RATING CATEGORIES OVERVIEW -- as from October 22, 2010
Judging for the Challenge is very different to reading for pure pleasure. Our small team of judges comprise professional editors and a group of the best Editors' Choice winners. For the Challenge, they evaluate each entry based on eight different areas—essentially all aspects of good writing (as well as one goal almost every writer would have).
Each entry is judged on its own merits, based on the eight rating categories alone—not as compared to any other entry. If a Level 1 entry rates highly in each of the eight categories, it has as much right in the Editor's Choice awards as that of a Level 4 or 3 entry.
So here are the current ratings categories, which will be used from this week.
1. How well did this entry fit the topic?
If the judge feels that the topic has been missed completely, then the entry will score “0” in this category. For example, this happened a lot way back in the “Unsung Hero” challenge. Quite a lot of people wrote about “Jesus,” but really he is the “sung hero” of thousands upon thousands. So if an entry for that particular Challenge was a general piece about Jesus being an “unsung hero,” then it needed to be rated very low. If, however, it was about how he was not recognized in his home town or by his family, then that would have fit the topic. The same situation happened in the Genre challenges. People tended to write about the word, rather than the genre. For example, in the Children’s genre, some people wrote about their children, and did it in a way that was not aimed at children as the readers. In that case, those entries were off topic.
If, on the other hand, the topic is mentioned in passing only, then this category will be rated low. In other words, if the topic was “vase,” and the entry has nothing to do with a vase except to mention that there was a vase on the table at some point in the story, then that has to be rated very low.
If the topic is covered, but not really central to the story, it would receive a midway score in this category.
If the topic is the central focus of the entry (or it is a vital part of the overall story), then it gets full marks for this.
Please note: The topic word(s) do not need to be used in the entry, but the meaning should be the main focus or be essential to the entry (in other words, the entry would not work without it).
2. How creative, unique, fresh and memorable was this entry?
Creativity isn’t always out of the box, although an out of the box entry will usually be a creative one (unless it is so out of the box that it misses the point). An entry is creative if it looks at the topic in a way that is fresh and unique.
When we had the “flower” challenge quite a while back, the comment I received from one judge was that if she read one more story about a talking bud, she would scream. We’ve had many weeks where the same concept comes through over and over again. For “Purple” it was Lydia. For “Eek” it was mice. If the judges read entry after entry from the same angle, it’s probably not terribly creative.
If, however, an entry comes from a familiar angle but is done in a fresh way, then that will have greater appeal in this category. The difference is very obvious to the reader.
Special note here—non-fiction can be very creative. It just needs to be a fresh take on the topic. In other words, if the entry is saying things that you could read straight out of the Bible, or have heard from a million preachers, then it’s not creative.
Along with a creative, fresh idea, the judges are also looking for writing that sticks with the reader. Something the reader won't forget the minute they turn the page.
3. How well crafted was this entry (overall crafting of the writing, including grammar and predictability)?
Something may come from a fresh angle, but be a real mess in the telling. This really doesn’t need an explanation. It's not hard to spot the difference between a well crafted piece of writing and something that has been thrown together in an hour or so. This is why Kenn Allan always did so well with his poetry. He took time and care to craft each word (if you have never read any of Kenn’s work, I encourage you to read his Challenge winners … and there are many).
On the other hand, some people rush to get their entry in within the first few hours. The creativity may be there, but the craftsmanship is often lacking, and the ratings for this category do reflect that.
We’ve noticed a very positive trend over recent quarters for there to be a rush to submit entries on the last day. It’s positive for the writers, but a headache for the judges who have a mountain of reading and rating to do at the last minute. Even so, the good outweighs the judges’ inconvenience. This is showing, for the most part, a realization that time is needed to let an entry simmer until it is as good as the author can make it.
We also moved Grammar into the Crafting category, where it most definitely belongs. Judges consider grammar as one aspect of the overall crafting rating.
Last of all, the judges also weight up the predictability of an entry. If the reader knows straight away where an entry is going, then it has not been crafted well. So even when writing non-fiction or Bible stories, avoid playing all your cards straight away.
4. Did the entry start well?
A good start is VITAL to a winning entry. Starting with something like, “When I think about the word ….” is not good. Starting with any reference to the Challenge or topic at all, is not good.
(On that note, it is HIGHLY recommended that you do not mention anything to do with the Challenge in your entries. Although entries about the Challenge may make us smile, the Editor's Choice winners will never have any reference to the Challenge. This is because the EC winners will be used in future anthologies, with readers who may be completely unfamiliar with FaithWriters and the Challenge. So entries about the Challenge, or mentioning the Challenge, are too "in house" to work in the wider market.)
A good start hooks the reader from the opening paragraph and makes them want to keep reading. We live in an instant gratification era. If an online article/story doesn’t catch the reader with a good hook at the start, then the average reader will click off in approximately seven seconds.
Judges are told to ask themselves this question when reading each entry: “If I wasn’t judging this, how much would I want to keep reading to the end?” The answer to that helps them rate each entry.
5. Did the entry come to a satisfying conclusion?
A good ending is just as important as a good start. This does not mean that everything has been tied up in a neat bow, or that everyone lives happily ever after. However, it does mean that the reader feels their time has been well spent. There is nothing worse, for a reader, than to invest their time in reading something, only to feel cheated, flat, rushed or let down by the ending.
To date, one of the weakest areas for Challenge entries generally, has been the endings. Judges often express their disappointment when a really good story fizzles in the final paragraph.
6. Was this entry clearly written and communicated?
There are two aspects to this category. One is whether the author has communicated the point they were making to the reader. If the judge is left scratching their head at the end and wondering what on earth that was all about, then this category will be rated very low.
Having said that, the judges are also very aware that some entries are purely designed to make people laugh and don’t really have any great significance. Even so, there should be a unifying thread that runs through the entry, and not just a whole lot of one-liners strung together.
The other aspect to this category is regarding general clarity. In some cases, the point may be very obvious, simply because it's a very well known point, but the general communication of that article, overall, may be less than clear.
A special note (and reminder) on this point--although entries do not have to have a Christian message or moral, they MUST be from a Christian point of view.
7. Did it flow smoothly?
An entry may start wonderfully, finish fantastically, but be completely disjointed in the middle. This category asks judges to evaluate how well an entry stayed on track. Did it flow smoothly from the opening to the ending, without going off on a tangent or getting muddied in the middle?
8. How publishable is this entry for its target audience?
With the introduction of professional editors as our judges, it is time to make a change to some of our previous ratings categories. Until now, we have had a category regarding genre and one about reader connection. These categories were essential when we were using peer judging. However, now that our judges are professional editors, those two categories are not really asking the most important question; hence the change.
Our professional judges are more than capable of evaluating different genres, so the need for that category no longer exists. Instead, we have removed the two previous categories and created one new one which really asks the most important question of all: How publishable is this entry for its target audience?
This new category really doesn't need any explanation. It is an assessment by our judges as to whether an entry has the potential to be accepted for publication in a relevant magazine, book, anthology, etc (even if a little more spit and polish may be required).