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Judging A Competition Is Hard 1 September 2009

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Random Thoughts.

When I was asked, recently, to assist in the judging of a flash fiction competition, I thought — no problem! After all, it’s essentially the same task as what I do every day, or so I assumed.


Making an editorial decision means judging a story only against itself and against the standards of the publication it’s being considered for: does it meet our definition of a story, will it appeal to our readers, is the prose up to our standards, does it have a theme and an impact on the reader — does it achieve what it sets out to do?

Notice that those are all yes/no questions. Each story is either a yes or a no for the magazine. It’s not always easy, exactly, especially in borderline cases, but the practice and habit of it are simple.

Judging stories against each other is hard. Stories aren’t meant to be judged against each other, just as different fruits aren’t meant to be ranked on a scale; I like plums better than pears, say, but that doesn’t make plums better than pears in general — unless the plum in question is perfectly ripe and the pear it’s being held against is a bit too soft or hard.

Picking out the poor fruit is easy enough. This one is overwritten and exploding with purple prose, that one is flavourless and doesn’t present much of a theme. But once the list has been narrowed down to the real contenders, ranking them is the devil’s own job.

I didn’t know that before, and now I do.


1. Taste Is A Factor « Copy. Edit. Proof. - 4 September 2009

[…] got a confidential email about the results of the competition for which I’d been one of the judges. The email included a spreadsheet with the rankings that each judge had given the finalists. I was […]

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