Judge Training 107 — Score Sheet – Characterization

Judge Training 107


A TOTAL OF 15 POINTS                                     

Are the protagonist a unique, well-defined, relatable character who are complex enough to sustain a story of this length?
Are the protagonist’s actions and motivations believable?  Are the problems faced in a believable manner?
Are the protagonists’ introspection and dialogue appropriate for their age and background?

Please note that categories with a longer word count may not introduce both the hero & heroine in the first chapter. Please do NOT count down if one character is not introduced.   



          Is the protagonist a unique, well-defined, relatable, character who is complex enough to sustain a story of this length?

Completely original plots are hard to come by. Fairy tales are definite stereotypes and clichés.  Let’s face it, we write romance and they all end the same way–with a Happily Ever After. Our job as authors is to put our personal spin on an old story and take the reader on a new journey to that Happy Ending. Even in twenty-five pages, strong goals need to be introduced for the protagonists. Strong goals help characters become “complex.”  While strong, well-defined motivation helps the reader anchor to the character.  Goals may not be as “big picture” or strong in chapter one, but keep in mind that goals shift and grow throughout a story.

In EVER AFTER, Danielle is different than the other women in the story. She’s unique in the fact that she doesn’t desire to be a part of the court. Though considered a peasant, she reads. She’s definitely complex enough to sustain the story–which in the beginning is keeping her family together and saving her father’s estate (even though she doesn’t own it).

          Are the protagonist’s actions and motivations believable? Are the protagonist’s problems faced in a believable manner?

If you’ve seen EVER AFTER, did you wonder WHY Danielle stayed at the estate? Or doubt that she had a good reason to stay? WHY did she put herself into the position of being a servant in her father’s home? For me, it all comes back to her father’s last gift and words. As an impressionable young girl, he asked her to look after her step-mother and step-sisters. She kept her word and stayed. So the motivation is there along with very believable actions.

Did she face her problems in a logical, believable manner? Danielle’s last book from her father had a great deal of influence on her. Utopia. She never had the chance to discuss the book with her father before his death, so its ideals held great influence on her, which attracted the Prince. Very believable for me. Without the book…I would have constantly been asking why Danielle would believe utopian ideals so strongly.

          Are the protagonists’ introspection and dialogue appropriate for their age and background?    


Age appropriate dialogue. No one can decide what’s appropriate and inappropriate except the publisher. Bottom line: does the introspection and dialogue fit the story?  The question isn’t if you’re comfortable with the dialogue…but IF IT FITS THE STORY.

In EVER AFTER, Danielle is well-spoken and easily mistaken for a courtesan. But we expect her to be intelligent because she’s reading books and discussing them with her father at a young age. Those scenes make it easy for us to believe.

My personal writing history is poking its head in here again. I never spoke baby talk to my children. As a result, they could have a fairly decent conversation when they were four. I used examples of how they spoke in my books and was quickly marked down because a four-year-old wouldn’t talk like that. I believe the information of WHY my character spoke well at the age of four might have been missing, but having a judge tell me it couldn’t happen just angered me. So a better response is to suggest a line of introspection from the hero or heroine noting that the child spoke well for its age.

Not on the score sheet.                                                                   

Some questions to ask yourself about secondary characters. Do the secondary characters steal the scene or are they unnecessary? Is there too much emphasis on their descriptions? Can the scene progress without their involvement? Are they there as “info-dumpers”?

In Ever After, Danielle is determined to bring home Maurice at any cost and save her family estate. If not for this secondary character, the Prince would not have met her a second time. The Prince is determined to live his own life, but postpones his escape in order to help da Vinci recover his painting. Danielle and Prince Henry soon move on to additional conflicts, but the secondary characters (Maurice & da Vinci) play very believable, interesting, pivotal roles. Without these two characters, the paths of Danielle and Prince Henry wouldn’t have continued to cross.

As always, if you have questions relating specifically to an entry, contact GEcoordinator@ntrwa.org.

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Most of the opinions on judging and interpreting the questions’ intent are my own words. I’ve been in the business over 15 years and have spoken to many authors, gathering information. A lot of the time when a question is asked, I go to authors who publish in that genre for advice. Please use your own expertise and experience, but keep our humble interpretations in mind.

~Thanks, Angi Morgan


Contributions and edits by Fenley Grant