How are novel contests judged?

Have you ever wondered how novel writing contests are scored?

WritingContestWinnerHere is a sample score sheet for a fiction novel writing contest.

Entry #:

Critique requested for this copy of entry? Yes _____ No _____


__________ Presentation & Formatting
__________ Genre
__________ Storytelling
__________ Characterization
__________ Synopsis

__________ TOTAL SCORE (80 points possible)
(Judges: please double-check your addition)
8 = Entry is an example of outstanding, breakout fiction, not just for a contest, but compared with published fiction. Strong commercial appeal within and possibly outside the chosen genre. Contestant has mastered all aspects of storytelling and writing craft in the area being judged. **Judges: Scores of 8 are not to be given lightly – use rarely if at all.**
7 = Entry is of publishable quality. Both writing ability and storytelling are equivalent to published work of the same genre in the area being judged.
6 = Entry is close to publishable. Only minor edits or adjustments in storytelling and writing craft seem necessary to bring the entry up to publishable standard in the area being judged.
5 = Entry is above average for a writing contest. Entry exhibits most of the basics of the writing and storytelling craft, but weak points are distracting in the area being judged.
4 = Entry is average for a writing contest. Writing and storytelling ability are evident but not honed in the area being judged.
3 = Entry is below average for a writing contest. Writing and storytelling ability are significantly lacking in the area being judged.
2 = Entry lacks both storytelling and writing ability in the area being judged. Judge can clearly see areas for improvement and has noted them.

The criteria below generally apply to commercial fiction. Judges may select those criteria most applicable to the work and assess each entry on its own merits. Criteria that aren’t applicable won’t influence scores. Judges may add other criteria; criteria and scores are subjective. Judges: please comment in the space provided.

PRESENTATION & FORMATTING: __________ TOTAL SCORE Category–7 points possible
Are the manuscript and synopsis professionally prepared according to contest rules? 12 point Courier New font; double-spaced; 1” margins; ragged right margin; header, including page numbers on every page; consistent 24 or 25 lines of text. Do chapters and synopsis begin 1/3 down the page? Are there minimal typos, spelling errors, misused words? Are punctuation and mechanics correct with a minimum of grammatical errors? Rules can be broken for effect, but clearly by the conscious choice of the author.
Type comments in the text box: text box will expand

GENRE: __________ TOTAL SCORE Category–5 points possible
Does the story meet the general standards of this category and subgenre, evident in both the manuscript and the synopsis? (See the category and subgenre guide for criteria.)
5 = seamless fit for genre; 4 = good fit, perhaps ordinary or stock; 3 = some difficulties with genre elements, world, or research; 2 = difficulties determining genre or questionable fit for genre.
Type comments in the text box: text box will expand

STORYTELLING: __________ TOTAL SCORE Category–40 points possible

__________ Beginning: Score: 8 points possible
Does the writer open with a setting (that doesn’t overwhelm the reader with description) and an interesting POV (point of view) character with a definite problem or stuck in a critical situation? Does the story start in the right place? Is the story question and/or premise foreshadowed or established? Is there a hook?
Type comments in the text box: text box will expand

__________ Emotional Content: Score: 8 points possible
Does the writer succeed at connecting with the reader on an emotional level? Is the emotional intensity of the character’s crisis or predicament shown? Are the stakes clear? Are the stakes high enough? Is there a heavy reliance on coincidence, backstory, or info dumps that undermines the drama or hinders the reader’s emotional connection to the story?
Type comments in the text box: text box will expand

__________ Narrative: Score: 8 points possible
Has the writer created a compelling, readable narrative? Are there frequent stumbling blocks to the storytelling flow, like too much description, not enough description, language that doesn’t suit the tone, verb tenses that don’t match, etc.? Is the choreography clear, easily visualized, but not overly-described with excessive stage direction? Does the writer show a basic knowledge of sentence structure and variety? Are there a lot of passive verbs and/or helping adverbs? Are transitions between paragraphs clear?
Type comments in the text box: text box will expand

__________Voice/POV Score: 8 points possible
Voice is about the author’s style and tone, the personality that emerges from the narration. Is the voice clear, strong and consistent? Does the voice match the characters’ dialogue, motivation and goals, and not read as authorial? Are metaphors and similes suited to the character, setting and time period, and not distracting or overused? Is the POV the right one for the story? Is the POV consistent without a lot of head-hopping? Are any changes in POV deliberate, and do these changes enhance the story and propel the plot forward?

__________ Scene Craft: Score: 8 points possible
A scene consists of a setting, character(s), action, dialogue and narrative. Scenes should have a beginning, a middle and an end. Do the scenes drive the story forward, or are they gratuitous and/or arbitrary? Is the scene in the right person’s viewpoint, i.e., the character with the most at stake in that scene? Are any changes in setting clearly staged, and are the transitions between scenes clear?
Type comments in the text box: text box will expand

CHARACTERIZATION: __________TOTAL SCORE Category–16 points possible

____________Characters: Score: 8 points possible
Are the main characters, protagonist and antagonist, well-defined and clearly in conflict with each other? Are they compelling and interesting, with inner lives, emotions and conflicts as well as outer conflicts and problems? Do they have clear motives and goals?
Type comments in the text box: text box will expand

_____________ Dialogue: Score: 8 points possible
Does the dialogue reveal character, evoke emotion and tension, and advance the plot? Is there any use of dialect and/or idiom that clouds the dialogue’s meaning or overwhelms the reader with confusion? Are tags essentially invisible (he said, she said) or wrought with distracting verbs and adverbs? Do the characters have distinctive voices, or does everyone talk alike?
Type comments in the text box: text box will expand

SYNOPSIS: __________ TOTAL SCORE: Category–12 points possible

____________Plot: Score: 6 points possible
Does the synopsis opening match the manuscript’s opening? Is the synopsis clear from the beginning, the inciting incident, through rising stakes and turning points, to the black moment, climax, and resolution? Does the plot contain a spine, a central conflict that begins to unfold in the opening paragraphs, continues throughout the story, and is settled satisfactorily in the end? The entire story is told; no secrets remain. Does the synopsis outline a captivating idea that makes the judge eager to read the book?
Type comments in the text box: text box will expand

____________ The Character’s Journey: Score: 6 points possible
Is the plot intertwined with the main characters’ journey? What do they want? Why can’t they have it? What must they do to get it? What’s at stake if they fail? Are their motivations and goals clear? Is there conflict, tension and suspense? Do minor characters muddle up the synopsis with unnecessary information? Do subplots enhance the story and affect the outcome? Win or lose, what has the protagonist learned? How has the protagonist changed?


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