The Assessment Criteria

Awesome Indies Book Awards assessors are primarily looking for books that are well written and engaging, and that have been edited to a high standard.

In Brief:

  • The book is correctly formatted for fiction;
  • The cover looks professional;
  • The plot is well structured, well paced, conceptually sound and engaging;
  • The characters are well developed and their dialogue and interactions with others are believable;
  • The book is not overwritten or unnecessarily wordy; for instance; no obvious dumps of information, unnecessary repetition or irrelevant scenes;
  • Changes in point of view are clear. No head-hopping;
  • The prose is well written and engaging. Where appropriate for the genre, voice and intention, the story is shown rather than told and the writing active rather than passive;
  • The book has been line edited, copy edited and proofread, and the grammar, spelling and punctuation usage is consistent throughout.

Further information on the kind of issues that can prevent your book from inclusion in the list can be gained from reading The Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine by Tahlia Newland, and  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne & Dave King. We recommend these books as  vital resources for all fiction writers.

The summary will give you a quick overview of the kind of issues that will stop a book meeting our criteria and show you how to spot them.

Contents

Formatting

Fiction should have no gaps between paragraphs. The first lines of each paragraph should be indented.

Plot and structure

Awesome Indies criteria—the plot is well structured, well paced, conceptually sound and engaging.

Does your book have?

  • A protagonist with clear goals or some kind of challenge, and an antagonist (real or imagined) who gets in the way.
  • A beginning that grabs you, a middle that holds you, and an ending that ties up the main questions, problems, or issues, or is otherwise satisfying.
  • Dramatic tension:
    • Conflict
    • Mystery
    • Suspense
    • Surprise
    • Tension in relationships
    • A task to complete
    • Humour

Structure for genre fiction – Recommended reading.

Michael Hauge’s six stage plot structure based on screen play structure. http://www.storymastery.com/articles/30-screenplay-structure

Kristin Lamb’s posts on the antagonist: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/the-key-ingredient-for-dramatic-tension-understanding-the-antagonist/

And her excellent series of posts on structure

Pacing

Awesome Indies criteria—the plot is well structured, well paced, conceptually sound and engaging

The speed of the action should vary, rising and falling like waves in an ocean. Even the fastest paced novels should give you some rest stops along the way, but you should never be bored, or feel as if you’ve lost the plot. You should want to keep reading, always keen to know what is happening next. Check for scenes, plots and descriptions that go on too long or wander without purpose, or don’t even need to be there. Is there a good balance between action and character development? Is there so much happening that you haven’t really got to know the character yet, or are you spending so much time in the head of a character that the story isn’t moving forward?

Conceptually sound

Awesome Indies criteria—the plot is well structured, well paced, conceptually sound and engaging

Does the story make sense? Have the concepts involved been fully thought through and, where necessary, researched? Are there any plot holes? Bits that just don’t make sense, or that couldn’t really have happened in the context of the rest of the story, or that indicate that something has been conveniently forgotten. Are there too many coincidences? Is there a clear sense of time and place? In fantasy this also has to be a world that makes sense and fits together in a consistent, logical manner. The characters in the story must be bound by the physics and society of their world.

Engaging

Awesome Indies criteria—the plot is well structured, well paced, conceptually sound and engaging.

Does the story hold your interest? An interesting, well-structured and well-paced plot is engaging. Other things that engage readers are:

  • A unique ‘voice’ or perspective on the world;
  • Thought-provoking, moving or inspiring themes;
  • An unusual story about unusual characters;
  • Unexpected twists.

Characters

Awesome Indies criteria—the characters are well developed and their dialogue and interactions with others are believable.

Are the characters believable and three-dimensional? Are the characters like cardboard cut-outs rather than  fully fleshed? If you find yourself thinking – he wouldn’t do that, or she wouldn’t talk like that, or how come she didn’t see that when she really couldn’t have missed it, or anything else that makes you find a character hard to believe, then there could be a problem. Note that this is a fairly subjective area, but check that the characters aren’t too

  • perfect
  • predictable
  • stereotypical
  • bland or uninteresting

Do their relationships ring true? Develop too fast or too slow? Is the dialogue realistic for the characters, time and setting? Or does it sound stilted? Are the dialogue tags simple, e.g., said, or unusual and distracting? Is it clear who is talking? Do the characters relate to each other in a realistic fashion? Do they develop throughout the book? The main character should have developed in some way by the end of the book.

A helpful article on dialogue. http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/crafttechnique/tp/dialogue.htm

Wordiness or overwriting

Awesome Indies criteriaThe book is not overwritten or unnecessarily wordy; for instance; no obvious dumps of information, unnecessary repetition or irrelevant scenes;

Examples of wordiness:

  • Saying the same thing several different ways;
  • Using a lot of adjectives;
  • Pages of descriptions – generally one or two paragraphs is sufficient for any one description;
  • The inclusion of unnecessary information;
  • Scenes that don’t move the story or character development forward;
  • Chunks of information or back story that appear without being integrated into the action, especially when written in expositional style;
  • Repeating information;
  • Extraneous dialogue; e.g., extended greetings.

Point of View (POV)

Awesome Indies criteria Changes in point of view are clear.

 In third person intimate/close POV, avoid quick jumps from the thoughts of one character to another and back again. This is known as head-hopping and is not recommended because it is generally confusing. Head-hopping does not refer to an omniscient narrator knowing what is occurring in all characters’ heads; it refers to one intimate third person POV suddenly changing to another intimate third person POV without a smooth transition or other clear indication of the change, and then immediately jumping back again. If what you have written is not confusing and doesn’t give the reviewer whiplash, then it’s not a problem.

For more specific details on head-hopping, what it is and isn’t and why writers are advised to avoid it, see this post.

Jamie Gould has several excellent articles on POV

Deep point of view – Roz Morris wrote an excellent article on this here. http://nailyournovel.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/free-indirect-deep-point-of-view-two-ways-to-get-closer-to-your-main-character/

Engaging writing

Awesome Indies criteriaThe prose is well structured and engaging. Where appropriate for the genre, voice and intention, the story is shown rather than told and the writing active rather than passive.

There are many elements that go into good prose, but good prose is always engaging and never dull. Expositional prose (known as ‘telling’) is a less immediate style of writing than writing that is ‘shown’ or ‘active’. Authors need to know the differences in the styles and know when it is most beneficial to use one or the other. We prefer active to passive writing simply because modern readers generally find it more engaging—you can consider this our house style—but that does not mean that we will reject a book written entirely in expositional prose. The overall quality is what is important.

The definitive book on active writing is The Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine by Tahlia Newland

Grammar, spelling & punctuation

Awesome Indies criteria: The book has been line edited, copy edited and proofread, and the grammar, spelling and punctuation usage is consistent throughout.

NB: Em dashes should not have a space either side, but ellipses should. See this article for the main differences in US and UK English spelling and punctuation.http://af3.327.myftpupload.com/2012/09/07/is-that-really-a-spelling-mistake/

Summary – how to tell if something is well written or not.

A publisher friend of mine said something like –“ Beautiful writing is when every word is the right word, in its right place and there for a reason. There is nothing extraneous. The words flow so smoothly that the reader is transported beyond the words. They even forget they are reading.”

Warning signals that something is not well written.

You have to read a sentence or passage several times to get the meaning. This is likely to indicate the author’s inability to express ideas in a clear fashion and/or poor grammar and/or punctuation. It could also be due to  poor dialogue skills.

You have to go back several pages to see if you understood something correctly. This could be due to a poor flow of ideas, illogical progression, an unclear change in point of view, indication of a plot hole, or it could be that the ideas were complicated and you weren’t paying attention.

You get pulled out of the story, or something reminds you that you’re reading. This could be due to an abrupt change from one character’s point of view to another or something unbelievable within the context of the story.

Something draws your attention to the words. This could be

  • incorrect spelling or poor punctuation,
  • too many fancy phrases or one that seems odd or makes you wonder what it’s really trying to say. Lots of fancy words isn’t good writing, it often obscures the meaning. Good writing is clear writing.
  • poor word selection – the author may have used a fancy word when a simple one would have been more effective (it usually is), or the word has a subtle connotation that doesn’t fit the context.

You’re not really in the action, it’s as if you are watching it from a distance or the story and the characters are fine but the writing is ordinary, dull or sameish all the way through. You’re probably mostly being told the story rather than shown it. There are a great many subtleties in this one, and it’s here that the difference between good writing and mediocre writing becomes clear. Writing that tells rather than shows

  • is general rather than specific.
  • gives us the name of emotions rather than describing the actions that show us the emotion . e.g., George felt angry, instead of George slammed the door and threw the book across the room.
  • uses a lot of ‘to be’ verbs, such as ‘was’, ‘is’, ‘were’ etc when alternatives are stronger. E.g., John raced along the sidewalk is more immediate than John was racing along the sidewalk.
  • uses a lot of ‘ing’ ending words when ‘ed’ endings would be more immediate – see above example. Words starting with ‘ing’ used at the beginning of a sentence weakens the writing if used more often than about once in ten  thousand words.
  • uses the word ‘as’ a lot, especially at the start of sentences.
  • uses too many adverbs (words describing action words that often end in ‘ly’, e.g., running slowly)
  • The sentence structure or length may be too similar all the way through the book. More variety would liven it up, e.g., questions, fragments, short punchy sentences next to longer ones and so on.

You’re tempted to skip over sections . Check for

  • overly long descriptions
  • scenes that go on too long
  • repetition e.g., scenes with a similar function, or you’re hearing about how gorgeous the love interest is AGAIN.
  • poor pacing, e.g., you want to be racing towards the conclusion of a scene, but the story has wandered off in another direction.
  • a lost or wandering plot.
  • excessive internal dialogue.
  • information dump. A whole lot of back story or information is dumped into the story in one chunk. It’s better if it’s broken up and dished out as required.
  • unnecessary information – do we really need to know exactly what food is on everyone’s plate, or the details of the colour, texture and design of every person’s clothing?

It seems a bit long-winded. Less is more in writing and overwriting is common in beginning writers. Check for everything in the above and

  • the same thing said in several different ways
  • no more than one metaphor/fancy phrase per paragraph.
  • action described in too much detail. Readers have imagination andare very good at filling in the gaps.
  • the same words or phrases used excessively e.g., ‘heart pumped’, ‘eyes rolled’, etc.
  • too many adjectives (words describing things or people, e.g., red hat)
  • too many dialogue tags e.g., ‘she said’, ‘he said’. Or ‘he scratched his nose’, ‘she burped’. etc