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Author Topic: WOTF ... again
Zero
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Is there some guarantee somewhere that the entire piece will be read when judged? Because mine has a slow start, it lacks an early "hook" but the overall piece is pretty good when seen in its completeness.
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skadder
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I wouldn't risk a slow starter. The competition is fiercely competitive and, from what I gather, she reads the first 13 lines (like any editor) and, UNLESS she has a reason to continue, she dumps it.
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tnwilz
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In the first phase, all the entries are judged by Kathy Wentworth. She classifies them three ways. Not close enough in quality, finalist and Honorable mention.

A large percentage (probably in the order of 90%) of the stories dont get past the first paragraph or so. Kathy has confirmed this on a number of occations. Most of the time she knows quickly.

Honorable mention means it was a contender but there were enough other stronger entries that the story got bumped to HM. There are only 16 finalist stories per quarter. Of these she has to rank them so that the bottom 8 become Semi-finalist and go no further beyond a personal critique. The remaining 8 move on to be judged by celebrity (at least in the literary world) judges and Kathy has no more say in the results. The celebrity judges pick the top three by consensus.

A strong start and rich story are your best friends in a competition such as this.

Tracy

[This message has been edited by tnwilz (edited July 21, 2008).]


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Zero
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Well, that sucks. I could always force some kind of contrived hook into the first few lines, jamming in something about conflict, or certain death, or mystery. But none of these is true to the story I am telling. And, am I not betraying my art if I start custom tailoring it to fit the mold of what they want to see right away?

If I were judging Chopin's Heroique by its first fifteen seconds, or the Mona Lisa on just the upper left corner, I might toss them into the garbage as well.

Art really can't be properly judged without considering the entire picture.


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annepin
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Thinking back on the WotF stories I've read, I don't think a slow start (i.e. non-action) is necessarily a killer. However, you do want to hook the reader somehow.

As in submitting to any publication, there's no guarantee the slush pile reader (in this case KD Wentworth) will read past the first line, let alone the first page.

Thanks, Tracy, for that detailing of how things work.


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JeanneT
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Then WotF might not be the best venue for that piece. KD gets thousands of entries every quarter, many of which aren't even eligible because of a lack of a speculative element.

She has been kind enough to let people know what she looks for--a hook and a speculative element and good clean writing. That'll get you past page one.

However, the hook doesn't have to be action you know. The hook in my last one, which many people thought was quite good, well, I can't say what it was, but it was the first line and had nothing at all to do with action. But it stirred the readers curiousity.

However, let me tell you that I have had many conversations with Gary Cuba who is a slush reader over at Baen's Universe. He says that ALL slush readers look for SOMETHING to hook them within the first 150-250 words or so of a story. It doesn't have to be someone being murdered, but it has to show there is a story to be told here. He assures me that all the major publications simply receive too many submissions for this to not be the case.

If you feel that you're betraying your art by doing this, there still might be a slush reader out there somewhere who will read on, but we live and publish in the real world where competition is fierce for the few fiction slots out there. So... *shrug*

You have to do what's right for you. Personally, you bet I tailor my work to try to meet what the editors or judges want.

Edit: Incidentally, you might want to keep in mind that Mona Lisa was a work comissioned by a customer.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 21, 2008).]


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Zero
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Hmm that's an interesting point. I guess I'm not really sure on what is a universal hook, and what isn't. The obvious examples such as murders, violence, running, etc, might even be cliched by now, because they try too hard.

So the question is, what hooks the slush reader(s)?

JeanneT, out of curiosity, can you give me the first 13 of your most recent/successful story? Or, if possible, may I read it the whole thing?


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JeanneT
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Zero, hop over to the JBU slush pile. Uncertain Harvest is posted there in the Baen's Universe Slush Pile. It was an HM the previous quarter at WotF and the comments I've gotten in the slush from one of the slush readers make me think that it has a chance to be considered for the Introducing slot in Baen's. (And I consider even being considered to be considered a triumph when you're talking JBU. LOL)

Besides, if you're not acquainted with Baen's Bar I always suggest going there anyway. It's an education.

It's one of the few places on earth where slush writers actually get to talk to editors.

Edit: The hook in that story--well... you decide. But I'm absolutely sure it has one. My other story posted over there, Seeds of Healing has a more obvious hook. You know from the get-go that she's being pursued.

Further edit: Oh, I also have a short story I actually SOLD (yes I sometimes sell something lol) over at http://sorceroussignals.com/CurrentIssue.html but I don't think it's that great. It was one of my early short stories and I was a bit -- dumb. LOL

And I have a short story I sold to an anthology called Arcane Whispers (published by the same company by the way) on Amazon. But it's an early story too, and I'd do better now. I kind of cringe when I read some of my early work.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 21, 2008).]

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 21, 2008).]


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Zero
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Thanks for that advice, JeanneT. Also, one more question.

I'm considering using a less conventional technique, using first-person/present-tense, instead of the more usual third/past. Would something like this fly? Are there any examples of successful writing using this form? (Specifically in this contest)


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JeanneT
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I'm no expert on WotF winners. I haven't read all of them.

I don't remember any first person, and I consider that evidence of Eric Flint's contention that first person is hard to do well. I don't see any reason one couldn't win if it were good enough. I'm sure some have that I just haven't noticed. The time issue -- I think time was handled very interestingly in Shroedinger's Hummingbird. I don't think it would make winning impossible.

Again, I think it's whether the story is good, hooks, and has that necessary speculative element rather than the details of PoV, etc.


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extrinsic
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I have a flash card for exploring a story's voice. In first person, psychic access is largely limited to the narrator's thoughts. Some external access to thoughts of other characters is available through their actions, gestures and expressions, body language, tenor and patterns of speech, but nothing much beyond superficial access, unless the narrator is psychically capable of reading thoughts.

Present tense is in the now moment of the dramatic action. Logically, there's little time for introspective reflection upon events except after the event unfolds. The limitation of present tense is from relating action in the now moment. Reflection slows down and might intrude into action scenes. Do warriors think about their dinner while they're engaged in combat? Reflection scenes might be used as intercessions, between battle scenes, before or after a battle, and so forth.

Combining first person considerations with present tense considerations shows some of the complexity of such a choice. First person for access to the narrator's reflective thoughts; present tense for showing action without introspective thoughts. In general, to me, they seem to be contraindications of one another. Too tricky to do without a rhetorical purpose. Perhaps the story of a reflective warrior might be worth combining first person and present tense, along with auxilliary voices; however, the complexity derives from when to show action, when to relate thoughts, and when to change to an auxiliary person or tense.


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KayTi
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A hook is just a reason for the reader to care, to read on. Even a description of a scene can be a hook if there's something in there that makes the reader care.

Per a recent thread here, reading about the weather doesn't generally constitute a hook, but reading about a character faced with challenges the weather presents can.

Then again, you can follow the "rules" (whatever they are - LOL, not sure there are any actual rules) and write a beginning where there is a sympathetic character in the middle of something active and facing some kind of challenge, and still write it terribly such that nobody would want to read further.

As others have pointed out before, the first lines of a story are a contract to the reader. "Here, Reader, come spend some of your time with me. I'll tell you a good yarn. You'll be glad you spent the time." That what those first lines should say, regardless of who the reader is - a contest judge, a slush pile reader, your best friend, your dog, etc. We should commit to the readers that we'll tell them a good story, then deliver on that promise. That's our job. And as our Hatrack KDW posted today on writing genius - telling a story in a simple way is more indicative of art/genius than anything else, at least that's my perspective.


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ChrisOwens
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There's lots of first person stories in WOTF anthologies. If memory serves me, as much first as third, if not more. Of course, first person present tense--that's very rare since it's hard to do well. It could be wearing if carried out into novelette lenghts. In the right hands--which may be yours--it might be fresh and invigorating.

A slow start? My semifinalist story didn't start whiz-bang. It's five pages of a young man tracking down his grandfather in a tomato field and talking. In her critique, Kathy Wentworth didn't metion that at all in why it didn't make the finals. In fact, the grandfather character, who only appears in the first scene and briefly in the last was the character she seemed to love the most.


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JeanneT
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I like KayTi's description of what a hook is.

It shouldn't be a gimmick. It should just be something that promises a story. After all that's what our readers are looking for, right? They have a right to ask us to promise them that. It doesn't really have anything to do with whether the story has a fast or slow start. You can hook the reader with a slow start that still promises a good yarn.

Edit: As far as the PoV question, since I had Volume 22 next to my keyboard, I double checked my memory. I didn't recall any first person stories in it. Actually there are three first person stories out of the twelve stories in the volume--25%. I'd hardly say they predominate but one obviously has a chance.

I have a few other volumes but I'd have to manage to locate one so that's as far as my research will go. I suspect it's probably fairly typical.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 22, 2008).]


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ChrisOwens
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Check Volume 23. In part, this is why my latest entry is in first person.
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Zero
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Thanks, everyone.
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Zero
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I think I'm going about this the wrong way. I love and appreciate your advice and input, but it's having me rethink my story too much. And it is still as tender as a newborn infant. I'm going to focus on telling the story as true as it can be told. And then, after it's finished, I will return to these comments and consider tweaks, edits, and changes.
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JeanneT
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That's a good plan, Zero.

And consider. There were, from what Chris is saying, a lot of first person in 23. There were few in 22. That probably indicates that they don't care whether it's first person or not but whether the choice fits the story.

Make sense?

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 22, 2008).]


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Zero
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Beautiful sense.
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EricJamesStone
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The first 13 lines of my WOTF published finalist story "In Memory":
quote:
I'm soaring over the snow-tipped peaks, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my wings, when the call comes in from Andrew. It's been three years, four months, seventeen days, five hours, forty-seven minutes and twelve seconds, simtime, since I last talked to him, so immediately I fork my consciousness and slow one of me down to realtime.
I answer the call in video mode, using my human appearance. "Hey, buddy. Long time no see."
Andrew jerks slightly, then shakes his head with a smile. "Can't you at least wait for the phone to ring before answering, like a normal person?"
"Sorry. Was just glad to hear from you."
His voice is thoughtful. "Just got back from your mom's

What's the hook here? It's not action or violence, obviously, because it's basically just a guy taking a phone call from a friend. The hook is intriguing elements like the "sun on my wings," the extreme accuracy as to time, and "fork my consciousness and slow one of me down to realtime." Those bits (A) make clear that the story is speculative fiction, (B) promise that there's an unusual setting for the story, and (C) introduce a character who is obviously not a normal human.

Oh, and note that it's first person present tense.

The first 13 lines of my 2nd place story "Betrayer of Trees":

quote:
Some of the younger stoneworkers in the guild called him Janal the Stonemage, but he knew there was no magic in his work. It was merely the skills hed learned over nearly fifty years of carving that allowed him to turn rough-hewn stone into delicate beauty. His wrinkled hands were no longer as strong as they had been, and his pace had slowed, but when the townsfolk of Capeton wanted stonework of the highest quality, they always asked the guildmaster to assign Janal.
Word of his work had spread far enough that several times he had been offered a commission in one of the nearer cities, especially in the fifteen years since woodcarving had been outlawed by Imperial decree. But Janal always turned them down. Capeton was his home, he would tell them, and he never wanted to

What's the hook for this story? Again, no action or violence. There's a hint of magic, and a bit of mystery as to why woodcarving has been outlawed, but the hook is probably the character: we tend to admire people who are very good at something, and based on the admiration of his peers, Janal is obviously a great stonecarver.

Neither of these openings is filled with action. The first is, perhaps, a little gimmicky, as the wings don't really make a difference in the story. The second has a less obvious gimmick: it starts off in omniscient POV, and only on the second page does it descend into Janal's head and become third person limited.


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JeanneT
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Those are excellent examples (and very nicely written). As you say, a hook doesn't have to be someone smashing someone over the head, in fact that might not hook at all. I think it was annepin who pointed out that the hook is also a promise to the reader to tell them a story that they will entertain them.
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Zero
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Eric James Stone, thank you very much for your examples. And, it's very cool to see a successful piece from first person present tense. Curious, what inspired you to choose that voice? Was there any conflict making that choice, or did you simply know it was the best way to tell the story? if there was any inner conflict about that decision, how did you eventually resolve it?
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EricJamesStone
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Initially, I probably chose first person present tense for "In Memory" because it has a more "literary" feel to it, and I was doing an assignment for a creative writing class.

When I expanded the assignment into a story, I consciously decided to stick with first person because I liked the narrator's voice.

And I stuck with present tense because the story deals with character discovering that his memory is unreliable. That means he can rely on his present but not his past.


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Zero
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Yes those are very compelling reasons. For me, though, the situation is a bit less clear. I think it could be told either way. The story has only one character, really, and it is strongly about his internal thoughts. Which makes me think 1st person, but there is no compelling reason to use present tense other than I think it can be stylish or unique. But the slightly distant narrator in the 3rd limited can have the same effect, I think, as intended, and maybe help to contrast our characters growing insanity/emotional turmoil with the more objective narrator. Thoughts?


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JeanneT
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Well, there is the question of whether the reader will want to be in the character's mind for an extended period of time. Sometimes they may not want to be because it's not that interesting--something that Eric Flint pointed out in his discussion. However, I also remember a discussion by an author (darn if I remember who) about a character whose mind he could only stay in briefly because the character was insance and he felt it was unpleasant for the reader to experience that PoV for extended periods. For that reason he chose to write much of the story in a more omniscient voice. (Wish I remember who that was. *bonks head*) He was discussing the reasons why someone might use a more distant 3rd person rather than the more usual close.

It isn't that Mr. Flint or anyone is arguing that you shouldn't use the voice that is best for the story. However, I think he had a good point that generally close third is best unless there is a reason for using another.

However, I wouldn't be one to say that "It feels right" isn't a valid reason. Sometimes we can't articulate why something feels right but it does. He also suggests trying a piece you've written both ways to see which works better, and I think that's probably good advice too.


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Zero
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That's very good advice.
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annepin
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This is off topic but about WotF that came up in another thread which I don't want to hijack.

So people here have cautioned against posting the title of your WotF in the fear of compromising the anonymity of the judging, especially for someone like me whose handle readily suggests my name.

But wouldn't just posting the first 13 at all compromise that, assuming you don't end up changing a lot of it?

What do you guys think?


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JeanneT
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I honestly don't see how either would cause a problem. I think even taking off the title is being overly cautious, but to be on the safe side I did. My handle also *could* suggest my name. But really how likely are they to even know or remember my name or handle?

I suppose there could be a small small chance a judge would remember a handle, connect it with a person, remember the first thirteen and feel the anonymity was compromised. Seems quite a bit of a stretch to me though.

But first the judge would have to read the first 13. I suspect they would avoid doing that for the same reason, to protect the contest -- in the unlikely event they were tempted.

Edit: By the way, my likely next entry was posted on Baen's in full with my name. I honestly didn't worry about it at all.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 31, 2008).]


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annepin
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Yeah, you're probably right. I'm just the paranoid type, I guess.
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Zero
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I know what that's like anne. I feel like I have to be extra-cautious, more than most people, because a black cloud of bad luck is always following me, testing for any chinks in my armor.
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JeanneT
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LOL Well, seriously, I've spent more time than I like to think about over on Baen doing what is essentially slush reading. Let me tell you--it's painful at times. (Some a very good but the majority would make you shudder)

I can't imagine an author like KD Wentworth going over there to browse. She no doubt gets enough painful entries in WotF. I doubt she looks for more. *grin*

I suspect she would have second thoughts about the possibility of seeing a future entry there if she considered it. The judges must be as concerned about protecting the contest as we are, probably more so. So I think some of the concerns really are being overly cautious.


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Zero
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When I can, I like to avoid tags altogether.
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wetwilly
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Am I the only one who thinks "WTF?" every time I see "WOTF?"
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JeanneT
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LOL Considering ... surprisingly enough I've never had that reaction. Funny.
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annepin
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No, Wetwilly, you aren't. That goes through my mind every single time i use the acronym!
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Zero
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Me too. Esepcially before I knew what WOTF stands for.
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Rahl22
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Hey all... just another data point: KD is in my writing group here in Tulsa. She's a very busy lady and she takes the contest seriously. Whenever an eligible writer has a story to read, she will leave the meeting. Conversely, she is so busy with her own writing (it must be nice to be INVITED into so many anthologies...) that I suspect, though she's never said so, going over to Baen's bar would be the last thing on her mind.
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JeanneT
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It must be great being in a writer's group with an author of her caliber.

I am not at all suprised at her taking the contest that seriously. It's exactly what I would expect of her and the other judges as well. I suspect they all avoid seeing work that might be a future contest entry such as is posted at Baen's or the First 13 here.

Thanks for mentioning that. I think it may ease some fears on the subject.

Edit: My own reading of Joni's comment in her WotF blog was that she was concerned about authors posting on public forums or their own blogs that they were finalists without thinking that that might break the anonymity. I really don't think she seemed concerned about workshopping which doesn't go onto search engines. I'm not saying a little care hurts, but really that shouldn't keep us from workshopping our stories to improve them. That is counterproductive in my opinion.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited August 02, 2008).]


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arriki
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So are people here saying we shouldn't post the first 13 of a possible WOTF entry here?
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ChrisOwens
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http://wotfblog.galaxypress.com/2007/11/4th-quarter-writers-of-future-finalists.html

Read the "NOTE TO Finalists" in the above link which is the source of caution. I believe the consensus reached here is to use your own discretion. Myself, I'd use a working title. Of course, the risks(if any) you take to yourself is one thing, but don't risk your fellow writer by posting the name of their story in any public forum such as this.


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JeanneT
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No one has ever done or suggested doing such a thing as mentioning the title of someone else's story, Chris.

Arriki, that's up to you. From what Rahl22 posted, I would say that KD Wentworth would certainly not take a chance on reading anything on a site such as this. In the mentioned link Joni never said don't workshop your stories.

She said the FINALISTS shouldn't go around posting the title of their stories on PUBLIC forums--which this is not. A public forum is on that does not have a password.

Here is what she said: "NOTE TO Finalists - feel free to spread the word of your status, however DO NOT mention the name of your story. The reason is: this contest is judged anonymous..."

That's all. If someone posted say on their on blog that "MY story "The Great Science Fiction Story" is a finalist at WotF" that could easily be googled and be something that a contest finalist judge could see purely by accident.

To imply that this means that the judges go around reading workshops for story titles so they can disqualify people is a huge stretch.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited August 04, 2008).]


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Zero
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Isn't this a public forum? I mean, I didn't have to put in any passwords to read the material here.
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JeanneT
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You have to have a password to post. You don't have to have a password to read it. That's a little more iffy than one where you can't even read without a password like Baen's.

That's an interestng point. I have never checked to see if our posts here end up on google.

If it's something that concerns you, I'd take Chris's advice and use a working title or post it as untitled. I wouldn't let it keep me from workshopping a story though. I think that is not at all what Joni had in mind when she made the post on her blog.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited August 04, 2008).]


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Zero
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It actually doesn't concern me, I was just curious if there was a strict definition of public forum, or if it was loose and generally up to interpretation.
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JeanneT
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I've never even seen an "official" definition whatever "official" would be when it comes to the internet.

You'll get disagreements like this where some people consider all forums "public" and some consider that if you don't have full access except through use of a password that it isn't public. Obviously, I'm in the latter group.

I did a search and don't see that Hatrack posts seem to come up on google searches which is one factor that people frequently consider. However, it was a pretty down and dirty look so I might have missed somewhere that they do.


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Zero
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I think if you go out of your way to dig this stuff up on google then we're more than safe.
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ChrisOwens
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JeanneT,

I didn't word as well as I should've. My posts get much less drafting than my stories. While naming another's WOTF story in a public forum isn't what was being discussed, I've seen it well-intentionally done--but, not by arriki.


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JeanneT
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Chris, I'm guilty of the same. My proofing of my posts is pretty minimal and sometimes they're barely understandable or seem a bit sharp which is rarely intentional, so I know what you mean. I hope no one judges the writing in my stories by my posts.

I think the point is that reasonable care is called for but not paranoia.


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