A fair amount of my uninterrupted time this week has been devoted to judging entries for the 2008 Four Seasons Writing Contest sponsored by Windy City Romance Writers prior to the announcement of winners at the Spring Fling Writers' Conference later this month.
Each entry must be assessed for presentation and mechanics, and strength of its craft in the following categories: hooks, setting, characterizations, plot, conflict, dialogue, narrative, pacing. Specific guidelines are given for critiquing each element. Judges are also expected to assign a score for overall impression, and to rate how likely he/she would be to read the entire manuscript, and purchase the book in the store if it were published.
The majority of the entries in my stack show promise, but need more revisions before they're ready for an editor's eye. Two are outstanding. I've already made a note of the titles in hopes of seeing the books on the shelf someday.
I'm also intrigued by the judging process because of how much it's informed my own writing. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Judging the entries feels very similar to the work we were required to do in the Vermont College Writing for Children MFA program.
I used to joke about the fact that I earned a degree for reading books, and while the statement wasn't totally accurate (reading was only part of the degree, and reading critically is a a lot harder than it sounds) there's wisdom in including the approach in the degree program. Learning to read critically not only taught me how to identify what works and what doesn't in a published piece of writing, it trained me how to read my own work with an editor's ear. It made me more confident about the critiques I give to my fellow critique group members. And it prepared me for judging writing contests like Four Seasons.