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  • LV Ditchkus

Exceptional novel versus a great one - how to pick the best?

As a judge for the upcoming Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC), my team and I will be reviewing about 60 books (out of the 300 overall submissions). Most will be great stories with carefully crafted plots, superb character development, and believable world building. So how will we decide which books deserve to go on to the final elimination round and finally which book deserves to win the competition?

Great questions!

Our team developed a score card to help us decide the difference between a well written story and one that is impossible to improve. The Good books are technically sound and hit the mark, but the Great books draw in the reader and won’t let go. I’d love to hear your thoughts about our rubric:

Beginning (20 points)

Well done: Nicely crafted start. Well defined plot and lead characters. Sets an interesting tone and good attention grabbing first lines. Good writing craft and fits Sci-fi genre. (13-16 pts)

Impossible to improve: The beginning drew me into the story. I can’t put it down. (17-20 pts)

Plot (20 pts)

Well done: Solid story line with clearly defined hero/anti-hero with a problem that needed to be solved/overcome. The story was crafted with the end in mind and included interesting twists/red herrings. There were no plot holes (i.e., where people acted in ways for no other reason than to advance the plot). (13-16 pts)

Impossible to improve: I completely understood the problem/want/need and saw how each subplot and chapter tied to the plot. As I finished each chapter, I desperately wanted to find out what happened next. (17-20 pts)

Characters (20 pts)

Well done: The characters are well developed and have a consistent voice over the entire book. They change in reasonable/understandable ways. Dialogue and choreography (movements) were plausible and natural. (13-16 pts)

Impossible to improve: I feel like I know these folks. When I read this book, I feel emotions (i.e., good and/or bad) for the characters. For example, I cried tears/got so angry I said something aloud/laughed out loud. These characters are real to me. (17-20 pts)

Scene setting/ world-building/ science & tech (10 pts)

Well done: The scenes/world is well developed and complex. The author engaged many senses to help me experience the world. The science was well-researched—not only in our current reality but in what is expected in the sci-fi genre (7-8 pts).

Impossible to improve: In every scene, I felt as if I were watching a movie and could see where the characters were. All of my senses were engaged (as appropriate for the story). I completely believe all the science or can understand why the characters thought it was plausible. (9-10 pts)

Inclusivity (10 pts)

Well done: The plot/world feels inclusive of race, gender, culture, and sexual orientation. Or any exclusive views are clearly identified (i.e., within the plotline) as undesirable. (13-16 pts)

Impossible to improve: The world/plot/characters include a wide spectrum of race, gender, culture, and sexual orientation. These elements are woven into the story to make them normal and natural. (17-20 pts)

Ending (20 pts)

Well done: The ending was crafted to resolve the overarching problem/want/need in a satisfying manner. If the book is within a series, the main plot is resolved and there was an inciting incident to tempt the next book. Right before the end, the hero rallied, got their act together, and their hardest to succeed—and then either won (e.g., saved the universe, got the guy/ girl, survived, or forgave themself) or failed. (7-8 pts)

Impossible to improve: The ending blew me away. It was unexpected but completely satisfying OR expected and couldn’t have ended any other way. I can’t wait to read more from this author! (9-10 pts)

Let me know what you think!

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