Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Je ne sais quoi

I've been doing some contest judging. I don't do a lot of it, but it's a volunteer something I can do at my leisure (sort of) so I don't feel like a total parasite on the bum of the many RWA chapters that help and sustain me in many ways.

The easiest entries to judge or the really great ones and the really sucky ones. It's fun to go through a terrific entry and mark places that totally rock. It's fun to write gushy notes in the comments at the end about what a pleasure it was to read the entry.

It's not as much fun to mark up the sucky ones, but at least I feel like I can offer some constructive criticism so the person has a chance to learn and grow. It's satisfying to be able to pass on some of the things that I've learned over the years.

The ones I hate judging are the ones that fall somewhere in between. They're good, but not great. There's nothing glaringly wrong, but there's nothing fabulously right, either. They're often missing that certain something that makes me fall in love, that certain Je ne sais quoi that takes something from ordinary to extraordinary.

I can't figure out how to tell someone how to do that (or how to do it myself ) and I so wish I could. It would make the process much easier.

5 comments:

Molly O'Keefe said...

I know exactly what you mean - and in a group of ten or eight or five contest entries, those middle of the road ones make up the majority. I think Editors and Agents complain of the same thing in thier slush piles. Lots and lots of just okay.

I think it's a product of people with tons of voice and flair, getting sucked in by "the rules" and editing thier voice right out. And maybe from the other end, it's people who started at square one - learning how to put together something that works, but not figuring out thier voice yet.

I've started, when I judge, to award those entries with tons of orginality and quite a few problems in terms of grammer or synopsis etc... Those people who understand thier voice need to be nurtured.

Sinead M said...

I'm with Molly, when something is different and interesting, I am going to award it much higher than something that is technically perfect, but lacks any form of originality.
I wish more of the entries I've loved have finaled...

Eileen said...

Ooh, Sinead, I know what you mean. Last year I judged one entry that was fabulous. I gave it every single point possible. I was sure it would win and sell and then I'd get to read the whole thing.

It didn't even final. Which I suppose says something about subjectivity. Or perhaps about how competitive this business is. Or both.

Maureen McGowan said...

I like to reward the ones that most hold my attention... which are rare and Molly's right, they aren't always the ones that are technically the best.

Writing contests are subjective, but the more I've been involved with them as a judge/entrant/coordinator, the more I think they mirror the actual publishing world. Not everyone is going to always agree, there's an element of luck in terms of which judges you get assigned to, but the cream rises to the top (even if it doesn't every time).

People who write off a contest because "my entry finalled in X contest and Z contest gave me a terrible score) drive me nuts. If that writer had been assigned different judges, she might have finaled in Z and not in X... Just like it matters which editors your agent sends to and what else they bought recently and all those other things...

Eileen said...

Maureen, that is such an excellent point! It really is a microcosm of the publishing world. How often do our books sell to the first editor who reads it? Not that bloody often, IMO.

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