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Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!


The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

How Bullriding Is Not Like Judging a Literary Contest

This week I attended a bullriding contest and I judged a literary contest. I observed some differences between the competitions. In bullriding, it’s the rider, the clock, and the bull. The rider who stays on the longest wins.   That is the simple method of determining the winner, without consideration for style, or conflicts overcome, or originality in setting or situation. The story is always the same. The bull wins.

In a literary contest, there are many variables, the most crucial being the judge’s sense of what is the most valuable characteristic of a written piece. After years of judging, teaching, and writing, I’ve decided that structure matters very much. Is it a story, first of all? Does it satisfy the requirement that there is a conflict that has been dealt with? I read first, not in an analytical way, but for pleasure. One of the pleasures of reading a good story is the sense of satisfaction and completeness a reader feels when the story ends, as in the stories by Kim Edwards, Michael Knight, Charles Baxter, and Barbara Fisher. This understanding is felt or known, but the reader may not immediately be able to articulate why the story has created such satisfaction. Then, if one is a judge, one can return to the story and see how and why she felt that the story was successful. I start with that response to a story. Then I consider voice, vision, and acumen with language. Once, in the past, I liked the third place story best, because of its language and imagination and voice, but I did not choose it as the “best” because its structure was more flimsy than the winner’s was.

I find that a number of stories show tremendous promise but have been sent out before they are completely finished. That is the most common reason why a story does not win. It needs a few more turns on the spit, for more fat to drip out, more flavor to be tendered in.

Bullriders rarely go into the ring until they are ready. There’s too much at stake. For writers, submitting to subjective judges, it’s harder to know about  a story’s readiness. So I suggest that writers master structure as a necessary skill. If you do so, you will go far in your quest for the prize.

Comments (1) — Categorized under: Creativity,Lynn Pruett

One response to “How Bullriding Is Not Like Judging a Literary Contest”

  1. Gail Koehler says:

    Wow: for the foreseeable future, I will think of a bullrider every time I consider sending out an entry to a journal or a contest, Lynn, and ask myself if it’s really ready for the ring! Great image, and great reminder to be certain work takes a few extra turns on the spit to allow any residual fat to drip out!

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