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Sunday, August 7, 2011

And the winner is...

Anyone seen our fourteenth challenge? You should have.

If any 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 be 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, and there is no requirement for a judge to use the entire 30 point allocation.

miko is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“Oh, the things that I've seen...”), but a little less sarcastic.

You Should Have Seen

“Gull Whisperer” by Ryan J

miko: Being slow-witted, I was perplexed by her having a second bag, until she began to write a note on it. With everything falling into place (for me) just at the end, the final image had tremendous impact. I think your observation worked really well as a story. Spare, elegant, real - loved it. I can't help being struck by the difference between the observed story and the speculative epilogue. The epilogue was contrived for fun so it met all our expectations, while the observation had the real feel of rising tension because we (I?) couldn't quite form an expectation for where it was going. I feel like greater participation was demanded of readers where we had to accept the mystery, allow ourselves to be drawn in, and ultimately let our imaginations complete the picture.

Regarding the Challenge topic, I must confess that this entry (minus the epilogue) was exactly what I had in mind while I was writing up the proposal: the story is yours but the backstory is ours. I'm still thinking about that dark-haired woman in the unadorned dress.

(high literary score; high challenge score)

Ryan J: voted! / Tyler Tork: 3 / Watkinson: 3 / xdpaul: 2
miko: 8
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 18

“It Happened on Woodland” by xdpaul

miko: A simple sidewalk scene elevated by a vivid telling to street theater. Early on, the ladies bear the brunt of the observer's penetrating eye but are redeemed, I think, by the good graces of embarrassment, evinced by an apology and a flush of self-consciousness. The man, however, seems to bear the opposite fate, suffering a veritable fall from being an aggrieved witness to poor taste, to being an ungenerous cad for denying them their newfound modesty. I liked the use of nicknames because they seemed to lend a certain intimacy to characters who must remain strangers. This is quite the opposite effect of my use of nicknames (in my "pitch black" entry) to maintain a certain distance between characters who must become intimates - a very interesting contrast from the same technique. I could totally hear the opening sentence being thought or spoken, but something (maybe the length of the aside, or the difficulty of unambiguous punctuation) made it tricky to follow the first read through. Maybe you could break it up into two sentences and pick up after the aside with a trivial recapitulation to reorient us, such as, "Ah, yes, two young ladies ...".

Regarding the Challenge topic, this entry is not at all a neutral reportage of events. Rather, it takes a definite stance (no pun intended) and transforms a passing encounter into acerbic social commentary, and is an excellent answer to the Challenge because of it.

(good literary score; high challenge score)

Ryan J: 2 / Tyler Tork: 2 / Watkinson: 2 / xdpaul: voted!
miko: 7
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 15

“Observing Brian” by Tyler Tork

miko: The rendering of the child's worldview is wonderful - the details are varied, rich, and particular. It first seemed like we were listening to the story's narrator relating a child's POV, so it was a terrific twist to learn that those were in fact observations (not narrations) from an unsuspected character of a story that was surprisingly larger than we had imagined. In my opinion, there are two tiny missteps that prematurely hint that the impressions are not solely those of the child because they sound like judgments of the observer: (1) "It's a lucky age" - for me this caused the curtain to slip because it doesn't sound like a five year old boy; (2) "Canny child; your mother..." - as written, this would seem to be a conclusion of the observer, not an observation of the child's thoughts - it might be re-phrased from the child's POV, perhaps to suggest his being pleased by the effect of his interruptions. I think being fully consistent with the child's POV would allow readers to totally buy in to the idea of listening to a narration until the "conclusions" reveal the true POV.

Regarding the Challenge topic, this one pushes the envelope, first by presuming to get inside the observed person’s head, and second by relying on the speculative element to make the ending. That said, the proposal's final injunction was to "construct the core from your observation", so however much this stretches it, the entry does not break it. And lucky for us it was stretched, because this entry was clever and insightful.

(high literary score; high challenge score)

Ryan J: 3 / Tyler Tork: voted! / Watkinson: 2 / xdpaul: 3
miko: 9
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 19

“Working Late Again” by Watkinson

miko: I liked that the observer (not the observed) was the one behind glass. Looking out at unexplainable events in the "real" world adds to the definite sense of isolation, helplessness, and tension. Highlighting the flickering light was a fine choice because it couples nicely with the unstated menace of teenagers and the vulnerability of the homeless. In trying to link the opening and closing focus on pizza, the dumpster, the incongruity of the homeless man's attire, and his interest in the building, I thought maybe the dude was a closet "freegan" from your building. Anyway, the point was to show us people being people, and even if none of us know what was going on, we know something's always going on.

Regarding the Challenge topic, you gave us a strange scene with no answers, reinforcing for us that life is an incomprehensible kind of existence. And that's plenty, even if we can't help wanting to make sense of it. We have to learn to live with the unknown and the unknowable.

(good literary score; good challenge score)

Ryan J: 2 / Tyler Tork: 2 / Watkinson: voted! / xdpaul: 2
miko: 6
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 14


Strong showings across the board, but the reigning champion manages to surprise us with an elusive back-to-back win:

4th Place: 14 points — “Working Late Again” by Watkinson

3rd Place: 15 points — “It Happened on Woodland” by xdpaul

2nd Place: 18 points — “Gull Whisperer” by Ryan J

1st Place: 19 points — “Observing Brian” by Tyler Tork

Congratulations, Tyler Tork! 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 proposing another new challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 12 August 2011, or passing the “Editor Hat” to the challenger of your choice so that you may more quickly participate again.


So what was the lesson of this challenge?

miko: This group of entries greatly exceeded my expectations for the Challenge topic. Of course, I should have known better, but still I'm very pleased by the results. Each entry deftly tackled the Challenge from a different angle, and I really wanted to call it a four-way draw. Feeling obliged to assign scores within M's diabolical scoring system (30 is not evenly divisible by 4), I manufactured distinctions to separate the pack. Pay no mind, however, because I think these stories not only stand on their own, they also serve as great examples of how observation can yield surprising elements for our storytelling.

My thanks to the Challengers for a fun turn in the judge's chair.
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