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How did I get 3 finalists in a year?

 
RETreasure
(@rschibler)
Gold Member
Posts: 819

I'm pretty sure it was a combination of luck, hard work, luck, timing, grit, and luck. Perspiration and Preparation, and all that. However, I did do a few things very intentionally this year with all my WotF subs--and it clearly worked at least 3 times! I collect writing advice like a dragon collects gold and I owe heartfelt thanks to a number of former winners for sharing their wisdom with the world.

Start the Quest - Wulf Moon

Wulf emphasizes starting the hero's quest in the first five pages. I made sure this happened in all 3 stories. I got the intro out of the way and got the character moving by (in 2 cases ON) page 5. Something that helped me do this: I didn't worry about it on my first draft. When I came back to edits and had the big block of expository world building, I cut it into another document, and then I would look for places to drop it back in one line at a time. So instead of a big chunk of info, it's a line here, a line there. I rewrote the opening to my 3rd finalist so many times, because I had this big world to introduce and needed the reader to understand! I ended up dropping some of the fun details, because they weren't story relevant, and shifting the physical scene around a bit--so the action kicked off on page 5.

Dig Deep Creatively - Dave Farland

In "How to Write the Perfect Short Story" at Superstars 2020, Dave talked about making a list of ten things that could happen in your story and crossing off the first three. I didn't do this in actuality, but I do it mentally now, as I'm writing. I reject the first few ideas I get, especially about plot developments. This led me to an off-world scifi horror, when I'd intended a hard scifi, it got me a unique antagonist in my secondary world fantasy. However, for my historical fantasy that will appear in the anthology, I didn't do this as much. It's a tool, and I didn't need it for that story.

Moral Choice - KD Julicher

The other huge thing I did was make sure my characters had to make a moral choice in the climax. Not just take action, they had to choose between two hard things. Again, this wasn't a first draft thing with any of them. I had to go back in and figure out how to make the characters choose between two equally (or nearly) tempting options. Dave also talks about how death should never be the worst thing that can happen for your characters, and I took that into consideration while working on this. KD says she started making finalist regularly when she got this into her pieces, too.

Make 'Em Cry - Leah Ning

Leah is a pro at emotion, and I'm lucky enough to get to see a lot of her stories. She often uses symbolism, something physical to the characters that can change in meaning through the story, to show emotional shifts. I did this with all 3 stories. The character has something at the beginning of the story that means one thing to them, and by the end of the story, the meaning of the object has changed.

Learn & then Break the Rules - Liz Ticknor

Liz and I started swapping stories in June 2017. (I checked.) One of the things she said to me very early on, when I thanked her for helping me get an Honorable Mention was "You did it. You did the work. You decided which advice to take and how to apply it." This goes along with her Barbossa Philosophy, too--fill your toolbox, study widely, accumulate knowledge, and then you are able to decide when and where to apply this rule or that suggestion. I've done that aggressively since I started writing. I've gone to cons, attended workshops, accepted challenges, read writing books, swapped stories, talked to writers, volunteered to run things.

 

One last thing I did this year--I read more. It's easy to get so caught up in writing that we forget to read, and I'd gotten so busy and the pandemic had my kids home, etc, that I hadn't read short stories hardly at all in years, and only a dozen or so books a year instead of the many many I used to read. Well, starting in Fall 2020 I made a concentrated effort to find great fiction and read it. We must refill our wells, we must breathe in as well as out--I truly believe this helped me level up this past year, too.

 

Well, that's it Smile Write on! Don't give up! I believe in you!

V34: R,HM,R
V35: HM,R,R,HM
V36: R,HM,HM,SHM
V37: HM,SF,SHM,SHM
V38: (P)F, SHM, F, F
V39: P
Always Available for 5-page Critiques
www.rebeccaetreasure.com

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Topic starter Posted : December 14, 2021 10:31 am
Ease, Ania L., Physa/ Guthington/ Amy and 17 people liked
pdblake
(@pdblake)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 172

Crikey. Just got something about an in process MC just from quickly scanning your post hey!  

 

I'll read in full later and hopefully dig out a few more nuggets. 

 

And congrats. clapper  

www.pdblake.co.uk

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Posted : December 14, 2021 10:49 am
NVHaskell, Wulf Moon, RETreasure and 1 people liked
ZeeTeeBeeZ
(@zeeteebeez)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 162

This is brilliant, Becky.

Don’t think I could articulate my secret sauce as well as you have, but I will emphasize one thing that worked for me.

Your last point about reading more. My steps forward came when I really dedicated myself to studying short fiction. Read for fun, then when something knocks your socks off, try to figure out WHY and HOW. Maybe the plot elements will stand out. Maybe it will be character voice. Maybe prose. Maybe some unique structure. All of these you can tie back into the story you’re working on in the moment and make it better.

9 x HM
V38 Q4 2nd Place
Mike Resnick Memorial Award winner 2021 https://www.galaxysedge.com/
www.ztbright.com

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Posted : December 14, 2021 11:23 am
NVHaskell, David Hankins, storysinger and 4 people liked
Morgan
(@morgan-broadhead)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 210

There should be a bookmark feature out here so I can tag this and refer back to it later. Great stuff, @rschibler.

"If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever."
- Stephen King
Drop me a line at https://morganbroadhead.com
Rx4
HMx1
SFx1

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Posted : December 14, 2021 11:39 am
NVHaskell, David Hankins, storysinger and 3 people liked
FolkLoremIpsum
(@folkloremipsum)
Active Member
Posts: 10

Thank you so much, Becky! These tools will be fantastic, I can tell. It's great of you to share!

Q3 V38 - F, Q 4 V38 - SHM

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Posted : December 14, 2021 1:58 pm
storysinger, RETreasure, Wulf Moon and 1 people liked
storysinger
(@storysinger)
Gold Star Member
Posts: 1017

Thank you for posting those insightful comments Becky. I'll be saving that post.

To (@morgan-broadhead), I copy the file I want to keep and paste it to a word file. 

Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney
HM-V32/Q3
HM-V36/Q4
HM-V38/Q1
HM-V38/Q4

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Posted : December 15, 2021 6:18 am
dommichaels
(@dommichaels)
Bronze Member
Posts: 56

Clearly, it was no accident Becky.

Posts like yours remind me that the winners of this contest are more seasoned pro than amateur in terms of ability and experience. This isn't talent in the rough, but intentionally developed talent. That the winners are all essentially "unpublished" (or at least, not widely enough published to pro-out under the rules) says more about the defects and limitations of the publishing industry than about the abilities of the writers.

Thanks for posting this. Very helpful.

Dom.

V37 Q3-HM, Q4-HM, V38 Q1-HM, Q2-HM, Q3-HM, Q4-HM

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Posted : December 15, 2021 1:00 pm
fox
 fox
(@foxed)
Advanced Member
Posts: 30

thank you so much for sharing, this is all very helpful Smile and congratulations on your amazing achievements this year! truly inspiring

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Posted : December 16, 2021 10:36 am
Physa/ Guthington/ Amy
(@physa)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 112

This thread is most inspirational! So nice to hear the words of wisdom from such an accomplished entrant as RETreasure. Thanks so much and so happy for your successes, Smile

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Posted : December 23, 2021 5:36 am
Ania L.
(@anial)
Advanced Member
Posts: 29

Thank you so much for this--especially for stressing how it's "not in the first draft"!! For some reason (laziness??) I imagine other people always write the perfect stories from the get-go, and so I'm very disheartened, to the point of abandoning them, by my awful first drafts! Congratulations on all your achievements, I was so happy for you!!

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Posted : December 23, 2021 6:32 am
RETreasure
(@rschibler)
Gold Member
Posts: 819
Posted by: @anial

Thank you so much for this--especially for stressing how it's "not in the first draft"!! For some reason (laziness??) I imagine other people always write the perfect stories from the get-go, and so I'm very disheartened, to the point of abandoning them, by my awful first drafts! Congratulations on all your achievements, I was so happy for you!!

Stephen King says in "On Writing" that you should write first with the door closed, and then with the door open. The first draft is getting the story--ALL of it--onto the page. Then you "open the door" and decide what you need and what you don't. But if you don't have that messy first draft, or "zero draft", or bad first draft (There's lots of names for it!) that second draft doesn't have as much to work with. 

Lately I've been working on writing with emotional impact. It was a really hard level to crack, for me, because of how we're told Again and Again to "Show Don't Tell". So I would "show" my characters feelings--Sam wiped tears from his eyes, his stomach clenched--and then never take the final step to TELL THE READER how Sam was really feeling. So now what I do is I write it badly [EDIT: I said badly, but that's not accurate. I write it Heavy. I write it Obvious. I say all the words in my head, and then trim to get to the meat]: Sam wiped tears from his eyes, his stomach clenched. He was so sad, so angry, and when they combined they became a bitter pill of frustration and regret that stuck in his throat like a giant pill. And then I rewrite it, better: Sam wiped angry tears from his eyes. A bitter pill of frustration and regret stuck in his throat. Now, that ain't great, but hopefully it gets the process across. It's helped me a lot with emotion and, by extension, other issues. Writing it bad so I can write it well Smile

V34: R,HM,R
V35: HM,R,R,HM
V36: R,HM,HM,SHM
V37: HM,SF,SHM,SHM
V38: (P)F, SHM, F, F
V39: P
Always Available for 5-page Critiques
www.rebeccaetreasure.com

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Topic starter Posted : December 23, 2021 8:47 am
Ease, Ania L., David Hankins and 6 people liked
PenMark
(@penmark)
Bronze Member
Posts: 67
Posted by: @rschibler

Lately I've been working on writing with emotional impact. It was a really hard level to crack, for me, because of how we're told Again and Again to "Show Don't Tell". So I would "show" my characters feelings--Sam wiped tears from his eyes, his stomach clenched--and then never take the final step to TELL THE READER how Sam was really feeling. So now what I do is I write it badly: Sam wiped tears from his eyes, his stomach clenched. He was so sad, so angry, and when they combined they became a bitter pill of frustration and regret that stuck in his throat like a giant pill. And then I rewrite it, better: Sam wiped angry tears from his eyes. A bitter pill of frustration and regret stuck in his throat. Now, that ain't great, but hopefully it gets the process across.

There's already been a ton of great advice in this thread, but those three examples were particularly eye-opening for me. Thanks for taking the time to share all this!

V37: -, -, R, SHM
V38: R, SHM, HM, HM
V39: Submitted to Q1

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Posted : December 23, 2021 10:30 am
storysinger
(@storysinger)
Gold Star Member
Posts: 1017

That might be my process in a nutshell Rebecca. I write it bad and figure out what needs fixing once in a while.

This time I am concentrating on following all the lessons I've been learning. I want something above an HM.

I have never spent so much time and energy on a story as the one I am working on now. fistinair  

Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney
HM-V32/Q3
HM-V36/Q4
HM-V38/Q1
HM-V38/Q4

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Posted : December 23, 2021 10:52 am
scribblesatdusk
(@scribblesatdusk)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 158
Posted by: @rschibler

Lately I've been working on writing with emotional impact. It was a really hard level to crack, for me, because of how we're told Again and Again to "Show Don't Tell". So I would "show" my characters feelings--Sam wiped tears from his eyes, his stomach clenched--and then never take the final step to TELL THE READER how Sam was really feeling. So now what I do is I write it badly [EDIT: I said badly, but that's not accurate. I write it Heavy. I write it Obvious. I say all the words in my head, and then trim to get to the meat]: Sam wiped tears from his eyes, his stomach clenched. He was so sad, so angry, and when they combined they became a bitter pill of frustration and regret that stuck in his throat like a giant pill. And then I rewrite it, better: Sam wiped angry tears from his eyes. A bitter pill of frustration and regret stuck in his throat. Now, that ain't great, but hopefully it gets the process across. It's helped me a lot with emotion and, by extension, other issues. Writing it bad so I can write it well

I need to print this out.

V36:Q3 HM V37: Q3 R, Q4 SHM V38: R,HM, F, HM
V39:

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Posted : December 23, 2021 8:17 pm
Ease
 Ease
(@ease)
Active Member
Posts: 24

That you can distill your advice into such a concise and informative form is Incredible, @rschibler. No wonder you're reaching the upper echelons now. I've read this thread a few times now, and I plan to come back at least every quarter.

A question, bordering on disagreement, though; why wait until page 5 to start the hero's quest? Why not page 1?

And one tiny addition from this humble HM-only: the fantastical element should receive the same deadline as the hero's quest, if not earlier. At least for this contest. That the story is fantasy or sci-fi is important context for the reader to build all other understanding around.

R - HM - HM

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Posted : January 8, 2022 5:20 am
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
Gold Star Member
Posts: 1229
Posted by: @ease

That you can distill your advice into such a concise and informative form is Incredible, @rschibler. No wonder you're reaching the upper echelons now. I've read this thread a few times now, and I plan to come back at least every quarter.

A question, bordering on disagreement, though; why wait until page 5 to start the hero's quest? Why not page 1?

And one tiny addition from this humble HM-only: the fantastical element should receive the same deadline as the hero's quest, if not earlier. At least for this contest. That the story is fantasy or sci-fi is important context for the reader to build all other understanding around.

It's not necessarily about waiting until page five, so much as that it's important you get to the main conflict BY page five. The thing is, it's not always easy to introduce your characters, setting, and conflict all at the same time. You can introduce HINTS of all those things in the first paragraph--the first sentence, even--but if your ultimate goal is to make the reader care, that sometimes means establishing the status quo so that you can break it afterward. Establishing the character, setting, and problem is generally my goal in the first scene--and while that definitely means that something interesting should be happening, the initial conflict that you introduce doesn't have to be related to the main conflict of the story (although it should definitely set that main conflict up in some way).

There's nothing wrong with establishing the main conflict immediately, mind. But it doesn't always have to happen. grinning No two stories are paced exactly the same.

If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain
R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, SF, SHM, 1st Place (Q2 V38)
Ticknor Tales
Twitter

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Posted : January 8, 2022 8:49 am
Wulf Moon, scribblesatdusk, PenMark and 2 people liked
RETreasure
(@rschibler)
Gold Member
Posts: 819
Posted by: @ease

That you can distill your advice into such a concise and informative form is Incredible, @rschibler. No wonder you're reaching the upper echelons now. I've read this thread a few times now, and I plan to come back at least every quarter.

A question, bordering on disagreement, though; why wait until page 5 to start the hero's quest? Why not page 1?

And one tiny addition from this humble HM-only: the fantastical element should receive the same deadline as the hero's quest, if not earlier. At least for this contest. That the story is fantasy or sci-fi is important context for the reader to build all other understanding around.

Thanks!

Like Peony said, it needs to be by page 5. If you can start it in the first sentence and that serves the story, that's perfect!

Genre is absolutely critical, I agree! I would probably argue it needs to be clear on the first page, definitely by page 5. Readers need to know what to expect, editors need to know they're not wasting their time. Horror is a tricky one here--because sometimes horror relies on upsetting a familiar norm, but there are tropes and such to rely on even in that genre. Kary English looks at our openings for speculative elements, so it absolutely cannot be held too late.

V34: R,HM,R
V35: HM,R,R,HM
V36: R,HM,HM,SHM
V37: HM,SF,SHM,SHM
V38: (P)F, SHM, F, F
V39: P
Always Available for 5-page Critiques
www.rebeccaetreasure.com

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Topic starter Posted : January 8, 2022 3:43 pm
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
Silver Member
Posts: 450
Posted by: @rschibler
Posted by: @ease

That you can distill your advice into such a concise and informative form is Incredible, @rschibler. No wonder you're reaching the upper echelons now. I've read this thread a few times now, and I plan to come back at least every quarter.

A question, bordering on disagreement, though; why wait until page 5 to start the hero's quest? Why not page 1?

And one tiny addition from this humble HM-only: the fantastical element should receive the same deadline as the hero's quest, if not earlier. At least for this contest. That the story is fantasy or sci-fi is important context for the reader to build all other understanding around.

Thanks!

Like Peony said, it needs to be by page 5. If you can start it in the first sentence and that serves the story, that's perfect!

Genre is absolutely critical, I agree! I would probably argue it needs to be clear on the first page, definitely by page 5. Readers need to know what to expect, editors need to know they're not wasting their time. Horror is a tricky one here--because sometimes horror relies on upsetting a familiar norm, but there are tropes and such to rely on even in that genre. Kary English looks at our openings for speculative elements, so it absolutely cannot be held too late.

With horror, it depends on whether you're diving into horror as a genre (alien monstrosity, swarm of rats, squeamy body-horror) or horror as a tone and/or secondary beat (Wuthering Heights). If it's the second, and I suspect that the second may work rather better for WotF, you can do that with the tonality of your writing, establishing the spec genre and the horror tone alongside one another.

(The Enfield Report in V37, I think, may technically land in both genres, but does this same thing--it does a pretty good job of establishing its SF genre and horror tone quite early, and then of ratcheting the horror tension up when the prologue and central characters are brought together. Because of the dual genre though, it is a little more direct than the second thing I was talking about.) 

With regard to the tonal take, I may be horrible at actually doing that, as at its best, I think it demands a very precise and studied use of language to deliver the best results, and it can be extremely effective while also deceptively subtle--while I feel like my own work can be rather more like a whirling sock full of quarters at times.  

R: 0 / HM: 10 / SHM: 4 / SF: 0 / F: 1
Entered for Q1.V39 / Q2.V39 draft zero ~85%
Last result: HM for Q4.V38
Revised SHM ('Ashwright') at PodCastle

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Posted : January 9, 2022 12:36 pm
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