Joined: 07 May 2008
Location: Chester, UK
|Posted: Sun Jun 17, 2012 10:37 am Post subject: Guidlelines from Fiction Judge
|I offered up these notes in 2009, on the then Whittaker pages, but I repeat them for the benefit - perhaps - of newcomers to the competition.
Geoff Nelders guidance notes to fiction competitors
Is there a hook in the first paragraph or two?
Is the hook a conflict that piques interest, or a setting intriguingly portrayed that makes me read on?
Are classic errors avoided? Eg Starting with unattributed dialogue, or starting with a dangling participle.
Do I smile in appreciation at a strong verb instead of a passive one?
Has a clever phrase set the scene or character already?
It is encouraging that competitors take the marks and comments and use them to improve. What some may not appreciate is that a mark for characters for one of their stories may not be an exact match for the same effort on characterisation in another.
The mark depends on factors such as:
How the characters relate to the story as a whole.
Are the characters distinct in their behaviour, voice, appearance?
Does the character undergo a change in the course of the story?
Is the character interesting?
If the character is 'nice' does the writer go the extra mile necessary to make him or her convincing and worthy of the story?
Does the writer make me feel that I know the characters?
Do all the characters have a role in the story in that each moves the plot on?
If a character is a clichι (and many may have to be) is there some quirk or trait to lift him or her off the page?
It isn't always necessary to describe a character, but is it well done if described? If not described is my own image consistent throughout the story?
Do the characters' habits reinforce their image I've formed?
Do I care for the character?
Then there's factor X. Don't ask. I just have to feel for that one.
This is mostly self-explanatory.
I look for novelty in all the other categories as well as in plotlines. Eg instead of A+B+C+D is there B+A+C+D, etc? As a Bridport judge once said: I am looking for a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order. This isnt essential and would need to be done well to avoid confusion.
If aspects of the piece are clichιd is there a coruscating twist or quirkiness.
Am I surprised, laughing, shocked, weeping unexpectedly?
These are some of the aspects of Voice that I look for in a story.
Has the narrator (via a character, set of characters, or rarely successful an omniscient POV) a distinctive wordcraft: a sensibility, attitude that flavours the piece?
Has the author avoided unwarranted narrative intrusion?
Is the attitude of the story, whether exuberant, miserable, edgy, warm, cold, angry, spooky, etc) convincing and appropriate?
Does the voice of each character, as shown by dialogue and behaviour, correspond with their roles, and work with the story as a whole?
Is active rather than passive voice used? In some cases passive is appropriate: such as to control pace.
Aspect of plot can influence the voice of a piece. For example a non-linear plot tends to be more interesting. On the other hand a linear one might be more appropriate if other aspects create a complex story.
Is the writing tight with no pleonasms (words that if removed leave the sense unchanged this can include tautologies but not always just, still, even, actually, that). Sometimes, rarely, a looser style is appropriate for the feel and pace of a story.
Is there good use of Show over Tell? Where appropriate, does the writer engage the readers senses such as smell, vision (including colours), sound in addition to dialogue, taste and touch? Avoided the dreaded nodding, shrugging, sighing?
Avoid weak modifiers such as slightly, almost, nearly most adverbs too.
Is description just enough to stimulate the readers imagination and own experience, rather than so much it feels like a list?
Most stories need conflict and resolution. If not, is there intrigue or mystery to drive the reader?
Has the conflict in the hook been resolved?
If not, has a twist created a satisfying conclusion?
If a twist, does the whole story depend on it? not a great idea.
Does the end leave the reader with a warm glow, or annoyed?
Endings do not have to explain everything, and could create more questions than answers.
Has the main character(s) undergone a change revealed in the latter part of the piece?
Has the writer adhered to the submission guidelines?
SPAG Spelling and Grammar. American or GB English accepted.
Plot / character errors eg Jane becomes Janet, or changes physical appearance with no reason. A character killed on page one is alive on page three yet it isnt a horror / fantasy.
NOTE: These are pointers rather than a rigid check list and are used to add rigour to the subjectivity of grading fiction. An outstanding story could flout these points and win.