Reviewing 7kcon: Reflections On A Rubric
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Hi, I'm LORDXVNVLORDXVNV. During the SCP-7000 contest, I reviewed contest entries using a rubric. You may recognize it.

Criteria Comment Score
Ideas and Content
Word Choice/Clinical Tone/Sentence Fluency
Audience and respect

This was a topic of some heated discussion back when the contest was running, and has been homaged by my friend DodoDevilDodoDevil in SCP-7399. Now that a fair amount of time has passed, I'd like to share some of my insights on how I came to the idea for the rubric and why I used it, the design and implementation of the rubric itself, and my thoughts looking back, on how using the rubric changed my perspective on how to give effective crit.



My primary motivation for attempting to use a rubric was fairness. I anticipated a large number of entries into the SCP-7000 contest, a belief that was ultimately justified — according to SCPPER, there were ultimately almost 200 entries for the contest in total, counting ones that fell into deletion before the end of the writing period.

I wanted to have a way to explain my opinion, as well as serving as an opportunity to dissect and study how people use the SCP format, with some level of comparative standardization. I wanted a systemic way to read and judge the hundreds of entries that were about to be posted. At this time, I also believed that each work deserved analysis beyond just an upvote or a downvote.

For each metric of my rubric, I scored the SCP between 1 to 5 and left a short note that explained my scoring. I also left a more substantial explanation comment. For articles I liked, that comment tended to be a short, pithy summation of the positive points. For articles I didn't like, I went into more depth why, adding in detail that I couldn't fit strictly into my 7 categories.


I scored entries into the contest on 7 categories:

  • Ideas and content
  • Organization
  • Voice
  • Word Choice/Clinical Tone
  • Sentence Fluency
  • Aesthetic
  • Audience and Respect

I adapted this from an existing rubric for creative writing I modified "Word Choice" to focus on clinical tone and breaks from it, and added "Aesthetic" and "Audience and Respect". At the time, I believed these categories captured additional unique features of the SCP format compared to traditional creative writing.

My views evolved as I applied the rubric to SCPs.

A deep dive into my 7 criteria:

Ideas and content are universal across all forms of writing. The other categories, however, have unique challenges

Ideas and content

Is the story clear? Is it a fresh approach to the core anomaly?

The additional consideration I added to ideas and content is in terms of novelty compared to other SCPs. We are past 7000 SCPs on this site, and so not every SCP can be fully original. However, that should not be taken as a reason not to write. Rather, it should be taken as a reason to innovate.

I've said elsewhere, in comments buried throughout the Wiki's forums, that it is impossible to be completely original. Yet at the same time, different people will have different goals when it comes to posting on the wiki. Some people want to hone their craft and grow as artists, while others just want to write for fun and have something to share with their friends. The people who innovate, who put a fresh spin and a sense of pop on well-trodden ideas, will be remembered. The people who don't will be forgotten than the others, but that's okay, if they're not here to be remembered.

Yet in a contest situation, I decided to err towards embracing the new and novel and judging more harshly the cliche'd and seen-before.

That was the only easy category to judge


Do transitions between pieces tie the ideas of the SCP together? Are the events in a logical sequence?

The SCP format is, ultimately, a fiction. Once you get past the Containment Procedures, the format is fully fluid.

Often, SCPs are a story. Stories, generally, have beginnings, middles, and ends. They have inciting actions, they have climaxes, and they have denouements.

Alternatively, SCPs are written-word dioramas or still-lifes. They use imagery and other rhetorical techniques in order to impart a certain feeling upon the reader.

I believe that most of the SCPs I read in 7kcon did at least one of these two things. Yet fundamentally the two are different enough in form that in retrospect it doesn't feel fair to compare them on the same axis.

The fact of the matter is that you had the tragicomedic Loser, SCP-7000, that bounced from vignette to vignette with brief cuts to the wider world in between each — a hybrid of diorama and narrative. You had the now-SCP-7043, about Murphy Law, which started you out in a screenplay itself. You had SCP-7010, the body of which was told entirely through somewhat philosophical journals — leaning heavily towards being all story. And then you had things like my own SCP-7997, which made heavy use of tables and analogies — leaning heavily towards being all diorama.

I wouldn't say that any of these had bad organization. But flattening down peach of them to a single number would be ridiculous.

Ultimately, I ended up relying on my instincts for this criterion. If it felt like events jumped around randomly, if it felt like big parts of the story were missing, if it felt like something was contrived, I marked it down. A disappointing thing from the point of the view of the rubric, but another from a fairness perspective.

Organization ended up being a proxy for how much I liked the piece. If I didn't like the piece, I could usually tell if I had issues with its structure, or if it was something else.

Voice, Word Choice/Clinical Tone, Sentence Fluency

Is the writer fully committed to the ideas they're talking about?

Is this use of clinical tone effectively deployed? Do places where clinical tone is inappropriate have suitable word choice?

Do the sentences feel "good" when read aloud?

I group these three categories with each other because ultimately, I ended up scoring the three of them as very close to each other, with maybe a few holistic differences.

The simple truth of the matter is that although this is amateur fiction, almost everyone was at least competent at forming their sentences. Almost everyone was decent at choosing words that were a reasonable cosplay of scientist-speak. I ended up giving mostly 5s for Wordcount/Clinical Tone and Sentence Fluency, and where I didn't, those two were closely tied. If someone chose words poorly, they formed their sentences just as poorly, in my view.

That leaves Voice as the only real point of analysis. I judged Voice as how much the author cared about what they were writing about. Whether they had a strong connection to their ideas, and whether that was apparent to us as readers.

And in retrospect, I have to admit I haven't thought about the constructional components of voice enough to break it down for you in an essay. It's one of those things that for me is still at a "you know it when you see it" state, and it's highly correlated with technical competency. I feel that authorial voice tends to emerge after an author knows the rules well enough to know how and when to break them.

In my grading, Voice ended up being another proxy for how much I liked the piece. As with Organization, if I didn't like the piece, I could tell if it was because the Voice was weak — but even now I have remarkably little ability to identify why Voice is strong when it is.


Is the CSS thematically fitting for the story being told? Is the page pleasant to look at? Is the page honest about how long it will take to read at first glance? Are format screws and other experiential flair relevant to the anomaly described?

This was a fun category.

SCP is web fiction, not pure writing. There have been gripes about CSS from textual purists, but at the end of the day, pretty CSS is not enough to save a bad piece. It's like salt in a culinary sense — it brings out flavor.

Ultimately, I started out using 3s for unobtrusive CSS, but eventually I started just giving 5s. Most people didn't do anything too fancy when it came to CSS. They used pre-built themes and pre-built divs.

I ended up penalizing for other things over themes and divs — the format screws and the time it took to read the piece. If you used more than 3 offsets, I probably took off a point. If you hid a significant amount of text in tabs, I marked it down.

But ultimately this didn't end up playing hard into my final judgments. I gave out 3s for defaults. It was a nothing category, in the end, that I just kept using out of obligation.

That leads us to our final category, which somewhat blends into this one.

Audience and Respect:

Does this respect the audience's time? Does it want to the audience to care about something that they know about? Does it rely too heavily on outside knowledge?

Look at SCP-7000. It's long. You know what it doesn't have? Collapsibles or tabs. It's long, but you know what you're getting into when you look at its scroll bar.

As I said before, there were 200 entries into the contest. That's a fifth of a series. Your CSS should respect your audience's time.

Beyond that "Audience and Respect" ended up becoming another proxy for how much I liked the piece. Ultimately, I had intended this as the only real subjective category. The only objective metric I had here was the scrollbar, and some of that blended into my aesthetic judgments.

But this was more subjective than the others. If I disliked the piece because I had criticisms that couldn't be attributed to idea, structure, or voice, this is what I'd penalize.

A look back and lessons learned

The Numbers

In the end, I only used the rubric on 28 articles, 4 of which are currently deleted. Ultimately, it was too unsustainable and too tiring to do so for all 114 surviving entries.

Of those I reviewed:
For the 13 I upvoted, I gave an average score of 4.61.
For the 10 I downvoted, I gave an average score of 3.32.
For the 5 I novoted, I gave an average score of 3.97.

The closest thing I gave a perfect 5 to was SCP-7900, A Place to Drown In, though I forgot to give it an audience respect grade.

Should you do this?

If I were to do this again for 8kcon, I would only use the rubric on articles I believe had a reasonable chance of surviving, even if I downvoted them. I would do other articles on request after the contest ends.

However, I don't think the rubric is a good idea in its current form. It's a deep dive into technical aspects of SCPs that make them good or not, but ultimately the enjoyment of an SCP comes from more than just these seven metrics I used. Whenever I didn't like a piece, I ended up going into significant detail on what I didn't like about it and how I thought it could be improved.

Finding a justification for why you liked a piece and dissecting a well-done piece is, I think, more difficult in finding the flaws in a piece in need of polish. It's like looking for cracks in concrete. If it's done well, there might be cracks on a microscopic level, but you're not finding those with the naked eye.

Furthermore, good authors largely don't need to be told why they're good. That's more for the bystanders. But that can happen with critting other pieces.

How I Crit Now

My crit style has changed. These days, when I attempt to give serious crit on finished works, I try to boil it down to three categories:

What is the author trying to do?
The author is writing a piece for themselves yet also trying to reach me, the reader. My desires as a reader can be met through other media; ultimately, what the author is doing here is trying to build a bridge to the audience to communicate a message that they can share. I believe the most productive way to crit that piece is to meet the author on their own terms and help them communicate the message important to them.

What techniques are they using to do it, and do those techniques work? If so, how?
This is where some of the elements of the rubric come back in. Are they trying to tell a story that hinges on a few heart-pounding stakes, or build a diorama to enshrine a particular feeling or image? Here I hunt for specific sequences or images they use, specific things they try to construct their story with, and assess how well they work. People should be praised for what they do well as much as judged for what they do not.

If they don't work, why not, and how would you improve it?
This last question frankly requires a bit more experience and hinges on performing a reasonably accurate assessment of the previous two points. You can't offer suggestions if you don't know what the other person is trying to do and what they've already tried. After that, I usually point out other works that have done similar things and how they used them, not to discourage, but as exemplars. As Picasso said, good artists study, great artists steal.

Ultimately, this more holistic method of applying crit feels more productive and useful as an exercise than pulling out numbers and trying to justify them.

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