I got feedback from the PNWA literary contest I entered early this year. I entered four categories this year (young adult, romance, short story, and short nonfiction). It was interesting. For the most part the feedback was generally positive (and in some cases like one judge for Ugly, really positive). But one of my judges for Ugly was atrocious. Bad enough that I’m going to share what they said to show what you should never do as a writing contest judge. Fortunately I have pretty thick skin when it comes to critiques of my writing. And for context, what they judged was a one-page double-spaced synopsis of the overall story and the first 27 pages of the book.
I’m going to start with their comments about mechanics:
The author might consider using stronger verbs instead of all the adverbs. Start chapter headings midway down the page. If this is a modern story, phones don’t dial.
Strong verbs don’t have anything to do with mechanics—it’s grammar, industry practices, etc. Second, the industry standard for chapter headings is 1/3 of the way down the page not halfway. And third, talk about picking nits. That’s what editors are for.
In their comments about my synopsis/plot, they said:
Good job of placing main character names in all caps and the title. Just because a girl doesn’t wear make-up doesn’t make her ugly. The author might try a different approach for bullying. Is she a nerd perhaps? Some people are beautiful without make-up. I suggest a better title.
Uh… I was bullied for being ugly and fat. Maybe the reader should tell all teenagers not to be mean about people’s looks? I don’t really know what to say. And in Oklahoma, it would be very hard for a girl to be considered beautiful without makeup. Things may be different in the Pacific Northwest, but that’s not where the book is set.
In the viewpoint section, they just commented that I stayed in the right point of view. Woot.
In the characterization section they said:
The author might try using a character plan to round out their characters before writing the story. They can be found on the internet. The reader doesn’t identify with the protagonist nor cares because the character doesn’t sound realistic.
To tell someone something “can be found on the internet” without pointing them to something specific is actually pretty insulting.
About dialogue/internal narrative, they said:
There isn’t much dialogue and it’s short. The author might try to distinguish characters by habits, certain phrases used, etc. Most of the story is internal narrative which is good, but could use improvement also. If the main character was molested, the author might consider her thoughts on it and how she feels. Is she afraid of boys or men? If she thinks she’s gay the author might have her gaze at other girls in the locker room or wear boy clothes. Something to show the reader what is going on with her.
Is she afraid of boys or men? No. If she thinks she’s gay… have her gaze at other girls (she’s not actually gay, as it turns out) or wear boy clothes (she wears nothing but jeans, unisex t-shirts, and Converse or Vans). If the book has little dialogue and little action (mentioned below) and lots of internal narrative, what is that internal narrative doing other than telling the reader what is going on with her? It’s normal for different readers to contradict each other, but it’s not acceptable for one reader to contradict him- or herself, especially when they’re supposed to be doing a close reading.
The author talks about tension and conflict, but the reader doesn’t see it. It’s more empty words. The pace is also slow.
I am confused by this comment. Are they saying I stopped the story and wrote, “Hey man, reader, that right there was some tension!” I used the word ”conflict” twice in the entire manuscript (not in the selection they had) and never used “tension.” And “more empty words”? That’s just tacky.
They completely skipped the hooks/transitions and the setting/description sections. Then for voice, they said:
The voice could be stronger for YA and more action.
Generic much? And action has nothing to do with voice.
In the final category, which is meant to be the one section that the reader can be subjective in giving their opinion of the overall appeal of the story to the intended audience, they said:
I don’t believe a YA would find this story interesting. It lacks action and the characters aren’t well-defined.
Nobody in the genre would refer to “a YA”—they’re called teens, last I checked. It’s obvious this person got roped into judging a genre they have no understanding of. Just my great luck to get this one.
Seriously. What a jerk. This was not worth my 35 bucks.