Gatekeeper (or What I looked for when judging)

This originally appeared in my LJ in January, 2009.

Now that everything has been revealed, I can reveal here that I was a Gatekeeper for the Gatekeeper Round of LJ Idol. I am sure that it was expected–former winners are usually asked, and I assumed from the beginning that if there was a Gatekeeper round, I’d be voting in it.

That said, I can also reveal that being a Gatekeeper is hard! I actually avoided reading most LJ Idol posts for the past few weeks so that I would not be influenced by what I knew of the writer’s works. I really wanted to take this week’s entries as stand-alone entries to be voted on. I also stayed away from the Green Room so that I would not be influenced by personalities.

Now, I know that a lot of people write their judging standards. The fact is, with so many different styles out there, it is hard to have one standard for everyone. We were told to pick our top 25. I did multiple passes on the entries.

For my first pass, I picked out my definite, no-question-about-it YES entries. These entries were gripping from the beginnnig, held my attention throughout, had few to no grammar or usage errors (which tend to drive me crazy), and told a great story (whether it be fiction or non-fiction).

On my second and third passes, I pulled out the ones that might not have been as perfect as my first set but that were very good. From there I, of course, had more than 25 and had the unhappy job of paring down.

Here are some things that I looked for:

Grammar and Usage: Yes, they are important. Moreso than spelling because a spell checker can fix your spelling mistakes but a grammar checker used on automatic will make your work look stilted and like it was written by a computer. Did you flip-flop from present to past tense with no reason for it? Did you seriously mess up subject-verb agreement? If you did, I took that into account.

Unnecessary information: Did you show me a gun in the first paragraph and fail to have a dead person by the end of the piece (metaphorically speaking, of course)? Some of my favorite entries were short and to the point and had no extra information. If you threw in something clever just for the sake of being clever, I noticed it and I took that into account as well.

As they would say on American Idol: How was your song choice?  That is, you had the opportunity to write anything you wanted to write this week. Did you pick a topic that would keep people interested? That would keep me, your audience, interested? Now, there were some entries that I generally would not have found interesting but when I started reading them I was blown away. So this was not as important as some of my other criteria. But it was there and I feel it only fair to say so.

Finally, how good a story did you put together? Even if you write a poem, there is still story there, and I looked to see how cohesive the story was, if I was left wanting, if I thought it needed an extra something. The better your “story” in general, be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or rant, the more likely you were to get my vote.

I am, like others, not going to reveal my votes; however, if you have specific questions regarding your entries, I will do my best to answer them in the time I have (keeping in mind that I do work and take care of a toddler).

It was an honor to be asked, even if it was something that I expected from last season. It’s very interesting to see how people did compared to how I voted, so I think that Gary’s decision to use many more Gatekeepers this year was a good one. I wish everyone the best in the coming weeks.

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