think, or at least remember them after reading fifty more? Do they say something about humanity without being preachy?

Sometimes it's easy to mark one off my list. Other times I read one and it goes straight to my short list of favorites, but most of the time I end up with a long  "maybe" list.


Because reading is subjective. Some stories just don't do it for me even though I try and look at the quality of writing as well as the flow and emotion of the piece. But I'm always thinking of some teen somewhere wondering what the judges think of their story. You see, when this is all over two winners will be chosen. No one else will hear a thing about how their stories stacked up to the others.

848 people will lose. I wish I could tell them not to let losing bother them. The judging is so subjective I'm not even sure winning means much, other than you get money. Lots of really great stories will get passed by.
Reminds me how subjective the query process is and that as writers we can't let rejection stop us either.

Here are my day 1 judging stats.

My file contains:
  • 293 pages
  • 115,036 words
After 1 hour of reading:
  • I read 13 stories
  • 28 pages
  • 1 poem
  • 9 about death/suicide/murder/war
  • 1 no
  • 2 marked "consider"
  • 4 marked "maybe"
  • 6 were good but didn't stand out in any way to receive a marking
  • Only 1 was science fiction :( You might not be surprised to note that it received two checks toward the "maybe". I can't help it! That's the way I gravitate.

If you were judging a short story contest, what elements would you be looking for?