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Sunday, November 13, 2011

And the winner is...

Some stories are savory. Some are sweet. And some? Well, those last few you probably wouldn't want to put in your mouth.

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 numerically 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.

Jack Calverley is about to put on the “Editor Hat.” It's sort of like the “Sorting Hat” they use at Hogwarts (“What this one needs is a little paprika...”), but a little less sarcastic.

Ambrosia Manna Gruel

“70 Percent Monsters” by xdpaul

Jack Calverley: I think this is a great story. It has a consistent and individual narrative voice, and the story unfolds at a good pace. I am effortlessly drawn into the setting, with enough clues to “get it” but without any laboured descriptions. My interested is piqued by the intrigue around Mack — and who is not curious to know what happened to those who leave their home town and apparently “make it” in the big city? — it is schadenfreude waiting to happen. And ultimately, of course, the story is also the story of how it got written, which is a nice touch.

It is hard to pinpoint areas which might be improved by reworking. Thinking about the characters:

The protagonist has no prospects, he is a self-confessed loser and may be about to lose even his job. So why isn't he *really* keen to make some kind of story out of this, to find or even create an angle? OK, possibly, because he is a loser, and all his life has failed to do just that. And yet he has this sharp dry wit, which should come through in his journalism, and, like this story, be very readable. I suppose I'm worrying about why he is the loser he is, and why he is not more worried about his job; because, on the face of it, he comes across as normal and competent.

It wasn't clear to me why both the girl and Mack were so eager to explain what happened, even though their stories differed slightly, I presume they are both werewolves (or she's a werebear?), but would they not want to keep the truth hidden?

And what possessed the narrator to say “no way”? Aside from its being ill-advised at that moment, it also offered the chance of a big story that would make the front page (or electronic equivalent) and perhaps save his job and attract interest in the newspaper.

But these are minor quibbles because I felt the story had a momentum which kept it going to the end. Although, in the end, the story was one missed meal away (him) from being about food.

J.M. Perkins: 0 (but “Totally dug this story...”) / Tyler Tork: 2 / xdpaul: voted!
Jack Calverley: 9
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 13

“Cabbage Heads” by Tyler Tork

Jack Calverley: I think this is another great story. And a good title too, serving (as the story does) both a descriptive and metaphorical purpose. I am straight away in the valley with the main character. I think the names and titles are effective and provide information as well as atmosphere. I think the whole scheme of the story — of impetuous youth against the wisdom of experience (with, prima facie, not very good odds) — is an efficiently told allegory. I am drawn into the story and caught in the intrigue of how on earth the old man is going to win. I especially like the way I am shown, by the Witness casually picking apart the pomegranate, that she knows what is going to happen, that the outcome is sadly inevitable. And the last line brings the story to a neat conclusion.

Again, I am struggling to find aspects of the story of which to be critical, or, constructive in an alternate way. Just possibly, some tension might have been introduced early on, after the old man sees the visitors on the road, when perhaps he should worry more about getting back to the house before them so he can prepare properly; correct preparation contributes to keeping him alive.

And the story does of course, quite clearly pivot around food.

J.M. Perkins: 1.5 / Tyler Tork: voted! / xdpaul: 3
Jack Calverley: 12
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 18.5

“The Banquet” by J.M. Perkins

Jack Calverley: Another great story: the arriviste and his djinn. I thought this was well written and engaging. We have solid motivation in jealousy and revenge. I really like descriptions such as “brown grass crackling into ash”. I think the echo of Alice in Wonderland “Eat Me” is an interesting way to develop the story - possibly the food need not have been labeled nor Carroll mentioned, I think it would have been sufficient merely to show the effects as they occurred. In this respect, I would have liked to have seen more of what went on. Why did the guests go on their trips (if I may call them that)? Was it just to feel different, or were there other consequences. I would have liked to have seen this explored a little.

I like the fact that the djinn was a wedding gift and Brian was in fact mostly show. I do wonder whether, since the motivation of the djinn is key to the plot, there might have been some foreshadowing of the motivation right at the start of the story, so that the key to making the world right was always present.

Somehow, I did feel the story ended rather abruptly. I guess it means: happy ever after, but somehow I didn't feel satisfied. It is almost as if this were half the story and I needed to see what happens next, with the expectation that it is not going to go to plan (why trust the djinn?). I can't quite put my finger on why this is the case. The story in itself is complete. Perhaps if I had learned more about Ethan's thoughts, doubts and insights as he struggled with his decision to take the seed, then I might have felt that he had changed, grown or matured, by the mere fact of making the decision, and his life would be different the next time round. That, in a sense, he had earned it. And my seeing him earn it would occupy sufficient story real-estate to make his emotional journey strong and real and the taking of the seed would be a full stop to the decision process rather than showing me the decision itself.

J.M. Perkins: voted! / Tyler Tork: 1.5 / xdpaul: 2
Jack Calverley: 9
Participation bonus: 2
Total: 14.5


When all the scores were tallied, we wound up with the following tasteful ranking of our challengers:

3rd Place: 13 points — “70 Percent Monsters” by xdpaul

2nd Place: 14.5 points — “The Banquet” by J.M. Perkins

1st Place: 18.5 points — “Cabbage Heads” by Tyler Tork

Congratulations, Tyler Tork! As winner, you are hereby invited to propose next week's challenge, scheduled to be announced the morning of Friday, 18 November 2011.


So what was the lesson of this challenge?

Jack Calverley: I think the question of how stories develop is an interesting one. IMHO creativity is often inversely proportional to the constraints imposed on a narrator. In these terms a simple what-if? is a constraint, and perhaps asking for food to play a pivotal role in the plot is somewhat looser (and perhaps, on reflection, less helpful). I liked all the stories this week and thought they were all well written (ignoring any oddities/typos that might be mopped up if edited with a fresh eye in a few days' time). I find it difficult to score them absolutely, so my scoring is essentially a ranking, and for me the deciding factors became: the question of the challenge, balance in the plot/structure, and the relationship between the story and any themes. Although, just maybe, I am rationalising away gut reaction ;)
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