For us HMs, how long does it take to get the certificates? It is my first one so I'm sort of anxious to frame it and put it on my very bare wall of fame. LOL
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I just got my HM certificate for Q01. She said the Q02 would be going out next week, but somehow, I doubt it. I wouldn't think too hard on it for awhile. It'll come when it comes.
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And I got my results today, an HM, which is what I expected to get. I had allusions to higher placement until about a month ago when I reread my story and realized I had a fatal issue that would knock it out from anything higher than HM. I think I'm actually pleased to get an HM because it means I'm starting to understand what the contest wants after all these entries.
On to Q3 which is the first quarter I've sent in a story specifically written for WOTF. All the others have been stories that I wrote and then later decided to send to WOTF. I have high hopes, to say the least.
Good luck anyone who hasn't heard yet and hopefully we have a quiet finalist within the group.
What does the contest want? Truth be told, there is no magic formula and the best way to learn is to read the past anthologies a couple of times and to read the major magazines (Asimovs, Analog, F&SF) to get a feel for what the difference is between WOTF and the other markets.
However, there are key elements that KD looks for and she's mentioned these in a couple of places in the past. It IS possible to violate these and still win, I've seen examples in the anthologies, but I wouldn't try unless you have a good reason. These items are (and by no means is this a correct or complete list, this is just MY opinion):
1) Speculative element on the first page. 2) Show the character, setting and problem pretty quickly. 3) The MC should be the one with the problem and be the central actor for that problem. 4) The MC must be the one to solve the problem. 5) The ending must bring denouement (KD likes up-endings, but beautiful tragic is okay too.) 6) The overall idea must be unique (see the post about avoiding sirens, werewolves, etc.); or another way to say it, it must have that "Aw cool" factor. 7) Near-future or small scale stories don't work. 8) No horror or unnecessary gore
As you can see, none of these are crazy strange rules, but the contest definitely looks at stories differently than the pro mags. Those quiet nuance pieces just aren't going to catch KD's attention most of the time.
The other issue is that you have to pull all these things together, while writing well and get lucky that no one else has written a similar story.
And like I said, these are my opinion only on what works for the contest, and half the items are probably pretty obvious, but you never know. I guess you could say, when the story works, the story works, and no amount of analysis is going to tease out the reason why. Just keep writing and writing and writing, and it'll come.
Thanks Jennifer. I mostly lurk rather than post here nowadays (a busy job and a one year old will do that to you), but I thought Iíd add my opinion to Thomasí list. In my opinion, Thomas pretty much has it nailed as to what generally seems to the common factors in those stories that make it into the anthology. There are exceptions to that list, but from what Iíve read in the last three anthologies (volume 28 is truly excellent btw), most of the stories hit those conditions. I canít say what it takes to win (if I knew, Iíd be a lot more relaxed about the wait over the next few weeks). I think the following increases your chance of getting a finalist spot. You can probably ignore all of these recommendations and still get through (and, of course, this is all my ill-educated opinion). Oh, and itís rare I manage to follow all these rules. 1) A 1st or 3rd person past tense with a single, very firmly fixed POV is the lowest risk approach. Using more than 1 POV or omni is possible, but most of the winners have used a very traditional perspective on POV and tense. For my first non-winning finalist, I did use first person present and I regret that now. Multiple POVs works for GRR Martin, but has thousands of pages to work with. 2) Tell the story in a linear fashion, avoiding flashbacks if you can. Sometimes flashbacks are absolutely unavoidable, but most of the time, they kill the momentum of the story. Flashbacks should be small, brief and integrated into the current story environment (i.e. the character remembers the past because of something theyíve seen or done). A lot of stories Iíve read in slush start off with an exciting hook and then backtrack to the less exciting moments that led up to the exciting event. This sometimes works in serial television because we know and love the characters, but I donít think it works when using unfamiliar characters and situations. Even when it works in movies and books, it has to be done with exceeding skill. 3) Allied to Thomasí point about the ďThe MC should be the one with the problem and be the central actor for that problemĒ, and ďThe MC must be the one to solve the problemĒ make sure that the story can only happen through the actions of your MC. If you can remove the MC from the story and the events in that story would still happen, then you may have a passive protagonist. 4) A sympathetic protagonist helps a lot. Give your MC a non-selfish goal that is bigger than themselves and make sure they change over the course of the story. They should be a different person (dragon/elf/siren) by the end of the story, even if itís some small way. 5) Things should go wrong on a regular basis. 6) Allied to the point above, make sure that the motivation of the character is clear at all times. This also helps makes the stakes of your story clear. If we know what your character wants to do before they act, then itís clear why events are setbacks.
I'd add one more thing that Skadder pointed out to me recently. It doesn't hurt to include a strong theme. These books are used in high schools. Give those language arts students a theme to discuss in class.
Plain and simple. If you write Science Fiction, you have SUCH a better chance of winning. And I agree with the theme thing as well. They like themes. Simplistic plots, vanilla characters, and difficult prose they can look past, if there's new science (ideas) and talked-about themes in it.
Lol. Can you tell I'm reading Volume 27 right now? So frustrated.
Yes, I CAN tell you are reading vol 27... I have seen that your chances are way better if you write science fiction. Most of the last couple volumes at least have been mostly SF. I know they get way more fantasy than sf, and that a lot of people send them the same ol' stuff. But i have also known people who have sent in different fantasy stories, things that are well written and imaginative, yet don't even score an honorable mention. Maybe they were too different in a way? Oh well. Let's work hard! We can do this! Take every quarter as a learning experience.
I would classify Living Rooms as fantasy and I'm currently reading one with a minotaur as a main character which is definitely fantasy based. So it can be done.
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In the anthologies, my favorite stories are, hands down, the fantasy ones. Nothing against the science-fiction winners; I just like fantasy better. When it comes to my entries, I've split almost evenly between the genres:
Rejections: 2 sf, 1 fantasy HMs: 3 sf, 2 fantasy Silver HM: 1 fantasy Semi: 1 sf Pending: 1 fantasy
All my fantasies that have placed have been urban fantasy or had real-world elements.
I don't think you have a better chance of winning if you write sci-fi versus fantasy. I just think it's harder to pull off original fantasy than it is sci-fi. I've heard KD remark that too many fantasy entries are built around the same tropes. That's why you don't see as many (and why there are less fantasy magazines.)
"Living Rooms" won because it was original and a very touching story. My favorite story from the contest "After the Sunset, Again" (I'm probably remembering that title wrong) is about the mythology of the phoenix, but it's a very personal story. I loved it and still love it. Fantasy can be done if it's done right. My Q3 entry is a fantasy story, my first non-sf in the three years I've been entering the contest, and I have very high hopes for it. I don't at all feel disadvantaged for sending a fantasy story, if I think it's the right one. Send your best story, plain and simple, don't over think it.
As for action? Action is okay if your story *needs* the action. Don't just put it in to create movement in your story. Plenty of stories in the anthology have had action, but the action is there for a valid reason.
I'm far from an expert on the matter, though I have read all of the volumes from 18 on up and am currently working on getting through the newest anthology (27). My vague impression is that there are more sci-fi stories in that mix, but I should probably go back through the books and look at the stats before tooting my horn about anything. Unfortunately, that'd mean digging through my brother's basement for them... It's probably just my disgruntled side spouting off, as I write predominantly fantasy. I have heard from KD Wentworth though that the other judges have put pressure on her to deliver more hard SF stories, and the majority of the judges (from what I remember) are SF authors or lean mostly in that direction.
And try not to mind me too much right now. I always get cranky when I'm reading a WotF anthology and trying to figure out what exactly made all of the stories in it win. Mostly I get that way because I have absolutely no idea why they were picked and that fact drives me bonkers.
I understand, Dan.... At times I get the same way. The important thing is to take things as learning experiences and try to move on. Also, I have accepted that maybe WOTF isn't the right venue for my stories--I will continue to submit to them and then after submit the stories elsewhere. Hopefully some day I will either pro out or win!
I've read stories in the WOTF anthologies, and in major SFF magazines, that I thought were terrible, and I wondered how they ever made it where they are. These are few and far between, but they're there. I think the lesson with WOTF is that taste is, indeed, subjective. Clearly the stories I thought were subpar managed to win over five experienced SFF writers (and readers), which (to me) means they aren't objectively terrible, whatever my opinion may be.
(The lesson with the major mags may be slightly different, involving name recognition; I do sometimes think, "had I written that story, it would never have made it out of the slush pile.")
I suspect the other two winners for this quarter are hard SF (purely based on their employment backgrounds), but my 2nd place for this quarter was a fantasy. Statistically, there are more SF winners than fantasy, but in the end you can only write what you want to write. I tried writing SF for the contest and the results werenít great. Your best story will have the best chance and your best story will come from writing the genre you enjoy writing. Beyond that, you're relying on the taste of the judges and taste is subjective.
I got my critique from KDW. I said I would pass on any information that might be helpful to others, so here it is. She liked the relationship bewteen my two main characters and said the pacing was good. However, my story did not advance to finalist because the resolution relied on a coincidence that helped the protagonist.
"The rule on using coincidence in your fiction is that, if it hurts your protagonist, you can use it very sparingly, preferably no more than once in any plotline, whether it's a short story or novel. If the coincidence helps your protagonist, though, you shouldn't use it at all."
So, that's something to keep in mind on your future entries.