How to Judge a Short Story Competition

Firstly, apologies from me! I haven’t written a blog for too long. I’ve been writing a novel and it was all consuming. It’s now winging its way to publishers via my agent, who loved it. So fingers crossed.

More on that soon. But here’s a question that came through to Dear Della recently, which might be of interest to you.

Q: I have been asked to judge a short story competition, having been a winner more than once in previous years.  I am thrilled to be asked, but also nervous.  Do you have a set criterion when you judge short story competitions yourself?

A: Yes I do.  The following is my own personal criterion for judging a short story competiton.

  1. Is it a short story and not just an extract or anecdote?
  2. Does it begin well – was I hooked?
  3. Are the characters believable and convincing?
  4. Do I care about the story or do I get to the end and think, ‘so what!’?
  5. Is the dialogue realistic and/or convincing?
  6. Does the plot work or is it contrived and/or predictable?
  7. Is the ending satisfying or does it tail off or feel contrived or predictable?
  8. Does the title add to the story?
  9. Is the pace right or does it feel rushed or drawn out?
  10. Does this story have the X Factor?

As you can see most of my points are measurable.  They will encompass factors like quality of writing, language and grammar. Number 10 is the one I use when I am trying to decide on a winner.  If a story has the X Factor it can sometimes be forgiven other minor faults. It’s difficult to pin down whether a story has the X Factor. They are the ones that send a shiver down my spine – or prompt me to say, ‘Wow.’  I wish I’d written that.  They might be clever or funny or poignant. And yes it’s a personal thing – one judge’s X factor may be another judge’s ‘not in a million years.’ But that is what makes a judge unique.

Have you ever judged a competition? I’d love to know your top tips.

Also on the subject of short stories – my next course is on Saturday 23 June, 2018 in Bournemouth.

Write a Short Story in a Day.

Venue: Kinson Community Centre.

Cost: £45

Please email me for further details.

Last but not least, you can unsubscribe from this email at any time by pressing the unsubscribe button or emailing me and I will unsubscribe you.  Many thanks for reading.

All best wishes



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4 Responses to How to Judge a Short Story Competition

  1. Wendy Clarke says:

    I have been a Competition judge several times and my criteria is almost identical to yours. I will also add… is this a story I’ll remembered the next day.

  2. Penny A says:

    Hello Della!

    Have never judged a competition… but can say that it’s odd, sometimes, which stories do happen to stick in the mind. Usually with me, it’s the setting that makes the difference. Sally Spedding (and no doubt others, too) used to say it was a case of ‘getting your feet into the mud’ of a tale, either as reader or author.

    Best wishes for the new novel!

  3. Della says:

    I love that quote, Penny, thank you – I’ve never heard it before.

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