Judge, so that ye can be judged …

But only in the literary sense.

This week I’m reading the entries for the West Sussex Writers’ Club ‘opening scenes of a romantic novel’ competition. It’s an interesting spread of entries with very different approaches and I’ve chosen to pick out several areas to compare and contrast the works so that I can choose a winner.

The elements I’m focusing on in particular are: the synopsis, which the contestants have to provide along with the first 1500 words of narrative; character development; and dialogue. What I’m not looking at in any great depth is the title or the ‘beauty’ of the words – that complex and impossible-to-describe-but-clear-when-you-see-it element of literaryness on which a lot of contests are judged.

I’m ignoring the title because titles for novels go through so many evolutions and iterations during the process from first draft to publication that they seem, to me, to be outside the parameters of competitive judging. And I’ve chosen to ignore the quality of the words (in terms of beauty that is, not in terms of sense or pace or development of narrative) because I do think that in genre novels it’s a little less important to achieve passages of loveliness and a little more important to create a powerful narrative that keeps the pages turning.

But that’s just me, and another judge might (and next year will) approach the subject in a different way. The point about being a judge, to me, is that it clarifies the process so that I can look at my own work with all the maudlin appreciation removed and the hawk-like discernment enhanced – which means I produce better competition entries myself. Also, it’s great fun!

And that's a sweetshop window in the picture, and you're supposed to envisage me as the kiddy let loose in it ...

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