Friday, February 24, 2012

Writing Contest Contradictions - Prepare Yourself Ahead of Time

In lieu of the Genesis contest, I wanted to share a little on the kind of feedback you might get with your returned entries.

I'm currently a BIG advocate of contests so I strongly encourage you to enter them if you have the chance (can't you tell by the graphic to the right?). But I also encourage you to stay true to yourself and I want to let you know that there might be contradictions you will have to weed through.

Just want to say ahead of time, this is only based off my experience and feedback from others. You might not experience this from contests at all, and even if you do, this isn't about telling you to disregard feedback. It's about trying to help prepare yourself for varying feedback so you can use it to your advantage.

So...here are some contradictions you might come across.

Backstory

Let me give you an example. I got feedback from eight judges on the first chapter of a recent story I wrote. The comments about backstory were all helpful but half said, "I don't need to know this yet!" (I'm paraphrasing here) and the other half said something to the effect of "This is great! Give me more!" See? Subjective. So sometimes you've got to go with your gut, and if feedback is pretty equal, stick with what you feel is right.

Humor

My first attempt at romantic comedy was...well, fun. But let me tell you, it was judged, and out of four judges, not one thought the same parts were funny. Personally, I thought they were hilarious (okay, at least mildly amusing), but humor is still subjective. If more than one person likes it, it's probably pretty funny. If only one person doesn't like it, it doesn't mean it's not funny, just that maybe that particular judge had a different sense of humor.

Deep POV

Oh, I don't even know where to begin on this. I might get myself in trouble here, but even this topic can be a bit subjective. My advice? Study up on Deep POV, write it to the best of your ability, and try to get your reader in your character's head as much as possible. And as far as taking advice on Deep POV? If you trust that person, or they're a judge you know has particular experience with this, go for it!

Pacing and Hooks

Again, you're probably going to get varying feedback on this topic. Some judges will say, "Great opening! You kept me hooked" and other judges might say, "You didn't hook me right away, maybe start further into the story and keep up the pace!" Yes, your goal is to start the story in the right place. And going with the majority here might be a good idea. But if you're getting varying feedback, again, stick with what you feel is right.

Basically the point of this post is to let you know that not EVERY single thing a judge says is the right way to do it. Rule of thumb, if more than one judge agrees on something that needs improvement, you might want to consider reworking it. If it's half and half, that's more your call and what you feel is right. If only one judge comments on it...decide what you feel is best. Sometimes what they're telling you, you can readily agree with. It makes sense. And sometimes what they're telling you is just opinion and it doesn't mean what you're doing is wrong or needs to be changed immediately.

I know many of you out there have entered contests in the past. Have you encountered specific contradictions in feedback? And for those of you entering for the first time or who haven't entered before, what kind of feedback would you expect might be hard to deal with?

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Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog, www.cindyrwilson.blogspot.com

20 comments:

C0 said...

Ah, I understand this. I judged a writing contest twice. The scores often mixed.

For example, I gave one and a half stars for one story in the "Overall" entry because I found the POV shallow and sensory details distant, while one of the other judges loved the story. Likewise, I gave four stars to a book that developed tension that released at the end, other judges thought there were too many characters and an unclear conflict.

We were able to agree on the best and worst entries though.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Oh man, Cindy, you nailed it. I got a little itchy just reading all the contradictions you mentioned. It's so true! :) And it applies to critique partners too. I know if both my CPs mention the same thing, I'd better do something about it.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi C0. Great example you gave there. It's so subjective! You can get such great feedback from contests, but it's good to know what you're getting into.

Sarah, itchy, huh? :) That's a good way to put it. I'm kinda itchy myself now that I've sent my Genesis entry out! Great reminder that it can be the same with CP's, too.

Lindsay Harrel said...

I have been looking forward to entering a few contests specifically for the feedback. I guess it is good to know I may need to take some of it with a grain of salt. I would love a realistic picture of where I am at as a writer and what my strengths and weaknesses are.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Lindsay! Yay for wanting to enter contests! That's a big step. Yes, of course you always have to take advice with a grain of salt, even critique partner advice, like Sarah pointed out, but it definitely does give you a better picture of where you're at in your writing. Especially if you enter contests with experienced judges. All the best with entering!

Melissa Tagg said...

I've been blessed to have great contest feedback that actually jived from two contests. It was good that judges basically pointed out the same things...but I have friends who got completely contradictory responses. In a way, I don't think that's bad...because that's life. There's always going to be a degree of subjectivity. But we grow as writers when we're able to sift through varying responses with a keen eye. And you gave great tips for how to do that!

Casey said...

My contest feedback has been. all. over. the. map, which is why I only choose a few select contests to enter, because I know I'll drive myself crazy if I do.

The same can be said for critique partners I think. I had a line that I loved, but after three separate people told me to cut it, or reword, I did and turned out liked the second version better anyway. ;-) But if only one person has said something about my story, that the other half dozen haven't picked up on, then I go with what my gut is telling me.

I hope I'm getting a bit better about that, but only time will tell.

Really great post, Cindy!

Keli Gwyn said...

Great post, Cindy. I think your counsel is spot on. Feedback is going to vary because contest judges have preferences (although they try hard to set them aside), are coming from different backgrounds, and "get" us and our voices--or don't, just like readers.

Another thing to bear in mind is that judges' skills, grasp of craft, and levels of experience vary. If you've been writing and studying craft for several years, you may have a better grasp of some aspects of storytelling than some judges do. For example, I had a judge tell me to stop using such descriptive verbs and go with simple words like "walk" instead of ambled, strode, etc. I didn't heed that advice, even though I'm sure it was well intended.

Heidi Chiavaroli said...

Oh boy, have I gotten contradictions! :)

If more than two people hand out the same advice, I give it careful consideration. If I keep an open mind, I can usually see what needs to be done and why.

Thanks for the post, Cindy, and good luck on the Genesis!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Melissa, you make some great points here, and I'm glad you had contest feedback that helped and ran along the same lines. You're right, the more we learn about writing, the better we'll be able to sift through what feedback we do get.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Oooh, Casey! I like what you brought up in your comment. Entering contests is good, but in my opinion, it's good to limit yourself as well (at least per manuscript). If you enter too many contests with one story (or at least one version of that story), you're going to be inundated with feedback. Sometimes that going to do the opposite of what you wanted. Better to take it slow and steady.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Keli, that's a great example with the descriptive verbs. You're right about judges, too. Their experience is going to come in varying levels, and it really does help to know your own strengths and take the comments and advice collectively.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Heidi, it's hard being in that boat, right? We appreciate the feedback but we have to keep an open mind. Sometimes what's offered isn't best for our story or our writing style. Have a great weekend!

Susan Anne Mason said...

You are so right, Cindy and this is such good advice - especially for new writers who are just starting to enter the contest world!

I find that out of 3 judges, usually 2 agree and give me a similar score and the third is way different! I've learned to use my own judgement on what I change and what I don't. Takes experience though.

Contest judges help us realize how subjective the writing world is and hopefully we won't take it too personally if an editor or agent doesn't like our work. Someone else will like it one day - we just have to find the right fit!

Cheers,
Sue

Jodi Janz said...

This is great advice. I am entering contests for the first time that have feedback. I am nervous.
Thanks for the heads-up.
Jodi

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sue, I love your comment! Contests are a great way to prepare us for feedback from agents and editors. Not everyone is going to like what we write, but one day we'll find that perfect fit.

Hi, Jodi! Congratulations on taking the leap and entering contests with feedback. It's a big deal and I hope you get some awesome advice. Have a super weekend!

Beth K. Vogt said...

I have entered contests. I do read & consider the feedback -- but it doesn't weigh as heavily with me as the feedback from my mentors and my crit partners. That's the bottom line for me. My mentors and crit partners know me, know my writing. Contest judges are evaluating me in a vacuum ... as readers will, I get that. But I also can't change my writing based on every bit of feedback I will get from readers.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Beth, I definitely get what you're saying about crit partners knowing you best, as well as mentors. You can trust these people and it's easier to take their advice. I think that's why it's great to get feedback from contests after you've already applied crit partner advice. At that point, you have someone new and subjective coming in to help tweak any areas you might not have noticed before. But again, you have to go with what you feel is right.

Mary Vee said...

Ditto to all the above.
The advice I especially appreciate, Cindy, is if two or more judges recommend the same thing, I should listen.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Mary, I really believe that's a good rule to follow. We can really let critiques and feedback get us down if we're not careful, so it helps to give ourselves guidelines on how to receive advice and how best to use it.