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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Writing Challenges » Entries: Summer 2016 Marathon Challenge

   
Author Topic: Entries: Summer 2016 Marathon Challenge
extrinsic
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Post entries only, please.

Prompts, discussions, and questions post to the companion thread.

Votes and critiques post to this thread, too, after challenge end September 22.

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telflonmail
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#1. True Colors

When the starship Boaty McBoatface docked at the Trafalgar spaceport, Captain Nelson knew something was afoot. The hull of the rotation wheel module was painted a fluorescent green and orange with an unfamiliar logo overlaid at strategic locations.

First Officer O’Reilly disembarked through the docking hatch where he was saluted by a squad of men sporting tee-shirts with customized space fleet logos, Bermuda shorts and canvas sneakers in the same fluorescent green and orange colors.

“Sir, what happened to your uniforms?” asked the First Officer to the man who appeared to be the leader of the squad.

“There was a vote last month,” the man replied with a smirk on his face. “But, we have another month before we are mandated to replace our pressure suits.”

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extrinsic
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#2) The Broken Rath of Leighton

Mancon Global bought the village Leighton on the Neamth River. The townspeople removed themselves to Pitton Bottom ramble shacks.

The company tore down the stick and bark shingle rath house atop the town's ley seam and all the town's shops and houses. Mancon put up a luxury resort in the rath's place -- welcomed all from far and wide. Leightneans loved the resort's jobs that freed them from fieldwork.

A Bureau of Metaphysics official reported the resort's excavation short-circuited the ley seam where it surfaced. Leightneans missed the dream wishes the rath granted.

The resort failed. Leightneans no longer worked, resort or field, lived cheap on public assistance. They had to purchase overpriced wishes from Mancon corporate. Mancon counted the failed resort a grand success.

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Disgruntled Peony
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#3) Patchwork Skin and Fractal Scarring

White-hot current courses through synapses and nerve endings. A patchwork man's heart wakes to beating in a pulse of agony. Consciousness is imbued without context. Restraints buckle under unnatural strength as he writhes and howls.
A small, pink creature rushes to the patchwork man's side. It places a clammy palm on his forehead and chants words that burn hotter than electricity.
The patchwork man rips a hand free from leather straps and grabs the pink thing by the throat. It squawks and writhes as he tightens his grasp. Eventually it sags, limp and silent.
As the pain recedes, understanding asserts itself. The patchwork man struggles to straighten a twisted neck. Best efforts fail. He chokes back a sob, abandons the corpse, and flees into the night.

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H Reinhold
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#4) Insomnia

We weren’t prepared for winter. The locals burrowed down and slept, but we humans wrapped ourselves in furs and strutted on into the darkness. Seven months lay before us. We would subdue half the planet before the starship’s return. Adela came to me on the tenth day and said, ‘We’ve lost half the colony. We can’t go on.’ I scoffed. We’d conquered the heat of Gadol; we’d weather this.

Barely a week and we’re down to two. Adela was three; she went out into the night. The old man and I wait, playing cards. His eyes ask, Did she find the locals, sleeping cold? Or did she meet the thing they’re hiding from?

I think of spring, when those rats will crawl out, wagging their heads, and dig graves for our cold skins.

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extrinsic
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Like summer has come to a close, this challenge's submission entries have come to a close. Voting and comments are now open and any Hatrack member may vote and comment. Voting is open for two weeks: deadline October 7th. Please do vote for a best title too.

Voting:
1st place 5 points
2nd place 3 points
3rd place 1 point
Best title 1 vote

Sample ballot;
First place, Hatrack screen name, #N, "Title"
Second place, Hatrack screen name, #N, "Title"
Third Place, Hatrack screen name, #N, "Title"
Best Title, Hatrack screen name, #N, "Title"

Thanks for entries, votes, and comments. Great entries for a challenging challenge!

[ September 23, 2016, 02:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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H Reinhold
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Good entries, everyone! Here are my votes.

First place, Disgruntled Peony, #3, "Patchwork Skin and Fractal Scarring"
Second place, extrinsic, #2, "The Broken Rath of Leighton"
Third Place, telflonmail, #1, "True Colors"
Best Title, extrinsic, #2, "The Broken Rath of Leighton"

Entry critiques:

First place: Disgruntled Peony, #3, "Patchwork Skin and Fractal Scarring". I felt this entry built up a complete dramatic sequence in which I actually care about the characters and what takes place. I could identify with the character, and was intruiged by the setting. That said, there were a couple of areas where I felt this entry didn’t work so well. The first is what I perceived as viewpoint confusion, and the second is the issue of predictability.

I stumbled, when reading, over the piece because of what felt like an awkwardness or confusion over the point of view. First we are observing the ‘patchwork man’ from an external viewpoint, watching him and watching this other figure, the pink creature, rush to his side, but at the same time he is the viewpoint character, and we feel what he feels (‘a pulse of agony’, ‘words that burn’). It might have been a bit clearer to pick one or the other, but I’m not sure which offers more here – the external narrator viewpoint builds up the visual aspect of the scene and sets the characters in vivid contrast, but it would be harder to communicate the emotional and personal suffering experienced by the patchwork man. On the other hand, if told through the third-person-limited point of view, in which we would have only the information of the patchwork man as the viewpoint character, we would lose the striking visuals because at this stage he’s howling and writhing and barely conscious of his surroundings. I don’t know how I would do this, and perhaps the entry’s style is consciously chosen because of this. All I can say is that it still feels somewhat clunky to me as I read it; I feel I would be able to connect much better with the characters if the viewpoint didn’t seem to be constantly shifting.

The issue of predictability is one thing that prevents me from finding this piece really gripping. While the development of the scene worked well – building from the set-up through rising conflict and complication to a crisis and a resolution – it proceeded and resolved exactly as I would have predicted. For example, from the moment I see a ‘small, pink creature’ introduced into such a story, I’m counting down the seconds until it gets squashed. If I see a Frankenstein’s monster type, I'm expecting some violence and an escape into the night. So I feel that this story lacks an element of surprise that could have made it really interesting.

Second place: extrinsic, #2, "The Broken Rath of Leighton". This entry built up the fullest setting, and caught my attention for the landscape it creates, but I didn’t find it easy to connect with. I feel sorry for the village, but without specific characters as focal lenses for me to experience the story, the entry feels more like an anecdotal cautionary tale, or a brief account in a regional history - also fine, but for me personally not entirely compelling. There is a full dramatic sequence, and an interesting setting, but I am still left thinking, ‘So what?’ This could be much more interesting to me if it were more personal, although perhaps such a story would be too big to tell in just 13 lines. I certainly felt that there was a lot more that could be told here.

Third Place: telflonmail, #1, "True Colors". This entry also left me thinking, ‘So what?’ but for different reasons. It’s well written, is clear, even elegant, and flows. In terms of the prose itself, I think there are only one or two very minor things that I would question. However, despite this refinement, the story within the prose feels a bit dead and just doesn’t excite me. I don’t see a full dramatic sequence played out: although there is conflict and progressive complication, the punchline doesn’t feel strong enough, for me, to be a satisfying resolution - I don't get it. Characters who might have acted as focuses for some emotional connection don't give this. Of course, I understand that this has to be the case because the focus is humour, not character, and there isn't enough space to devote to both at once, but the humour just doesn’t work for me (sorry). Perhaps it would if the story built up to a stronger punchline at the end; to me, the funniest and most memorable parts all came too early.

Title critiques:

Best Title: extrinsic, #2, "The Broken Rath of Leighton". This title gives me a much clearer and more specific sense of the entry than any of the others. If I saw a list of the three entries’ titles only, this is the one I would read first. It gives some specificity in terms of location, and implies (to me) a smaller, settled, rural settlement; it gives one strange word that I assume will be important to the story, and I get the main conflict: this ‘rath’ somehow is, or becomes, broken. The story doesn’t disappoint in delivering on these expectations. And yet, because I don’t yet know what a ‘rath’ is, it draws me in.

The title "True Colors" is a good match to the story, but it doesn’t grab me. I feel that it seems a bit cliché (stale?) and serious for this entry, but then perhaps it’s intentional and ironic. But I think coming up with a good title is seriously hard work, and I don’t know how it’s done.

"Patchwork Skin and Fractal Scarring" seems to be an unnecessarily complex title for this entry, and leads me to expect something more – I don’t know what – that the entry doesn’t deliver. It sets up the Frankenstein-like set-up, but at the same time doesn’t help me to move beyond this model to discover anything fresh about this telling.

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extrinsic
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First place, H Reinhold, #4, "Insomnia"
Second place, Disgruntled Peony, #3, "Patchwork Skin and Fractal Scarring"
Third Place, teflonmail, #1, "True Colors"
Best Title, teflonmail, #1, "True Colors"

"Insomnia"
A colony planted on a mysterious planet tragically encounters the planet's mysterious and most dangerous inhabitants or inhabitant and the indifference of the planet's other species.

The narrative fully meets the three prompts of the challenge, notably, is a complete and standalone dramatic sequence narrative and as well could be an artful start of a longer fiction. Plus futuristic and emotionally charged.

The first person of the entry makes for a by-default close narrative distance, and two key pieces develop character: the card game interaction and the charged label "rats" for the hibernating natives. Are they rats or is that an emotionally charged response? I can't distinguish the term's intent or meaning.

The action is temporally confused here: "Barely a week and we’re down to two. Adela was three; she went out into the night." That's either a tense error or a confused sequence. It's a "huh?" situation that causes a hiccough.

Unnecessary tense shifts and a few diction glitches, otherwise. This, though, if some minor diction and syntax glitches were adjusted, is ready for submission and publication consideration. Maybe adjusted and submitted to Flash Fiction Online, 500 to 1000 words, or Microfiction Monday Magazine, maximum 100 words, or both in a sequence.

The title is on the meaningless side. The narrative more pertinently is part about hibernation. "Insomnia" and "hibernation" together cold meet micro short prose's title needs and conventions. For example: //Hibernation Insomnia//.

"Patchwork Skin and Fractal Scarring"
A reinterpretation of Mary Shelly's Modern Prometheus in which the creation "smites" the hand of the creator, so to speak.

A detached narrator, external perspective of the quickened creation, the narrative distance is on the remote and impersonal side. However, the stronger appeals are the allusions to Shelly's creation and the Promethean myth, metaleptic in those regards, that allude to and imaginatively reinterpret two extant literary artifacts.

Perhaps a lean toward a too cerebral theme, as it were, that of a creation who smites the creator, sort of a Prometheus killed God tableau, or Zeus, nonetheless, holds promise and appeals to me, from the satire of the theme -- an individual and the gods in an unconventional and dynamic juxtaposition and with a curious channeling of the proverbial exile from the Garden of Eden.

And the action, though largely on the direct and surface level, not much connection between the figurative layers and the actual surface action, is a complete and standalone dramatic sequence, and as well a start potential for a longer fiction. Not quite ready, I feel, for publication submission consideration, though.

A consideration that could bring the layers into closer relation and enhance the entry's publication potentials is a title adjustment. That is, a title that speaks to the theme, the complication, and the conflict and that nonetheless leaves the outcome in doubt until the somewhat predictable inevitable surprise, bittersweet end, without telegraphing the plot or the end, in other words.

Keywords for consideration: Prometheus, Zeus, the Titans, the Olympians, hubris, eternal punishment therefor, creation of humankind, and the gift of fire to humanity, and a transformation implication, such as the fire and its unmaking (implies perhaps pride's hubris and wrath's perils). For micro prose, titles are evermore crucial than longer narratives to a narrative's action and sequences.

"True Colors"
A survey vessel arrives at a remote base; and, the base's color scheme is contrary to expectation and fraught with disturbing implications of a bloodless rebellion.

This, too, is on the too far cerebral side for general readers. The motifs require more effort to comprehend than perhaps readers generally will expend at the reading moment.

I get it, though. "Boaty McBoatface" alludes to a contest's most popular hull name suggested for a British Antarctic survey ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, though one of the ship's submarines was named Boaty McBoatface.

"Trafalgar" alludes to the Battle of Trafalgar where Britain's majesty of the high seas was confirmed and where Admiral Lord Nelson was fatally wounded. "Green and orange" alludes to the flag of Ireland. Trafalgar and the Ireland flag allusions allude to the Bloody Sunday riots in London's Trafalgar Square.

And "Trafalgar" is of Arabic origin to mean the edge, the extremity, the promontory extension of a seaside headland. The remote base, so to speak.

The base voted to separate from the Empire!? Now their true colors are shown. "True colors" alludes to the true, natural character of the base's people, rebels that voted for and implemented secession from the Union, from the Empire, and ungrateful scoundrels for it.

The entry, though, even for its allusive meaning and cerebral figurative contexture appeals, is an incomplete dramatic sequence. The preparation segment is ample; the suspension and anticipation segment is ample; the satisfaction, or resolution, segment is incomplete. This is more of a revelation anecdote than a drama in those regards. The last part about mandated pressure suit color adjustment only says the secession rebellion is itself incomplete at this now moment.

An adjustment consideration could express a different outcome circumstance and, ergo, complete the sequence. For example, instead of pressure suits, those could be combat armor still, tactically, in the colors of the Union Jack, which would imply, We are ready to uphold our independence at all costs or perish in the attempt. True colors, indeed.

The title "True Colors" for its allusions to extant culture artifacts and their singular figurative meaning of native human nature at odds with and as well responsive to natural law is inspired. They show their true "colors," their true nature. One consideration, though, why not the Union spelling "Colours"? That simple adjustment could further the narrative's irony and satire appeals plus align and close up closer with the content.

Otherwise, the narrative fully meets the other two prompts of futuristic milieu and emotionally charged, the latter subtly if a degree obtusely, from the allusive figurative layers of the narrative.

Well done, artful craft, very challenging, accomplished challenge submissions overall!

[ October 07, 2016, 11:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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Sorry for getting this in so close to the wire; I've had a crazy week. I managed to get comments in on time, though! Votes and comments are included below.

1st place and best title, exstrinsic, #2, "The Broken Rath of Leighton". The piece is a complete story with an interesting twist; I felt the ending very appropriate.

2nd place, H Reinhold, #4, "Insomnia". This feels complete, to be certain, but it leaves me curious. I want to know what was killing those people. (This would make an interesting opening for a story, in my opinion.)

3rd place, teflonmail, #1, "True Colors". It's fun, very tongue in cheek. I felt like I missed something, though... in fact, looking over Extrinsic's critique after the fact, I most definitely did. Ahh well.

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extrinsic
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Thanks for the votes and comments so far. Votes and comment period will remain open a while longer in hopes of more to come, at least a response hoped for from teflonmail, whose profile page contains a spurious e-mail address and therefore no way to e-mail a prompt to vote and comment. Any Hatracker may vote and comment, too. The more the merrier. A second place tie-breaker, for instance!?
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Disgruntled Peony
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I'm willing to take a lower position, if I'm part of the tiebreaker issue.
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extrinsic
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Disgruntled Peony,

That concession is respectable. A tie-breaker rule is a noteworthy consideration for subsequent challenges. Like a best title advantage.

I'd hoped, begged even, for another ballot to break the tie so that unilateral or retroactive rule changes didn't decide the outcome.

Therefore, as no new votes have come in since the extended deadline has elapsed, the results:

Vote results
1st      2nd      3rd
#3      #2         #1, H Reinhold ballot
#2      #4        #1, Disgruntled Peony ballot
#4      #3        #1, extrinsic ballot

Fourth Place
"True Colors" #1 third place three votes = 3 pts

First Place tie
"Insomnia" #4, one first place 5 pts + one second place 3 pts = 8 pts

"Patchwork Skin and Fractal Scarring" #3, one first place 5 pts + one second place 3 pts = 8 pts

"The Broken Rath of Leighton" #2, one first place 5 pts + one second place 3 pts = 8 pts

Best title ballot, #2, #1, #2
Winner by one point, #2 "The Broken Rath of Leighton"

Runner up Best Title, "True Colors"

1st place tie, H Reinhold, Disgruntled Peony, and extrinsic
4th place, teflonmail

Best title winner, extrinsic

Difficult challenge well met, a close race, and congratulations to all. Now would someone else start another challenge soon, please.

(A miscount had me thinking the tie was for second place. A recount led to, oh my, a three-way first-place tie. Apologies for the drama.)

[ October 23, 2016, 02:48 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Yes, please, another challenge soon.

Thank you, extrinsic, for this challenge.

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Disgruntled Peony
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Yes, thank you. [Smile]

I'm working on ideas for a new one. I should have it figured out within the next few days.

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H Reinhold
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Yes, thank you! It was a good challenge. I'm looking forward to the next.
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