Or why Craft and Story make a perfect couple.
I’m taking a break from sending out competition results and contemplating the emotions that will be felt by both finalists and those who didn’t make the cut this time.
I’ve been entering competitions for more than six years now, with varying results. I know the angst of coming THIS CLOSE to finalling and then the next year finishing a lack lustre mid field or lower.
I know the frustration of that ONE judge. The other two loved your work but that ONE judge marked you down far enough that the top marks of the other two couldn’t push you into the winner’s circle.
I’ve had the humiliation of a judge make the assumption that I’m a new writer just starting out when I’ve got competition wins under my belt. (That manuscript is going straight to trash)
But wait. There’s more.
The last two years I’ve been coordinating one of the RWAus competitions. I find it fascinating as I’m checking through the forms, to see the scores and the comments of a whole range of judges on a wide variety of entries. It’s taught me a lot.
Because when it comes down to it. Judging a piece of literary work is always going to be subjective.
Not that the judge who marked me down was wrong. But when they put on their judging hat, they are not necessarily looking for the same things as the other two judges.
For some people, and they may be judges, STORY will trump CRAFT every time. They figure an editor will fix those things if they are relatively minor, but a great STORY deserves to be out in the world.
For others, CRAFT is vital. They figure that no matter how good the STORY, if the CRAFT is faulty, no publisher will touch it.
They could both be right, and they could both be wrong. The fact is that editors are time poor and publishers are risk averse, so they want the full package. The drama of a half-polished manuscript that is fought over for six figure sums comes but rarely in this world.
CRAFT and STORY should be in balance. If you are getting unbalanced scores in competition, take a note of that and read the comments carefully. It will help you to know where to focus your attention. If you are getting all mediocre or low scores, try to focus on CRAFT. You can’t tell a great STORY if the reader can’t get past the first page because you need to work on those skills.
Even if you think the feedback is wrong it can be valuable. Because if you look at the feedback and try and understand why they think that, you might still learn something.
And a better manuscript, a better submission will always be the result of learning from feedback. And there is nothing wrong with that outcome.