Monday, April 9, 2012

The Scoring Rubric

Week of April 8, 2012—JUDGE FOR YOURSELF
Monday, April 9, 2012—The Scoring Rubric

The scoring rubric for the short-story contest I judged allowed for a maximum of fifty points. More than half of the stories landed in the thirty points or less category, some in the thirty to forty category, and only a few in the forty to fifty category. Of those, the highest score I gave was a forty-eight—that was an exceptional piece of writing.

Now let’s be honest. An editor does not use a rubric when deciding if a manuscript is worth reading further, taking to acquisitions, or even worthy of a follow-up letter. As my editor and friend, Diane Muldrow, says “Writing is an art form.” Editors certainly recognize good writing, but they also respond emotionally to writing and that emotional connection is different from editor to editor.

While editors don’t use a rubric to judge our writing, I know that the elements of good writing are so entrenched in those editors that they are ticking off a mental checklist whether they know it or not. Anyone who reads lots of writing (including writing teachers like me) often intrinsically know there’s a problem or something not working with a piece of writing before we actually know what the problem is. As a teacher, I have to take the next step an analyze what is wrong. An editor can’t do that with every submission in his/her slush pile. But if that editor has enough of a connection to a piece of writing, then he/she might analyze or drill down to the core problem(s) with the writing so those issues could be resolved.

The rubric I used when judging the short-story contest identifies many of those core issues. Below are the eight categories from the rubric and what it took to score at the highest level.

Mood, time, and place are well portrayed
Well-rounded characters with which a reader can connect
Clear conflict or dilemma throughout
Logical flow, pace keeps up with the action as appropriate. Plausible. An effective conclusion.
Dialogue is authentic or not needed
Sensory details pull reader into the story. Effective word choices. Use of literary devices.
No obvious errors
(weighted x3)
Fresh, original voice and approach, unified

It’s Your Turn!
1. Use the rubric above to analyze a piece of your writing. Score yourself from one to five in each category. For OVERALL IMPRESSION score yourself between three and fifteen. What problems can you analyze in your own writing? Tomorrow we'll discover the three biggest issues in the short-stories I judged. (Think they might be the same as your issues? We'll see!)

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