Nope…this isn’t about being judgmental: (“I think he’s got an 747 ego and only tricycle ability.”)
Nor has it anything to do with our court system. (“And how do you find, Madam Foreman?” “Your Honor, we find the defendant somewhat guilty.”)
Nor does it have anything to do with sports.
I’m talking about judging contests, and, though the end result isn’t as life-shaking as the judicial example, nor as petty as the first, it does have an impact on people’s lives, both for the judge and those being judged . Trouble is, there often aren’t laws to guide, though rules of the particular contest will apply.
Most beautiful? Cutest? Well, who’s idea of beauty or cuteness?
Best pickles? What if these are dill and you only like sweet?
And I won’t even get into national or international contests where complications abound.
I’m a published writer, and, as such, have been called to judge several writing contests. Over the years I’ve noticed a few trends:
More entrants follow the rules. Used to be easy to disqualify a number of entries where the author (it seemed) did not read or did not follow standard submission procedures. This still happens–for example a friend, a good writer, sent a 140,000 word book manuscript to a publisher who’s guidelines said they accepted work up to 80,000 words in length. He thought his novel so outstanding an exception would be made. This kind of mistake is, thank goodness, increasingly rare.
More stories are well thought-out. In a recent contest I judged I was intrigued by the story ideas in 100% of the submissions.
More writers are paying attention to general rules for good writing–like using few passive verbs, involving all five senses, and showing, not telling, for example.
While the number of people buying books has been declining for years, the number of people writing and submitting has not. In the current economy and selling climate writers–like all sales people–must perfect what they are trying to sell in a tight market.
Better widgets. Better manuscript.
So, faced by a stack of very good manuscripts, what’s an honest judge to do? (In 99% of all such contests the author of the submission is unknown to the judge.)
For one thing, art and emotion become more important. Message? Yes. Also, suspense, appealing characters the reader cares about, and a plot that can be easily understood and followed. It’s back to the old cliche–“I didn’t want to put it down.”
The job of judging has–in the writing field as well as so many others in our complex society–become more demanding of thought and time. It calls on everything previously learned in our professions and our lives.
A time-consuming chore? Oh, yes. But think what our comments and our decisions will mean in quite a few lives. I am honored to have had the job.