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Sunday, May 29, 2011

And the winner is...

Our fifth challenge might well have been dubbed "The Friday Challenge: Deathmatch," as two previous champions went head-to-mead, mano-a-mano, BEM-to-BEM (without the BEM), et cetera... and quite fittingly, they were both also brave enough to exchange votes.

That's right, summer is about to begin! Summer means busy schedules filled with work, travel, a little recreation, a little beer, and more work. This participatorial slump is not unanticipated.

We ebb and we flow, and we aren't going away. In fact, we're just getting started.

If any either of you are able to take a second look at your own work, and see ways in which to improve a concept so that it can be more successfully developed, the effort will have been worthwhile.

Those of you who vote are allowed to assign a range of “0” to “3” points, per entry. Since challengers may not vote for their own stories, a bonus of 2 points is given to a participant's highest-ranked work, if that participant also takes the time to vote on the other entries.

Official judges receive a 30 point allocation, to assign as they see fit. The only restriction is that at most, only half of those points may be given to any single entry. (Note: There is no requirement that the entire 30 point allocation be used.)

miko is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“It's so quiet, I think I'll just prop myself up and relax...”), but a little more nearsighted. Remember, this time it can only see a maximum of 250 words.

Props for Props

“Plague of Witches” by Ryan J

miko: Although we get only a glimpse of a larger story, this scene is loaded with allusions and sub-text, so we learn quite a lot about what has likely transpired and what might be to come. There are fun moving parts and imaginative touches. As a scene, "A about to meet V", I think it is compelling and effective - I imagine we'd all now like to read about the meeting. Well done on the writing.

Nit-pick: "resisted her" and "strands" are both repeated within a three sentence sequence.

Now on to the homework assignment.

The opening dwells on A's restraints, but that's not the revealing prop. The middle dwells on the setting's contents, but that's not the revealing prop. The tablet bearing the scene's final phrase - that's the revealing prop.

What does it reveal, and about whom? The prop tells us about the off-screen V and I think we learn he's had a kind of awakening - a change of heart, born of regret and futility - that he thinks things have gone too far and that the future depends on taking a different tack. I think this might foreshadow a surprising purpose for the coming meeting.

Assuming I'm not too far off, the scene is indeed revelatory, but I think the prop does not carry the freight by itself: its power is dependent upon what we've been told about A's benign treatment and about general circumstances, yet these are not exactly the story of the prop itself.

That's not a problem for the scene - only its evaluation regarding the Challenge statement: the prop might be telling us less about V's inner character than about a coming plot twist.

(good literary score; ok challenge score)

Ryan J: voted! / xdpaul: 2
miko: 10
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 14

“The Applause of Applesauce” by xdpaul

miko: Who'd have expected this entry to not only be the longest, but to actually exceed the suggested word count?

This piece is a challenge unto itself. I've played with the puzzle parts, but can't make out the picture. The story paints a terrifically disturbing backdrop, but of what? A plagued society? A self-destructing society?

Since I discount persons as props, the prop must be the jar of applesauce, but does it serve symbolism or characterization? The story focuses on the encounter with the woman and on the environment that produced it, making the function of the applesauce obscure.

It's not clear to me whether R's trembling hand is the result of his haunting encounter with the woman, or is a symptom of finally becoming similarly afflicted. Maybe the applesauce is some kind of odd elixir? Maybe he needs the pectin boost against diarrhea? (See what it's come down to?)

Since we're told R is a professional and a gentleman, the state of the contents of his fridge is certainly incongruous. I was inclined to think the applesauce had been all the food there was to be had, but if food were so hard to come by, why would he have let the contents of the fridge expire before consuming it?

My best guess is that the ridiculous applesauce is symbolic of a crestfallen man who no longer cares enough to take care of himself. But, then, is the empty jar discarded with violence out of frustration, resentment, anger, disgust, or hopelessness?

Nit-pick: "She had judging him".

I think this piece could be great in its place within a larger whole because the images are striking, the setting is decidedly worrisome, and I'd like to know what’s going on generally and with R specifically. The problem for me is that the very oddity of the prop raises questions, rather than clarifies something about the character. I have guesses but I don't come away feeling like I know.

That said, if I entered his kitchen and saw the scattered shards from the broken jar (not even knowing about the applesauce), I'd definitely start to wonder what was up with him - and maybe that tilts toward characterization.

I wonder, might you have ironically run afoul of Flash Fiction Advisory #5?

(good literary score; ok challenge score)

Ryan J: 3 / xdpaul: voted!
miko: 13
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 18


Based on the numbers, our reigning champion from last week continued to hold a decisive lead, with a strong showing by the runner-up:

2nd Place: 14 points — “Plague of Witches” by Ryan J

1st Place: 18 points — “The Applause of Applesauce” by xdpaul

Congratulations, xdpaul! Since you also won last week's challenge (and thus proposed the new one, taking yourself out of next week's competition), you have the option of selecting another new challenge proposal this coming Friday, or passing the “Editor Hat” to Ryan J, so that you may more quickly participate again.


So what was the lesson of this challenge?

miko: I don't think the entries were entirely successful as exercises prescribed by the Challenge, but as Vidad taught me many moons ago, that's not really what's important.

The point of a Challenge is to spur us to use our words, because writers write. The better outcome of a Challenge entry would be that its content becomes (part of) a completed work that the author seeks to publish. It is a very distant second that a Challenger might have gotten a chance to practice up on some isolated technique or topic.

So, true success for a Challenger is not determined by how well a judge thinks the entry addressed the Challenge in any technical sense, but by whether the Challenger himself thinks he's come away with a productive bit of writing. In this more important sense, both entries may yet be quite successful.
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