Outside of being a judge for the past four years with Ink & Insights, I am also a literary manager for a theater company, a performer, and a writing tutor. There are many interrelated tasks in these roles, but also quite a few divergent ones. The key for me to maintain it is always balance; I need the divergent tasks to keep things interesting and the correlating ones to build competency (well, hopefully better than that). And I think that influences my approach to scoring as well.
Since this is a blog series, I have the fortune of looking back at the other judges’ responses to this question, and I would reiterate what they’re all saying. As Aaron mentioned in his blog post, there can be some degree of mathematical precision a judge can arrive at where we think a particular entry fits in the given score spectrum. And as Linda noted, there can be a large difference of opinion in assigning individual scores that’s a slightly different consideration from how we comment. I’m sure I waver over what score to give until I get that one last read-through. And everything on Catherine’s list, but especially the subjective nature of what we hone in as readers and what we make less fuss about. I won’t try to summarize everyone’s posts here, so please, go back and read them.
Here are a few steps I think might be helpful to share: I take notes as comments as I go and usually pause halfway through the manuscript to start crafting them for the scoresheet. Once I’ve done that, I continue with the manuscript, adding more notes as I go along and then adjusting any changes that have happened on individual points. Finally, I start scoring and make any other adjustments to the scoresheet comments to make sure I address as thoroughly but succinctly as possible my rationale for a score.
My main goal is to be on the side of the story, and for me, that means being able to understand a character (or characters) who is making active choices in their life to make something transformative happen. This can happen in a variety of ways and at many different scales depending on the genre and subject matter; not everything needs to be pitched at a highly dramatic place. But there does need to be the possibility for change.
So, coming back to balance. I find that quite a few of the scores in my sheets follow each other across the board. If a character is strong, part of their strength comes from how actively they are propelling the plot, and how well they fit into the world that’s being shown through the story. A main character might be interesting in personality or interaction, but if they aren’t being balanced against other characters or visual elements, or a forward-moving narrative, that character isn’t fulfilling on their potential. In general, I don’t find myself often having a wide distance between the percentage of points earned in each category because I think about both how much of each element is displayed and also how in balance it is with the other story elements.
Which brings me to one final point about balance: the judges’ scores. We’re four people (or more if you’ve entered multiple categories!), and each of the judges can attest to the different perspectives we bring to that work. But I hope that part of the value writers find is having very distinct perspectives presenting options to you. We don’t dictate the choices writers ultimately make, but there should be valuable resources found even in the discrepancies between judges’ scores. In a best case scenario, I think the discrepancies help demonstrate you’ve really made people think about your voice as a writer more than your technical craft, and that’s an important factor to me, and I hope, many other readers.
Kevin — Four years as an Ink & Insights judge