Shortlist announced for the 2016 OWT Short Fiction Competition 2

When we launched the Online Writing Tips Short Fiction Competition, we didn’t think much about how we would judge the entries. We didn’t decide in advance on any particular process, and we didn’t discuss the values that would inform our judgements. We wrote in the submissions guidelines that we wanted the stories that would move us – stories that would make us laugh or cry or both. That seemed to pretty much cover it. Had someone pushed us for a further explanation we would probably have mumbled about fairness and objectivity, without realising how problematic – even impossible – those concepts are.

So we’ve made the process up as we’ve gone along, and we’re still unsure about the values that inform it. We’ve moved to a multi-judge system, employing four judges, two of whom read the stories ‘blind’, without access to the authors’ names or cover letters. The stories should stand on their own merit, right? Reputation and previous success – or, in the case of two of the longlisted authors, knowing the competition organisers – shouldn’t make any difference. And we’ve started using a points system: the judges rank the stories in order of preference, and then we add up the scores and put forward the stories with the lowest totals (no, we won’t reveal the scores). Such a quantitative process gives an impression of objectivity, and it stops me and Phil arguing indefinitely, but what if it’s a process that favours safe and competent stories over high-risk works of art? What if a story wins because everyone thought it was pretty good, while the pieces that most thrilled and excited each judge alienated the others? More…