Rating fiction

On the eve of the final votes for the Hugo Awards, I am trying to catch up on as many as the nominated stories as I can, so that I can post which stories I would vote for, if I were voting. I’m not quite ready to post my results yet, but I did make me think about how I rate the fiction that I read.

Everyone has their own system for rating fiction, and I’m not different in that respect. For many years, it was a simple system, based on 5 points, five being the “best”. It was sort of arbitrary, and I found that a lot of stories were rated 3s. Also, I always hesitated to rate a story as a 1 or a 2 because, frankly, I felt bad. I’ve always believed in constructive criticism and I can’t stand reviewers who skewer writers just because they think they can. So, over the years, my system has changed. I began to think about what it is a story should do, at least for me personally. Here is what I came up with:

First, a story should entertain.
Second, a story should make you think about what you read.
Third, a good story should make you feel something, anything, whether the feelings are good or bad.
Fourth, a really good story should move you emotionally.
Fifth, a truly good story should change you. This is the hardest thing of all for a story to do.

Being an orderly creature of habit, I still use my 0-5 point rating system, but for years, I’ve used it as follows:

  • 0-1: at the very least, the story entertained me
  • 1-2: the story made me think about what I read
  • 2-3: the story made me feel something (for the characters, for the drama, for the humor, whatever)
  • 3-4: the story moved me; I felt it in my gut; it drew blood, sweat and/or tears
  • 4-5: the story changed me in some significant way

It seems to me, with this type of rating system, everyone is a winner. I’ve rated stories I’ve read (even some of my own) as 0.6 (they entertained me to some degree). Joe Haldeman’s Forever War for instance, was getting a solid 3.0 through a good portion of the book. Then I came to the ending and it jumped up a notch; I got something I didn’t expect and I rated the book a 4.0.

Anyway, that’s how I rate the stories I read and that works well for me. It also helps me think about how I write stories. Do I just want to entertain, or do I want to try for something more?

Later on this week, I’ll post my votes (predictions?) for who I think will win the Hugo for best short story, novelette and novella. I can’t guarantee that I will have read all the stories, but I’m doing my best. I can guarantee that there is no chance I’ll have read the novels. There just ain’t enough hours in the day.