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Author Topic: Up for a February Writing Challenge?
BenM
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I'm interested in running another Hatrack challenge for us. I've had some fun with our recent challenges and find it quite motivating, and by volunteering to run one I hope the writers who've run the last couple can get involved without the stress of organising it or the inability to win themselves.

(I know there's another challenge currently underway. However, I don't believe it's premature to discuss this now so the next challenge can start soon after the current one)

I have a few ideas I'd like to discuss first though.

1) Reward
Ok, the reward normally comes at the end of the process, but since it's a motivator for the whole challenge and has been an important element of two recent challenges I thought this should get asked first:

Is a prize necessary?

Otherwise I have a hard disk full of kudos ready for the winner.

2) Theme
I enjoyed my first trigger challenge more than I thought I would. Should we do another trigger?

There was also a recent discussion on how not to start a story. Should we pick one of those as the challenge, and leave the premise/theme/trigger open? I suspect many (all?) of us would love to create a sellable story from this, so I suggest we don't get too carried away.

3) Genre
I suggest leaving genre open with one pointer: If someone wants to write a spy thriller, that's fine, but they should be aware that some of their readers in the challenge may not connect to a non-SF/F genre. Ie, challenge market may not equal intended sales market.

4) Length
Preferences? Given the ideal that the challenge story should also be sellable, what is the most marketable short story length? What's the best balance between shortest (easily read/critiqued for the challenge, easily written in the timeframe) and most marketable?

5) Timeframe
I liked the month for writing given with the Cinders challenge, despite being slack/busy and not taking full advantage of it. Same again? If so I'll be aiming to have this discussion over the next couple of weeks and then give everyone Feb to write, with some fixed dates for voting thereafter.

6) Voting
I liked the idea of voting on openings and stories seperately. I'd like to extend this to a couple of other areas, like also voting on the best ending (which also addresses another discussion), and voting on the writer's application of the theme. With scores for each factor, authors can see (in addition to the crits) what worked for readers and what didn't.

I also like the two-round system (first 13, then full story) we did on the last challenge, same again?

7) Crits
I have some ideas on asking for brief crits to follow a certain format so each contestant gets consistent feedback that helps them understand their audience. Is this too restrictive? Any thoughts?

Thoughts, feedback and/or scathing personal insults welcome!


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Brendan
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I'm game for a new contest, loved the last one. A couple of points below

1) Reward

I must admit that the reward was what attracted me to the last - not that I needed it, just that it made me choose that one out of several challenges. Despite this, I think the real reward is the discussions of stories afterwards.

2) Trigger

Using a bad/cliche opening may make it difficult to sell. So why don't we do two openings - one bad, and one alternative, and vote on both?

4) Length

Since many of the top magazines suggest that a story from a newbie is unlikely to sell above 3000 or 3500 words, we could make it that.

6) Voting

With the last challenge, I thought that the endings were less well done than other parts of the story. If you make a sale, the ending is more important than the beginning, as it gets the readers to return to more of your stories. So a method of getting the writers to focus on them would be good.

Furthermore, I like the ability to vote for more than one category.

Perhaps a 1st, 2nd, 3rd for each of the beginning, end and overall, with a weighting on overall being higher. For example

Place__Begin___End___Overall
_1st_____3______3_______5
_2nd_____2______2_______4
_3rd_____1______1_______3

7) Crits

For me it would be too restrictive. It would actually color my judging, making me have to analyse too many specifics. However, putting in a sentence about trying to make some useful comments for the writer would be valuable.

Just some thoughts.

[This message has been edited by Brendan (edited January 13, 2010).]


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Meredith
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I've enjoyed the Cinders challenge, too. Here are my thoughts.

1) Reward
For me, entering a challenge has a lot more to do with whether the trigger actually triggers a story I want to tell in my head. This one did, the character challenge, which I intended to enter, didn't. The critiques and hopefully some discussion afterward are the big prize.

2) Theme
Hmm. I enjoyed the trigger. I'm not sure about having to use a set kind of opening. I would like to see some weight given to how well a story ties in with the trigger. Otherwise, what's the point?

3) Genre
That sounds fine.

4) Length
It's a balancing act. Some of the stories in the Cinders challenge could clearly have benefitted from being a little longer. But if you make it too long, it becomes harder to read and thoughtfully critique that many stories. I would say between 2500 and 3000. I did discover that it's easier to read a more standard format, at least for me. So that might be a requirement, too. We're all going to have to learn to do that anyway. Standard font, double-spaced.

5) Timeframe
Having enough time to develop and write a story based on the trigger is also important.

6) Voting
I like that idea. First 13, theme, ending, and story overall, with the vote on the first 13 coming before the stories are available.

7) Crits
Without knowing the format, I can't say.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited January 13, 2010).]


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Devnal
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I haven't had a chance to partake in a challenge in a while and would be down for a february one.

I wouldn't go too crazy though brendan, I'm sure its a daunting task as is without making it more difficult.

REWARD: Totally unnecessary for me. The challenge is what I like.

I like to have a trigger to build my story around/with.

Length: i think the 2000-3000 is plenty big.

VOTING: I'm perfectly fine with opening and stry overall. Seems like overkill to do more than that.


Crits: Isn't that what the voting is?



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shimiqua
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1)RewardI think perhaps a good reward would be that the winner gets to know they are a good writer. I think if you can beat all these freakishly talented people, then that should be reward enough. I know that is my motivation for entering.

2)Theme I think we should do a trigger.

3) Genre I think we should follow the guidelines for WOTF. make it a spec and show the spec up front.

4)Length I think we should allow people to make the story the size it should be, be that 4,000 words, or 350. Just tell them to bring their best work, and then let it fight for the space.

6)VotingMaybe for voting, what if we each played editor, and had 7000 words (or so) to fill for our mag, and out of all the submissions we had to choose which story(ies) to buy.
Then we get to learn how an editor thinks.

5) Time frame. Give us enough time, but not so much that we are chopping at the bit to finally get crits, revisions, and the piece out the door. I think a month is more than enough time, as long as that month isn't Nov, or Dec.

7) Crits I think a brief comment on each piece is enough, and then maybe afterwards, for those interested you could start a group for discussion and crits on these pieces.

I do wish that it wasn't all so anonymous though. I wish I could post my own thirteen, and edit my comments for typos. I also wish I could discuss things while everyone is still here and excited.

~Sheena

[This message has been edited by shimiqua (edited January 14, 2010).]


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Owasm
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The hazards of an open contest are hurt feelings.

The benefits of an open contest is that it can produce a lot of energy.

I'm up for either. (hits hammer to head, doing little or no damage)


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snapper
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The true value to these challenges are the critiques. What also helps is knowing how you stand next to your colleagues.

Most of the previous challenges were 1K maximum. Making the word count larger will (or unlimited) might make a few shy away if it means a critique for each and everyone. Imagine writng a 500 word masterpiece and then reading another 10 entries all in the 10K range?

I am good for whatever idea you have in mind, Ben. I find these fun and inspiring.

And I can't wait to announce the winner.


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LlessurNire
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I would love to enter another contest Ben!

These contests are the best motivation for me to write.

I enjoy the anonymous factor involved, as long as who wrote what can be revealed at the end. It is exciting to have your story measured against all the other good writers on here in this fun way.

The real reward for me would be winning, or even getting some votes, as well as all the helpful critiques. Any additional reward such as a book would just be a great bonus!

Theme: absolutely have a trigger, it has made the contest very enjoyable to see all the different takes on the same trigger.

Genre: I agree with shimiqua, make it spec and show the spec up front.

Length: as Snapper said, I think a limit is necessary to encourage a large amount of participants to enter and make the reading/critiquing doable. I wouldn't go higher than 2500-3000 words personally.

Time: Snapper's time-frames were perfect, maybe a little less time given for voting/critiquing

Voting: I like the first 13 vote, then first second third voting. Maybe an additional vote for which story fit the trigger the best would be an interesting addition. It would be somewhat subjective, however.

Crits: maybe a small requirement would be fine, the crits have been mostly very helpful so far


thanks for taking the initiative to run another one!


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Devnal
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I strongly agree that 2,500 should be the max; if we start going higher the crit's will be of less value I think
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BenM
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Great suggestions so far! In the middle of the WotF group process, I particularly like the wotf/spec-fic tie-in idea.

If you've an idea for a trigger, please email me suggestions. I may or may not use yours, but it might help me pick something.

Not wanting to bias further feedback on the subjects of length and rewards, but my thoughts are that longer stories are harder to edit into shape, and while shorter stories force us to pick our words carefully and avoid rambling they often seem to suffer badly from overtrimming. That said, I think microfiction takes it too far and upsets the ability to render plot and character with any sort of believability. Though I liked the editor idea, I think we will have a fixed wordcount limit so that once it comes time to critique we know we won't get deluged with twenty 20,000 word novellas.

And as for reward, I think I agree with what most everyone has said. While I could theoretically afford to post a reward (and I had a great idea for one), I would hate to see a regular posting of rewards here devolve our challenges into some type of money-grab by professional writers, or that one day we find ourselves critiquing a deluge of slush by writers who just joined so as to have a go at a prize and have no real interest in improving their writing.


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Brendan
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quote:
And as for reward, I think I agree with what most everyone has said. While I could theoretically afford to post a reward (and I had a great idea for one), I would hate to see a regular posting of rewards here devolve our challenges into some type of money-grab by professional writers, or that one day we find ourselves critiquing a deluge of slush by writers who just joined so as to have a go at a prize and have no real interest in improving their writing.

How about this - the prize goes to the best critiquer. After all the critiques are put up, we each get one vote for the best critique of our own work, and one vote for the best critique of another's work (voting for self not allowed). This way, those that have no real interest in improving their writing wont have much chance, and professional writers will need to really give back to the contestants in order to get the prize. It also makes us really think hard about how we can give value to the other writers - at least one of the critiques I put up to the last competition I think did not give sufficient value to that author, which I wish I could do again.

[This message has been edited by Brendan (edited January 14, 2010).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Ooh! I really like that suggestion, Brendan.
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BenM
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As do I, though maybe it needs to be an accumulation of points from both - you want people to submit their best story as well as their best critique (lest someone submit a six word story and then attempt to win only on the strength of the critiques).
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snapper
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As far as the triggers go, past challenges had more than one trigger. I liked only one but the other ones worked just fine and had good turn outs.
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billawaboy
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::Reward::
I think we should have something... It doesn't just get people to write - I think it breeds *competitive* writing - as seen by the Cinders Challenge. People will put better effort. If actual prizes are too much then we could award an electronic blue ribbon or gold cup - a picture with caption that could be displayed underneath the name or on a separate page that keeps track of winners. If we want to we can get an actual prize for the top winner at the end of the year.

::Theme/Trigger::
As long as it's fun or a challenge. I wouldn't pick something absurd (like clown pirates in space). The moderator can decide how strictly one should adhere to the trigger. I like the idea of using the 'how not to start a story' - it should be instructive.

Sometimes I see a story warped just to fit a trigger - maybe we can make it an optional prompt?

::Genre::
It should vary. Sometimes open, sometimes not. I think it would help us beginners to be 'forced' to exercise our writing for a specific genre. We can cut our teeth on unfamiliar ways of writing and maybe learn a trick or two - who knows some may discover a talent for the genre. This is the venue where we should feel free to explore and make mistakes.

::Length:: 2-3k max ~ 10-15pgs. 1k for each act should be enough.

::Time::
1 month to write sounds okay. I'd say start on the 1st - and submit by the 25th, so the moderator has time to post first 13 etc.

For crits 2 weeks for 10 - 15 submissions should be good.

::Voting::
Voting first 13 is important if that's how the publishing world works. Best ending to me is often the same as best story - the best story typically has the appropriate ending to what was written prior. I say 13 and story only - same as Cinders. Maybe 3 points for most grammatically correct, lol.

::Crits::

This, to me, is the most instructive part of the challenge - not just receiving crits, but performing crits. I learn a LOT from analyzing other's successes, mistakes, and ideas.

I think having guidelines for crits are great (Kathleen has a very nice thread on those), but I like diving into the story and picking my way through to see why it works or not work for themselves.

For me a crit-form tends to make me get less into the work and more about answering the form. The crits you get back may be cookie cutter feedback, and not my personal feel of your work.

I feel like half a page to a page max ooughta be enough for anybody.

How do others feel about this?

[This message has been edited by billawaboy (edited January 16, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by billawaboy (edited January 16, 2010).]


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BenM
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quote:
If actual prizes are too much then we could award an electronic blue ribbon or gold cup - a picture with caption that could be displayed underneath the name or on a separate page that keeps track of winners. If we want to we can get an actual prize for the top winner at the end of the year.

This got me thinking - what if we had a Writing Challenges Hall of Fame thread in this forum, and then listed winners for each type of challenge? Ie

quote:

Best Story (Full story challenges)
Feb 2010 Trigger Challenge - JaneCitizen - Amazing Story Title
Mar 2010 13 Line Flash - PetePerson - A Most Astonishing Story Title
...

Best Critiquer
Feb 2010 - JimReader
Mar 2010 - AnneOther
...

...(other categories)...


I'd volunteer to maintain it, and if people like the idea I will discuss with Kathleen an idea that would allow this to continue to be maintained if I'm ever no longer able to do so.

There's nothing to say we can't have an occasional real prize, but I see problems with real prizes, even when they're donated by members in the laudable attitude of giving back to the group:
- Someone may feel they can't offer to run a competition because they can't afford to offer a prize
- Someone may feel compelled to offer a prize and put themselves into financial hardship.
- Having the problem with slush that we've already discussed.
- other socio-political reasons that would create an us-and-them atmosphere between those who donate a prize and those who can't.


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Devnal
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Hey Ben - are you still planning on doing a february challenge?
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BenM
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I surely am, I will put up a post Jan31/Feb1 with the rules and the trigger.


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