111. What are judges looking for in a writing competition?

Ever wanted to know how judges make their choice in literary competitions? Here is the answer.

I can’t promise that this is true of all contests, but the Farnham Short Story Competition uses a format to ensure consistency of assessment between stories and between judges.

Julie Evans, winner of the 2018 Farnham Short Story Competition, with competition administrator, Derek Keen
  • Is the submission formatted readably, and without typos, spelling and grammar mistakes? Reject entries that are poorly formatted, inadequately proof-read, and full of spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Overall, is it a good story?
    • Does the story work?
    • Did it move or enlighten you?
    • Did you enjoy reading it?
  • Character and point of view.
    • Does the author create believable, memorable characters with the uniqueness, complexity, and individuality of real people?
    • Do the main characters undergo change?
    •  Does the dialogue work?
    • Is point of view handled consistently?
  • Plot and structure
    • Does the opening draw you in, setting up a clear dilemma?
    • Is there a clear and compelling storyline with an arc of conflict, crisis and resolution?
    • Is the plot original?
    • Is there good pacing?
    • Does the ending satisfyingly resolve the opening dilemma?
  • Theme
    • Does the story contain a central or dominating theme?
    • Does the author make this idea concrete through the characters and their actions?
    • How well is the message integrated into the story?
  • Setting and atmosphere
    • Are historical and geographic details sufficiently and accurately developed to give the story realistic or appropriate atmosphere and setting? Can you visualize the places being described?
    • Is the setting an integral part of the story
    • Does the story contain anachronisms or inconsistencies?
  • Writing quality
    • Is language skilfully used?
    • Do specific details appeal to your senses and hold your attention?
    • Are character and detail “shown” rather than “told”?
    • Is there a good balance between narrative and dialogue?
    • Does the author use precise, active verbs and avoid overuse of adjectives and adverbs?
    • Is rhythm used effectively?
    • Are metaphors and similes fresh and effective?
    • Are recurring motifs and/or symbolism used to create additional layers of meaning?

This list is an attempt to summarise the elements of good writing. You can find the full judges scoring sheet at FSSC judges scoring sheet -ilovepdf-compressed

Congratulations to this year’s winner, Julie Evans, and to runners up, Katrina Dennison and Jacky Power.

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