Judging writing contests has become a real love/hate relationship for me.
Love, because it’s my chance to read without guilt…after all, I HAVE to do it, people are counting on me!!
Hate, because – always — I feel I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, with a stack of books I have to read and not enough time to get my reading and my own writing done. Because each time I start to read someone’s work, I end up wondering what makes me think I’m in any way qualified to judge their art.
Do I count point of view switches as more important than back story? Should I worry about whether or not the author started in the right place? Too many instances of passive voice? Heroine’s motivation not believable?
It was 3:45 in the morning and I was bleary-eyed, reading my second book of the day trying to finish all the books I’m judging for the RITA contest when it happened. I had one of those interesting writer-epiphany moments.
I’ve been looking at this judging stuff all wrong!
The book lying in my lap is in a completely new-to-me category, one I’ve never judged in before. I’ve found all sorts of little technical problems – point of view is all over the place and the heroine is annoying the heck out of me.
And yet… it’s 3:45 in the morning, I can barely keep my eyes open, and I don’t want to put the book down yet. Not until I find out what’s going to happen next.
And THAT was my epiphany. An “exceptional” book, one I want to keep reading, one I’ll end up telling someone else they need to read, isn’t about the technical imperfections. I’ve judged books that were technically perfect but were sheer torture to finish because they were so boring.
No, for me, an “exceptional” book is all about the story. It’s when the author is telling me that story, drawing me in so that I can see myself in the places they describe, visualize the characters and feel the action around me. It’s when I forget which character’s head I’m supposed to be in and want nothing more than to know what all the characters are thinking and what’s going to happen next.… THAT’S a great read.
And THAT is really all I need to know when I’m judging. Do I love it or do I simply like it? Did it keep me up until 3:45 in the morning wanting to know what happens next or could I hardly wait to be done so I didn’t have to read any more?
Of course, that’s MY take on it. No matter what criteria we may try to use, bottom line, judging is a very personal, very subjective activity, because what I love and what you love could very likely be two different things.
After all, we’re readers!
MELISSA MAYHUE writes award-winning paranormal romance for Pocket Books, all set in an imaginary world of Faeries and Mortals. Her fifth book, A HIGHLANDER’s DESTINY released on December 29 and her sixth, A HIGHLANDER’S HOMECOMING, hit stores on January 26, 2010.