Gathered WotF specific links
I know there's tons of writing advice out there, but this list of links is WotF specific.
I'd like to keep editing this top post, so if you have one, post below. If it rocks my world, I'll post it up here.
The source Review this EACH QUARTER before you send your entry.
http://forum.writersofthefuture.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1017 How to make sure your attachment (when submitting digially) is anonymous. Written by Martin Shoemaker.
BRT's "how to win" blog post Read this. Read it again. Then... read it again.
Snippets of advice from KD Wentworth Compiled by Donovan Darius.
Hatrack writer's forum discussion on winning stories You'll have to sift through some static to find Tom Carpenter's (10th) post, followed by Nick T's (12th) post.
http://www.davidfarland.com/writing_tips/?a=89 New coordinating judge, David Wolverton's 10 reasons he'll quickly reject your story.
http://www.davidfarland.com/writing_tips/?a=90New coordinating judge, David Wolverton's reasons why your story received an Honorable Mention, and why it didn't score higher.
Wait, how much money did I win? BFT's guesstimate of the financial worth of the contest to each individual winner. Make sure it's you!
NON WOTF: (but too good to let slide.)
David Farland 1/2 way down is a list of excellent, but general "how to win a contest" tips.
http://www.davidfarland.com/writing_tips/?a=91 More general tips from David Farland regarding how to make your entry really cook.
That's it for now.
HM x4, SHM x2, F x1
This past week I finished judging the first quarter of Writers of the Future, and now I’m working on the second quarter. Most of the stories come to us electronically, so much of my day is spent opening files, taking a look at them, and then putting in a review--usually one that says “Rejected.”
I hate that “Reject” button, and I may ask our programmers to give it a title that is a little less offensive, something like, “I’m afraid that this doesn’t meet our needs at the current time.”
Seriously, though, I sometimes wish that I could explain to a young writer why I’m passing on a story. So I’m going to talk about it here.
Here are ten reasons why I reject stories quickly—usually within the first page:
1) The story is unintelligible. Very often I’ll get submissions that just don’t make sense. Often, these seem to be non-English speakers who are way off in both the meaning of words, their context, or in their syntax, but more often it’s just clumsiness. I’ve seen college presidents who couldn’t write. But this lack of care is on a gradient scale, from “I can’t figure out what this is about” to “I don’t want to bother trying to figure this out” to “there are minor problems in this story.” For example, yesterday a promising story called a dungeon the “tombs.” Was it a mistake, or a metaphor? I don’t think it was a metaphor. The author had made too many other errors where the “almost correct” word was used.
2) The story is unbelievable. “Johnny Verve was the smartest kid on earth, and he was only six. He was the strongest one, and the most handsome, too. But the coolest part was when he found out he had magical powers!” At that point, I’m gone, and not just because there were four uses of “was” in three sentences.
3) The author leaves no noun or verb unmodified. Sometimes when an author is struggling to start a story, he try to infuse too much information into a sentence: “John rubbed his chapped, dry, sand-covered hands together grimly, and gazed thirstily over the harsh, red, crusty deserts of a deserted Mars.” I may put up with one sentence like that in an otherwise well-written story. You put two of those sentences together on the first page, and it really bogs a story down. Unfortunately, if you’re in a modifying mood, you might just start looking for reasons to add unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, and that will kill your pacing. People who do this on the first page of a manuscript will do it throughout. Very often these modifications turn into “purple prose.”
4) Nothing’s happening. This morning I read one where a girl, Marcy, gets out of bed, puts on her clothes (after carefully selecting each item), eats breakfast, and goes to the school bus. It was written well enough, but at the end of a couple of pages I start wondering when the story is going to begin. It really didn’t matter. It hadn’t begun yet, and the author had wasted too much space. I call these the “Never Beginning” stories. Often the inciting incident does occur, but I literally see stories that go on like this for 20 pages, as if the author is merely chronicling a day in the life of their protagonist. It really doesn’t matter if something happens or not. If nothing significant occurs in two pages and I don’t have any reason to go further, I have to reject the story.
5) A major element is left out. An “element” of your story includes your character, setting, conflict, theme, and treatment. Yesterday I read a promising story about a young woman who sings magical crystals out of the ground. The author had good penetration, good voice and inner conflicts. Unfortunately, after five pages I still didn’t know where the story was set. Originally I thought the protagonist was mining in a cave, but then found that she glanced up at the sun. Were there trees in the story, mountains, clouds? I’m not sure. The author never mentioned them. Very often, I think that new authors neglect to put in elements like a setting just because they’re unsure how to weave that information in. But that kind of information needs to be there. Here’s a hint—if you don’t tell me your protagonist’s name in the first two paragraphs, I’ll probably reject the story. Why? Because long experience has taught me that if you make that mistake, you’ll probably leave out other vital information, too.
6) The author is unable to “imply” information. Consider the following sentences. Which one do you think the author should use to convey the intended information?
a- She shook.
b - She shook his hand.
c - She reached out and shook his hand.
d - She reached out her hand and shook his hand.
e - She reached out her hand and shook his hand with her hand that she was reaching out with.
You’d be surprised by what people write. Yesterday I had a woman who “shook,” and it wasn’t obvious that she was shaking someone’s hand until three sentences later. That’s a case where the author thought that his sentence implied more than it did. A few stories later, I got option number five, which was vastly over-written. Here’s a tip: since we typically have to reach out to shake someone’s hand, the words “reached out” in each of the above sentences are already implied, and probably are unnecessary. In the same way, when we stand, we don’t need to add the word “up.” If we sit, we don’t need to add the word “down.” If someone “nods,” we don’t have to add the words “his head.” No one ever nods his knee. Authors who are unaware of how to imply information will almost always overwrite their stories, adding entire scenes that don’t need to be there. Either that, or they’ll leave out a great deal of vital description. Rarely will they do both.
7) There simply isn’t a story. You would be surprised at how many pieces come in that are philosophical diatribes, or letters, or reminiscences. Those are rejected instantly.
8) Oily tales. Some authors think that readers like to be shocked, so they struggle to be as bloody, violent, disgusting, or perverse as possible. One must remember that if you’re submitting to a major contest, the winning stories will be published. Any story that you submit that is not fit to be read by a high school student is, in my opinion, fatally flawed and will be rejected. Profanity may be edited out, but if vile content is what the story is about, then you need to be submitting to someone else.
9) Non-formed stories. A lot of people are submitting flash fiction, a few paragraphs that might be interesting but which usually don’t have much to offer. I can imagine a rare circumstance where a flash fiction piece might win, but when placed beside a long, formed story, flash pieces almost always suffer by comparison because the conflicts in the piece never get properly developed and resolved. The same is true with japes (stories that start as stories and end as jokes).
10) The tale is out of chronological order on the micro-level. Some authors love this construction: “John raced out the door, after brushing his teeth.” So I as the reader am forced to imagine John rushing out the door, then back up and imagine the tooth-bushing scene. If I see two of these in a short story, I’ll forgive them. But if I get two on the first page of a story, I’ll show no mercy. The reason is simple: the author almost always makes a lot of other errors, too, which will show up as unneeded flashbacks and as unnecessary point-of-view shifts.
But what if you’re not the kind of author who makes simple, careless mistakes? What if you’re conscientious, hard-working, and have a decent idea for what it takes to tell a story? I’ll go over some other problems tomorrow—the kinds of things that might not get your story rejected, but won’t let it climb above “Honorable Mention.”
So let’s talk about those stories that get an Honorable Mention.
Right now on my computer, I have a story up. I’ve read the first two pages, and although I’m a little soft on the opening paragraph, the rest of the first page is quite intriguing. My reaction is, “Looks like I’ll have to read this one.” In other words, I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m hoping that it can be a grand prize winner. I’m hoping that someday I’ll be able to say, “I was the one who discovered this author.”
Why do I feel that I have to read this particular story? First off, it has an engaging idea at its core. I know that from the first page. Second, the author is writing with clarity and grace. Third, the pacing is just right. In short, there are a lot of good things happening here for a first page.
Stories that keep me reading all the way through will almost always get an Honorable Mention. That’s my way of saying, “You’re writing almost at a professional level, but this one didn’t quite do it for me.” Or better yet, “I’d really like to see more from you. Keep trying!”
There are four simple reasons why a story may not rise above Honorable Mention.
1) The idea for the story isn’t particularly fresh or interesting. You may not realize it, but the basic concept of your story has probably been done before. For example, let’s say that you decide to write a story about “Zombie Sharecroppers.” Great. You might write it beautifully, and I might get through the entire tale and enjoy it. But ultimately I have to look at it and ask, “Is the basic tenet of the story fresh and original? Did the author give it a surprise twist that lifted it above similar stories?” If the answer to both of those questions is no, then it will probably not get higher than an honorable mention. You’ll need to come at me next time with a fresh idea.
2) If the idea is good, then it may be that your execution is off. Very often I’ll get stories where the idea intrigues me and the story is written pretty well, but the author still has a few problems. Maybe the author uses too many weak verbs, or has word repetitions. I had one a couple of days ago that was set in Haiti, and while interesting, nothing about the character’s voices suggested that the author had ever listened closely to a Haitian. The accents just weren’t right. A couple of persistent little bugs like this will put you in the Honorable Mention category.
3) The story may have plotting problems. Very often I’ll have a story whose concept is good and the writing is beautiful, but the plot just doesn’t work. Usually it has a good opening (that’s why I got hooked), but perhaps the middle of the story is weak, or the ending doesn’t quite pan out.
I got a beautiful story last week, told in first-person. But the plot only worked because the author withheld information from the reader. Does the story work? Well, only if you don’t think about it too much. The author’s style and tone were exceptional in many ways, but I’m not sure that it should win the contest. I wasn’t even sure if it should be a finalist.
So when plotting your story, make certain that its plot is logical, that it builds with each try-fail cycle, and that you have a powerful ending that leaves the reader thinking and emotionally moved.
4) The story has missing elements. This is the most frequent problem, and the hardest to solve.
For instance, when I finish a story, I want it to have some universality. I want to understand why this story is important for others to read. In other words, “Does this story have a message?” Sometimes, the answer is no, and that usually means that it won’t hold up well in a competition.
Those missing elements can be a lot of things. Sometimes I’ll have a story where only one character is involved. There’s no interaction. As a judge, I have to wonder why? Why didn’t the author put in a sidekick, someone to talk to in order to make this more engaging?
Usually the author is blind to his or her own missing element. Some authors, for example, forget to describe what is off in the distance (a line of mountains, a roiling sea). Others forget to describe the middle-ground (a golden pyramid with a congregation of Egyptian slaves and merchants bowing to the god-king at its peak). So when you read their stories, the protagonist is often bumping into characters that seem to come out of nowhere.
In other stories, the author forgets to engage the senses. A lack of smells or touch is the largest problem.
Still other authors have no internal dialog, so that you never know what their character is thinking or feeling. Instead, the author writes in a cinematic style that keeps the reader at a distance. In such tales, the reader might as well be watching a poorly made movie.
Frequently I see stories that just don’t have enough conflicts, or the conflicts that they do have aren’t dealt with as rigorously as they should be.
Or maybe your opening doesn’t have a hook.
Or maybe your descriptions aren’t crisp enough, or your characters feel a bit flat and stereotypical, or your language isn’t fresh or beautiful.
When I first began entering competitions, I used to make up lists of ways that judges might look at my story, and I’d try to figure out how to tackle each problem. Some judges might be big on humor, while another might look for powerfully emotional endings. So I’d look at the 25 things that I thought judges might be grading me on, and try to be excellent in each area. That helped me avoid blind spots quite a bit. It also let me win some good money, so that I didn’t have to take a job while in college.
At the end of the day, when a story wins an honorable mention in the contest, it means that you came close. I only award honorable mention to stories that I have read all the way through. But in the end, I found two or more little problems that go beyond your typical typos.
So you should be able to look at your story and find ways to “boost” the story, perhaps by adding new dimensions to it (for example, giving me internal dialog and referencing smells), or perhaps by fixing a weak middle to the tale.
If you win an Honorable Mention, you should know that I’m rooting for you!
Yeah, I know those last two aren't links, (tho the links are provided above) but I didn't want them to get lost on the page for those who may not have time to visit all the links.
Those are the ones not to miss!
These are incredibly helpful.
The link to Jordan Lapp's page o' links no longer works.
These are incredibly helpful.
This is a great thread, thanks Dustin! I feel like it wants to be moved to the top. Also, I notice Martin Shoemaker's article isn't here: https://www.writersofthefuture.com/writ ... -the-odds/
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm ~ Winston Churchill
V37: R, R, R, HM
Wow, Dustin. This thread is an awesome resource.
I've read Dave's '10 reasons he rejects a story before' -I keep a copy on my computer, in fact, with the elements I feel might be most relevant to me highlighted in bold. But I hadn't seen that second list of Dave's that you posted. Some real keys in there. I'll scour it again later.
"Many people will tell you that you can't write. Let no one say that you don't." -Ken Rand
V36-37: R x6
V38: R, HM, P
Thanks for the connection Dustin. I've read Dave's reasons before but it never hurts to reread them.
Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney