This week I judged about 25 entries for a fiction-writing contest at an upcoming writers’ conference at which I’m also doing a workshop. My task was to name first-place and second-place choices.
I found 2 that I could honestly say deserved a “win.” Now, each of these 25 or so writers did the best they could. They imagined, and revised, and polished, and sent in their story. I’m sure not all of them expected to win, but I’m equally sure that most of them thought they had a chance—otherwise why submit?
Twice a week, I judge submissions to my blog, Flogging the Quill, on whether or not I would turn the first page. I’d say that, overall, I turn the page on maybe 3% of the submissions. I should note that FtQ’s readers never agree with me 100%. They are frequently far more generous than I am.
Many of us have faced the toughest judges in the business, literary agents. I think my take on what is good storytelling/writing comes close to theirs—I’ve judged over 600 opening chapters for the blog, and, let me tell you, your eye becomes quickly trained to see what works and what doesn’t work. Agents and editors will tell you that they can usually reach a yes/no decision on the first page. I believe them.
So I got to thinking: what are the criteria in my mind that entries needed to meet in order to be successful storytelling? Are they the same criteria you use? And do we apply the same criteria to our own writing?
The main criterion isn’t, really, good writing. That’s the price of entry, the foundation upon which a good story can be built. You don’t get any credit for good language/grammar/etc. from me or an agent or an editor. It makes a “yes” decision possible, but that’s all.
I guess my primary criterion is “engagement.” [Read more…]