Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Open topics on the Contest itself, to include results-watch threads and other items of note.
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dstein
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Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby dstein » Mon Nov 02, 2015 7:41 am

I was thinking about Farland's tastes as the first "gatekeeper" for the contest, and innuendo and speculation (almost certainly both informed and uninformed) I've heard along those lines. And it got me to wondering: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories and a few of their key attributes to pin down what David and the other judges tend to approve of?

I ask because I actually own eight or so of the physical volumes, and I plan on buying the new ones from here on out, and as somebody with a background in statistics and research I think I'd be able to do a pretty decent job of putting together summaries for everybody (and key attributes which tend to do well, even if we can't compare them to the proportion of stories submitted with those elements). I just want to make sure I wouldn't be duplicating somebody else's efforts and that something like this would be wanted.

I could see the following attributes being relevant:

- Genre

- Setting (urban, medieval, ancient non-Western, fantasy)

- Tone (ending, level of humor)

- Content level (profanity, innuendo or violence)

- Length

- Protagonist characteristics

- Presence and treatment of religion

Anybody interested, and if so what would be the prime things you'd want me to take a look at? Obviously I'm never going to create a ruleset of what a writer should do (because "write what you want" is always good advice), but it might help people to choose between ideas or make slight changes to better craft their story for the contest.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby s_c_baker » Mon Nov 02, 2015 7:57 am

I'm sure people have, but I'm not aware of anyone who's shared the results.

A few things to keep in mind:

The content level is firmly PG-13 (this is made explicit by the contest itself), although there's always a bit of wiggle room as to what that constitutes.

Upbeat endings usually do better than downbeat endings.

You should also check out Dave's "Daily Kick in the Pants" archive if you haven't already. There are a few posts in it where he talks specifically about contest stories.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Randy Hulshizer » Mon Nov 02, 2015 8:37 am

I've done an analysis on volumes 31 and 30. My analysis includes the following: place, quarter, word count, character count, paragraph count, sentence count, sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, characters per word, percent of passive voice, reading ease score, grade level, percent dialogue, point of view, tense, genre, protagonist gender, protagonist age. I've also calculated the mode, mean, and median values across the stories. For some of the measurements that seem to show some sort of significant correlation to place (grand, first, second, third), I've plotted charts.

These things are mostly just technical characteristics of the winning stories, but it does provide some guidance for what not to do. I have debated with myself whether I want to share it or not. I figure anyone who is serious about this contest would want to do such an analysis for him/herself.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby storysinger » Mon Nov 02, 2015 2:11 pm

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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Mon Nov 02, 2015 2:29 pm

An aesthetic analysis, while subjective to a great degree, investigates what considerations are common across a publication's, or the contest's preferences, expressed or incidentally consequential from that's the best of entries' commonness. The contest's placed stories emphasize conflict resolution-type stories, though at times include one or more experimental literary fiction device.

Another common feature is moral values and social philosophies shared by a target audience and a publisher, again, and the contest. A somewhat universal Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic Patriarchal Christian moral value and social philosophy belief system is the contest's cultural and social slant. The commonness and taken-for-granted by Westerners as the natural and necessary and proper moral and philosophical belief of that system is the contest's though largely intuitive and routine for Westerners. Other belief systems seem alien and unnatural and unfathomable. WEIRD PC values and beliefs are a foundation of L. Ron Hubbard's unique take on "Objectivism."

Objectivism believes all human experience is universally shared and common to the species' moral and social codes. Theft, for example, is theft, though conditions might trump the moral vice. Theft for survival in an atmosphere of a greater vice -- runaway corporate corruption and greed, for instance -- mitigates the theft to a degree. Likewise, self-defense homicide, hording, sexual dominance, self-pride, coveting neighbors' goods and wives, apathy and redirected sloth, and so on, at times, acceptable, even admirable, if not praised, vices.

Subjectivism is Objectivism's counterpart and believes all human experience is both universal and unique to an individual at the same time. Overt Subjectivism doesn't fare will in the contest from its subversive challenges and questions of a perceived Objectivist majority rules status quo.

Objectivism generally follows a scriptural belief that well-born individuals are predisposed to be noble and low-born individuals are predisposed to be wicked. Hubbard's Objectivism adds a belief that cream rises to the top despite station of birth.

Tie conflict resolution and Hubbard's Objectivism into a story for best contest results.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby dstein » Mon Nov 02, 2015 2:38 pm

I hear you guys; it's probably unnecessary. Naturally just reading the stories will give you enough to work with in terms of getting a feel for what works and what doesn't. Still, dang if I don't get excited about projects at 7:30 in the morning which feel a little foolish at 3:30 in the afternoon.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Mon Nov 02, 2015 2:55 pm

By the way, "tone" in the narrative theory opus is a story's overall emotional attitude toward a theme, topic, or subject, and as well individual segments and characters' tones. Humor is certainly a tone. Anger, joy, fear, love, distrust, wariness, approval, and disapproval tones, etc.

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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby amoskalik » Mon Nov 02, 2015 3:00 pm

I don't think it is a silly idea, but at the end of the day it wouldn't change what or how I write. I've considered doing an analysis on what the relative strengths of the winning stories are regarding plot, character, theme, concept, and voice just to see if one aspect is particularly favored, but given the subjectiveness of such an exercise, I'm not sure how valid any conclusions would be.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Randy Hulshizer » Mon Nov 02, 2015 3:26 pm

dstein wrote:I hear you guys; it's probably unnecessary. Naturally just reading the stories will give you enough to work with in terms of getting a feel for what works and what doesn't. Still, dang if I don't get excited about projects at 7:30 in the morning which feel a little foolish at 3:30 in the afternoon.


Personally, I don't think it could hurt to do a bit of analysis. After all, if all of the stories exhibit certain characteristics, this might be an indication that this is what Dave (and the other judges) might be looking for. One example is grade level. A quick analysis using the Flesch–Kincaid readability test will show the following results across all of the stories in volumes 31 and 30:

Mean 4.8
Median 4.9
Upper 6.7
Lower 3.0

It seems pretty clear that most of the winning stories have been written just below a 5th grade reading level. All of them fall below a 7th grade level, and none fall below a 3rd grade level. I doubt this is a coincidence, since I've read much science fiction and fantasy written at above an 8th grade level. I'm sure Dave sees stories written at all different levels (from 2nd grade to 12th grade and beyond). So, for me, it makes sense to check my story against this test to be sure I'm not writing too far outside of this range.

Just some food for thought. wotf007
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby amoskalik » Mon Nov 02, 2015 5:05 pm

Randy Hulshizer wrote:
dstein wrote:I hear you guys; it's probably unnecessary. Naturally just reading the stories will give you enough to work with in terms of getting a feel for what works and what doesn't. Still, dang if I don't get excited about projects at 7:30 in the morning which feel a little foolish at 3:30 in the afternoon.


Personally, I don't think it could hurt to do a bit of analysis. After all, if all of the stories exhibit certain characteristics, this might be an indication that this is what Dave (and the other judges) might be looking for. One example is grade level. A quick analysis using the Flesch–Kincaid readability test will show the following results across all of the stories in volumes 31 and 30:

Mean 4.8
Median 4.9
Upper 6.7
Lower 3.0

It seems pretty clear that most of the winning stories have been written just below a 5th grade reading level. All of them fall below a 7th grade level, and none fall below a 3rd grade level. I doubt this is a coincidence, since I've read much science fiction and fantasy written at above an 8th grade level. I'm sure Dave sees stories written at all different levels (from 2nd grade to 12th grade and beyond). So, for me, it makes sense to check my story against this test to be sure I'm not writing too far outside of this range.

Just some food for thought. wotf007


Interesting. My stuff seems to be at the lower end of that range. Maybe I need to add more complex sentences now and then...
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Mon Nov 02, 2015 6:04 pm

Readability indexes measure diction and syntax metrics based upon customary grade-level instruction. U.S. federal law mandates product safety warning labels have a fourth-grade ceiling readability index. The English-speaking readability average currently is seventh-grade diction and syntax across all of publication.

Such metrics, though, do not measure maturity level of content. A story can use seventh-grade diction and syntax though portray mature adult situations, ages older than teenage and still fit the contest's maturity ceiling: adult, sexual, and violent situations, to name three. Adult situations absent sex and violence? Empowerment's mature responsibilities contest with mature adult temptations other than sex and violence, say, a devious escape from a triple Max slam, subversive rebellion directed toward corruption, civil disobedience, otherwise noble rogues confronted by due responsibilities and tempting privileges.
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Another common feature of the contest's placers is external conflict emphasis. Not much internal conflict to speak of, and then rarely much direct and clear about maturation mobility: growth -- a Hubbard Objectivist moral value and social philosophy sensibility -- or decline as a consequence of an internal conflict. Protagonists tend to represent forces of noble good and nemeses and villains forces of wicked evil -- external conflicts between noble protagonists and wicked "antagonists." Fantastic motif fiction, though, generally favors that external conflict preference anyway and is suited to the contest's amateur writer eligibility criteria.

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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby s_c_baker » Mon Nov 02, 2015 8:41 pm

Another common feature is moral values and social philosophies shared by a target audience and a publisher, again, and the contest. A somewhat universal Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic Patriarchal Christian moral value and social philosophy belief system is the contest's cultural and social slant. The commonness and taken-for-granted by Westerners as the natural and necessary and proper moral and philosophical belief of that system is the contest's though largely intuitive and routine for Westerners. Other belief systems seem alien and unnatural and unfathomable. WEIRD PC values and beliefs are a foundation of L. Ron Hubbard's unique take on "Objectivism."

So on the one hand I agree with this. (Although I have no idea what you mean by "WEIRD PC" values.)

On the other hand my winning story pretty much does THE OPPOSITE of all this. Write a good story. Don't worry about frontloading it with values. This is one of those prophecies that can be broken--and pleaaaaase break it!
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Mon Nov 02, 2015 9:18 pm

s_c_baker wrote:(Although I have no idea what you mean by "WEIRD PC" values.)

On the other hand my winning story pretty much does THE OPPOSITE of all this. Write a good story. Don't worry about frontloading it with values. This is one of those prophecies that can be broken--and pleaaaaase break it!

Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic Patriarchal Christian: WEIRD PC.

I don't know that the winning story does or doesn't do the opposite of WEIRD PC someway, not until I read the story sometime after next year's publication. Arguably, a story's writer knows what a story is about, though quite a few stories readers interpret differently than their writers consciously intend and the interpretation supersedes the intent. Something about the subconscious influence and not knowing one's self and others' ability to see what's hidden in plain sight. And arguably, a short story could place in the contest without that WEIRD PC belief system in place. Stories generally could evade those beliefs, though they are hardwired into Western culture and all but invisible to six out of ten Westerners.

In any case, yeah, frontloading values and beliefs is likely too preachy for readers generally anyway. Subtlety and veils and misdirections, yes.

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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby disgruntledpeony » Mon Nov 02, 2015 9:27 pm

orbivillein wrote:Another common feature of the contest's placers is external conflict emphasis. Not much internal conflict to speak of, and then rarely much direct and clear about maturation mobility: growth -- a Hubbard Objectivist moral value and social philosophy sensibility -- or decline as a consequence of an internal conflict. Protagonists tend to represent forces of noble good and nemeses and villains forces of wicked evil -- external conflicts between noble protagonists and wicked "antagonists."


Well, I'm probably not going to get very far with my first entry then. wotf019 The struggle was very much an internal one, with neither the protagonist or antagonist being easily distinguishable as good or evil.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby MattDovey » Tue Nov 03, 2015 1:01 am

I've never done an analysis, but I think there are some answers to your questions dotted here and there...

- Content level (profanity, innuendo or violence)
The contest has explicitly stated that it's PG-13 in the past, aiming to be acceptable to high school audiences. No graphic violence, sex, or profanity. You can have those things, to the extent required, but not solely for the sake of having them, and if you do it makes it a harder sell for you.

- Length
Up to 17,000 words wotf011 but more seriously, stories do seem to run the gamut--The God Whisperer in 31 was only a couple of thousand words, but The Pushbike Legion in 30 was nearing the limit, I suspect. I reckon if you ran an analysis, it would be a normal distribution, but it doesn't matter: your story needs to be the length it needs to be. Chopping out major sections to fit some arbitrarily derived mean, or padding it out to achieve the same, will only ever weaken your story.

- Genre
- Setting (urban, medieval, ancient non-Western, fantasy)
- Tone (ending, level of humor)

These three were broached in a podcast Dave did, posted by Stewart a year ago: http://forum.writersofthefuture.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2056
In brief: he aims for a mix of genre, and it does seem a pretty even split along F/SF lines; the more interesting your setting, the more likely anyone is to keep reading, and most importantly the more enthusiastic you will be about writing it; and although Dave likes humour, he's surprised when the finalist judges select it as a winner, as it doesn't always seem to do as well. I think the latter is because humour is always so personal: it's difficult to make a universally humourous story, but a universally sad or awe-inspiring tone is easier to achieve.

- Presence and treatment of religion
Brad R Torgersen had some thoughts on that here (point 3).

- Protagonist characteristics
My feeling on this, from reading and submitting, is that active protagonists do better--because active protagonists always do better. They're just more fun to read. WoTF stories do tend to emphasise a strong and clear plot, though, whereas some other markets tend towards symbolism and implication and a lingering sense of emotion. WoTF wants stories, with plot arcs and strong characters and resolution, not the more literary end of the scale. That's just my opinion though, based on volumes 30 & 31 and my own submissions record.

At the end of the day, though, you can only write what you want to write, statistics be damned. I once tried to write a military SF piece following a scene/sequel structure and full of action, specifically to submit here. It killed my writing for six months until I abandoned it and wrote something I actually wanted to--and that next story just won Q3. Your enthusiasm for a piece is far, far more important than any statistical analysis of what you think the market wants, because what the market wants is just good fiction.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby disgruntledpeony » Tue Nov 03, 2015 4:33 am

MattDovey wrote:Your enthusiasm for a piece is far, far more important than any statistical analysis of what you think the market wants, because what the market wants is just good fiction.


Good to hear.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Tue Nov 03, 2015 10:38 am

Another common feature of contest placers, and common to fiction overall, is plot type: simple and complex. A simple plot is simply a straightforward conflict resolution, and is more common than a complex plot, roughly nine out of ten for the contest and fiction overall. A complex plot contains the twists, turns, and pivots readers thrill to, of discovery and reversal that are anything but straightforward conflict resolution.

Because discovery changes conflict, discoveries along the way complexly reshape a plot's arc, change aspects of a conflict by large degrees. They are harder to write, too. Being harder, they are less common and so more in demand. A late discovery or a previous discovery, unimportant at the time, revisited and seen in a new light, could change the conflict and still lead to resolution of the conflict. Several recent contest placers include such pivots and complex plots.

Beyond the enumerated above and below aesthetic criteria: conflict resolution, external conflict, moral value and social philosophy, and simple plot emphases of the contest, and fiction overall, all "good fiction" metrics regardless, commonness certainty breaks down into numerous categorical variables, and breaks down within categories, and breaks down to a smallest niche category.

I like covert parody and satire, for instance, which break down into social and cultural commentary criteria, and which are categorical forms such as noir, picaresque, jester-trickster, and courtly irony, which further break down into a movement category, such as romanticism, realism, or modernism, which further break down into tone, which further breaks down into point of view and viewpoint. Ad infinitum. Oh the splendor of human creativity.

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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Strycher » Tue Nov 03, 2015 10:59 am

orbivillein wrote:Another common feature of the contest's placers is external conflict emphasis. Not much internal conflict to speak of...


disgruntledpeony wrote:Well, I'm probably not going to get very far with my first entry then. wotf019 The struggle was very much an internal one, with neither the protagonist or antagonist being easily distinguishable as good or evil.


Peony, I don't know about that assessment. My winning story (vol 31) is 9500 words and there's only one fight scene (242 words long). The conflict is resolved by a conversation (in a 1072 word scene wherein only 116 words are actual dialog and the rest is the protagonist's thoughts and observations about the conversation). So. There's that.

I've read Stewart's story and agree with his assessment of his work. (And at least one of the other winners for vol32 that I've read is also pretty far from the 'Capitalism is Good' mark.)

I think the best advice I've heard in regards to WotF was from Tina Gower (I think?), about writing the story you love. I knew my story was light on external conflict and I figured it would suffer in the contest because of it, but it was my story. Stewart's story is highly congruous with his personality (and the aforementioned unnamed vol32 story is very much in the style of its winner).

Write the story you want to write.

(And then beef up the descriptions because DF loves that stuff. wotf007 )

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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Dustin Adams » Tue Nov 03, 2015 12:04 pm

orbivillein wrote:Another common feature of contest placers, and common to fiction overall, is plot type: simple and complex. A simple plot is simply a straightforward conflict resolution, and is more common than a complex plot, roughly nine out of ten for the contest and fiction overall. A complex plot contains the twists, turns, and pivots readers thrill to, of discovery and reversal that are anything but straightforward conflict resolution.

I like this because I can look at my own fiction and see the difference. Granted, this normally has to do with story length, and I write a ton of short stuff, but a twist, earned by the plot, is very gratifying, and usually triggers a sale.

In WotF, this is a great thing, especially if you develop it over 5k words. This means you aren't just setting us up for it, but have captured our imagination, and we're along for the ride, then you zing us.

My 2nd finalist had this moreso than the first. The first was idea incarnate. The second was inner struggle, and twist.
(For the record, if folks want to read it for research, you need but PM me. I read every NWF I can get my eyes on.)

Lately I'm writing a ton of circular stories. Even my flash. They end where they began, with change. This is my favorite story type (to write, anyway). If I can end where I began and shine a light on a theme, then roar.

p.s. twist = unexpected. Sometimes a twist is too twisty for me. (Tony was a woman?!) But if your story can keep a secret, that which you reveal toward the end, then you're going to place well. As long as the story is compelling in and of itself, and not reliant on said secret. The secret is the zing that may elevate your story above others.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Corbin Maxwell » Tue Nov 03, 2015 2:53 pm

I have a question: how many WOTF winners in the last ten years have gone on to have successful careers writing books? How many have even had their books published?

Compare those with successful careers (or even having one or two books published) to the number of winners over the past 10 years.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby disgruntledpeony » Tue Nov 03, 2015 2:58 pm

Corbin Maxwell wrote:I have a question: how many WOTF winners in the last ten years have gone on to have successful careers writing books? How many have even had their books published?

Compare those with successful careers (or even having one or two books published) to the number of winners over the past 10 years.


Now, that would be an interesting statistic to see.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Corbin Maxwell » Tue Nov 03, 2015 3:00 pm

And let's say that a person figured out statistically what story structures won the contest and that person utilized the formula to write a winning story. Well, that doesn't make them a writer. And when that person goes to write a book, I don't think that statistics are going to get it done. Writing comes from the heart, it comes from reading, writing, studying and persisting. Just my humble opinion.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Corbin Maxwell » Tue Nov 03, 2015 3:02 pm

disgruntledpeony wrote:
Corbin Maxwell wrote:I have a question: how many WOTF winners in the last ten years have gone on to have successful careers writing books? How many have even had their books published?

Compare those with successful careers (or even having one or two books published) to the number of winners over the past 10 years.


Now, that would be an interesting statistic to see.


I don't think it's more than three or four, maybe five. And that's out of approximately 120 winners. So let's say five writing careers launched by this contest. That's not too good. I could be wrong, I don't have the numbers. But the only one I know who went on to have a writing career in the last ten years is Jeff Carlson. But like I said, I could be wrong.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby MattDovey » Tue Nov 03, 2015 4:40 pm

Corbin Maxwell wrote:
disgruntledpeony wrote:
Corbin Maxwell wrote:I have a question: how many WOTF winners in the last ten years have gone on to have successful careers writing books? How many have even had their books published?

Compare those with successful careers (or even having one or two books published) to the number of winners over the past 10 years.


Now, that would be an interesting statistic to see.


I don't think it's more than three or four, maybe five. And that's out of approximately 120 winners. So let's say five writing careers launched by this contest. That's not too good. I could be wrong, I don't have the numbers. But the only one I know who went on to have a writing career in the last ten years is Jeff Carlson. But like I said, I could be wrong.


Pat Rothfuss (2002) is huge, as is his beard, and Ken Liu (2003) and Aliete de Bodard (2007) have won every short story prize going and just launched/about to launch debut novels.

My view is that WoTFC is the very first step in a potential career, and there's about 8-10 years of slog and good luck before bestselling books.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Corbin Maxwell » Tue Nov 03, 2015 6:26 pm

Well I did say in the last ten years. But okay let's make it 13. That's about 156 winners. I guess my point is that at the end of the day it's just a short story sale which is a great publishing credit. I think WOTF is good in that it gets you to write and to accept rejection. And if course the more years you write the more you learn and the closer you become to being a writer. I thinking focusing too much on a win can be a bad thing. Maybe stunt a writer's growth and cause him miss opportunities. Nothing at all against WOTF, but you gotta keep it in perspective.
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One lesson learned: He who writes for money, recognition, or self-promotion has forgotten the face of his father.

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MattDovey
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby MattDovey » Wed Nov 04, 2015 12:30 am

I think we agree that the contest is not an automatic ticket to success, and I think the examples I pulled out show how long it takes. Pat Rothfuss all but had his novel written when he won with the extract taken from it, but it was still five years before the book came out; Ken Liu may be one of the hardest working men in speculative fiction and it's taken him twelve years for his first novel.

I agree that it can stunt, as well; I was already in the unhealthy situation where I'd stopped submitting anywhere else except here, because I didn't want to invalidate myself. Happily that block has been removed before I'd become too comfortable in my self-imposed cage, but I can see how the fixation can develop.

At the end of the day, it's great exposure, it's fantastic for networking, I'm sure it'll be a fantastic experience (I've heard it described as "the biggest fuss anyone will ever make over a short story in your career, even if you're winning Hugos"), but most importantly to me it's an opportunity to learn from some top writers in a workshop--something I've very little chance of accessing otherwise from this side of the Atlantic on a public sector wage. And as much as all that is, that's all it is. It's not a magic golden ticket to success. It's going to take an awful lot of hard work, and a lot of luck and knowing the right people, to maybe be anywhere in around a decade. It's a long old haul, and who knows what happens to past winners in those following years to derail the plan.
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Galen
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Galen » Wed Nov 04, 2015 6:34 am

Randy Hulshizer wrote:Personally, I don't think it could hurt to do a bit of analysis. After all, if all of the stories exhibit certain characteristics, this might be an indication that this is what Dave (and the other judges) might be looking for. One example is grade level. A quick analysis using the Flesch–Kincaid readability test will show the following results across all of the stories in volumes 31 and 30:

Mean 4.8
Median 4.9
Upper 6.7
Lower 3.0

It seems pretty clear that most of the winning stories have been written just below a 5th grade reading level. All of them fall below a 7th grade level, and none fall below a 3rd grade level. I doubt this is a coincidence, since I've read much science fiction and fantasy written at above an 8th grade level. I'm sure Dave sees stories written at all different levels (from 2nd grade to 12th grade and beyond). So, for me, it makes sense to check my story against this test to be sure I'm not writing too far outside of this range.

Just some food for thought. wotf007


Definitely food for thought (and thank you for both raising it and sharing). I feel like there could be a second piece to the puzzle in order to apply even more context. How does this compare to the speculative fiction market in general? Is this standard fare? Or is the Flesch–Kincaid, for example, trending lower than we are otherwise expecting. Is there an actual contest-specific trend? My hunch tells me the range in the general market might be so broad that I will never know, but there might in theory be other comparators which might inform the discussion. (Sometimes my hunch is a bit mouthy and I can't get a word in edgewise.)

I suppose it might also just be the case that certain individual stories are told better with higher or lower scores. If so, it is possible the author's story choices themselves are driving the data as opposed to any actual internal preference on the part of the contest judges. Gah!
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Strycher
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Strycher » Wed Nov 04, 2015 6:46 am

Corbin Maxwell wrote:...it's just a short story sale which is a great publishing credit.


Yeah, if you're just submitting to WotF, you're going to have a hard time creating a writing career. It's just one short fiction market. There are as many ways to start to establish yourself as there are writers, case in point Annie Bellet who (I don't think) ever placed higher than HM, but is now a USA Today bestselling author with her self-published novels. wotf017

Not that there's anything wrong with market research--you've got to figure out who is likely to buy your stories. I'm not sure how many people actually win WotF by trying to tailor a story to the contest's perceived tastes, but you can write several stories you like per quarter and then be knowledgeable enough in contest preferences to submit the one most likely to succeed.

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orbivillein
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Wed Nov 04, 2015 9:07 am

Galen wrote:
Randy Hulshizer wrote:Personally, I don't think it could hurt to do a bit of analysis. . . .


Definitely food for thought (and thank you for both raising it and sharing). I feel like there could be a second piece to the puzzle in order to apply even more context. How does this compare to the speculative fiction market in general? Is this standard fare? Or is the Flesch–Kincaid, for example, trending lower than we are otherwise expecting. Is there an actual contest-specific trend? My hunch tells me the range in the general market might be so broad that I will never know, but there might in theory be other comparators which might inform the discussion. (Sometimes my hunch is a bit mouthy and I can't get a word in edgewise.)

I suppose it might also just be the case that certain individual stories are told better with higher or lower scores. If so, it is possible the author's story choices themselves are driving the data as opposed to any actual internal preference on the part of the contest judges. Gah!

Hulshizer's readability index analysis of contest placers trends low compared to the overall genres, fiction generally, and English language composition altogether.

Diction and syntax practices, that readability indexes measure, are native to any given writer and fixed after whatever grade level they attain when they've had enough of learning for many. Diction adapts to an era. The Digital age added millions of new words and word forms, like medial case capitalization and compounded words and new words and new definitions of extant words. Syntax is more or less fixed, though, for many.

Seventh-grade level readability is the average across the board, though tenth-grade level is a high-water mark for fiction. Much more and potential audiences are prohibitively tiny, not just narrowed subject interest areas, overly sophisticated language bars and alienates even like-minded subject-matter practitioners.

A fiction case in point: David Foster Wallace's The Infinite Jest, labeled an encyclopedic novel, tops a thousand pages, includes end notes, and some of the longer sentences and more sophisticated language of fiction and is soft or social science fiction. Perhaps James Joyce's Ulysses's readability index compares -- both novels' overall readability indexes are off the scales.

Critical analyses of both novels span between absolute negativity to enthusiastic positive praise, and much between, including many confused and alienated possible readers. A common comment about both is an overwhelming narcissistic self-gratification of the writers -- never mind that is the infinite jest focus of the one's social commentary and a central though not foreground conflict of the other. Yet some readers have managed both novels' reading and developed satisfactory, to degrees, understandings of the novels.

Wallace's short story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men contains some of the longest sentences recently published to critical acclaim, thousand-word loose sentences. Joyce's Molly Bloom soliloquy in Ulysses tops 4,000 words. The current record holder of all time appears to be Jonathan Coe's 14,000 word recursive sentence from The Rotters' Club (2001).

Sentence length is a readability index measure. Since the industrial revolution brought mass-produced composition consumption to the masses, the overall trend has been toward average shorter prose sentences and, at the same time, longer sentences in several niche areas.

A composition exercise for first-year English college courses assigns students a hundred-word sentence composition. The exercise entails several rationales; one, to adjust inexperienced writers' tendency to write cluttered, fused, run-on sentences; two, learn the fine arts of advanced syntax construction and punctuation use; three, focus diction choice, and four, overall, develop stronger composition organization skills.

Needless to say, long sentences do not fare well, generally, especially for spoken word, nor for the contest, evidenced by the contest placer readability index matrix Hulshizer notes.

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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Corbin Maxwell » Wed Nov 04, 2015 11:05 am

orbivillein wrote:
Galen wrote:
Randy Hulshizer wrote:Personally, I don't think it could hurt to do a bit of analysis. . . .


Definitely food for thought (and thank you for both raising it and sharing). I feel like there could be a second piece to the puzzle in order to apply even more context. How does this compare to the speculative fiction market in general? Is this standard fare? Or is the Flesch–Kincaid, for example, trending lower than we are otherwise expecting. Is there an actual contest-specific trend? My hunch tells me the range in the general market might be so broad that I will never know, but there might in theory be other comparators which might inform the discussion. (Sometimes my hunch is a bit mouthy and I can't get a word in edgewise.)

I suppose it might also just be the case that certain individual stories are told better with higher or lower scores. If so, it is possible the author's story choices themselves are driving the data as opposed to any actual internal preference on the part of the contest judges. Gah!

Hulshizer's readability index analysis of contest placers trends low compared to the overall genres, fiction generally, and English language composition altogether.

Diction and syntax practices, that readability indexes measure, are native to any given writer and fixed after whatever grade level they attain when they've had enough of learning for many. Diction adapts to an era. The Digital age added millions of new words and word forms, like medial case capitalization and compounded words and new words and new definitions of extant words. Syntax is more or less fixed, though, for many.

Seventh-grade level readability is the average across the board, though tenth-grade level is a high-water mark for fiction. Much more and potential audiences are prohibitively tiny, not just narrowed subject interest areas, overly sophisticated language bars and alienates even like-minded subject-matter practitioners.

A fiction case in point: David Foster Wallace's The Infinite Jest, labeled an encyclopedic novel, tops a thousand pages, includes end notes, and some of the longer sentences and more sophisticated language of fiction and is soft or social science fiction. Perhaps James Joyce's Ulysses's readability index compares -- both novels' overall readability indexes are off the scales.

Critical analyses of both novels span between absolute negativity to enthusiastic positive praise, and much between, including many confused and alienated possible readers. A common comment about both is an overwhelming narcissistic self-gratification of the writers -- never mind that is the infinite jest focus of the one's social commentary and a central though not foreground conflict of the other. Yet some readers have managed both novels' reading and developed satisfactory, to degrees, understandings of the novels.

Wallace's short story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men contains some of the longest sentences recently published to critical acclaim, thousand-word loose sentences. Joyce's Molly Bloom soliloquy in Ulysses tops 4,000 words. The current record holder of all time appears to be Jonathan Coe's 14,000 word recursive sentence from The Rotters' Club (2001).

Sentence length is a readability index measure. Since the industrial revolution brought mass-produced composition consumption to the masses, the overall trend has been toward average shorter prose sentences and, at the same time, longer sentences in several niche areas.

A composition exercise for first-year English college courses assigns students a hundred-word sentence composition. The exercise entails several rationales; one, to adjust inexperienced writers' tendency to write cluttered, fused, run-on sentences; two, learn the fine arts of advanced syntax construction and punctuation use; three, focus diction choice, and four, overall, develop stronger composition organization skills.

Needless to say, long sentences do not fare well, generally, especially for spoken word, nor for the contest, evidenced by the contest placer readability index matrix Hulshizer notes.



Reading the above, makes me feel like a Vulcan just explained love-making to me. Are you a writer, or a fricking robot? Just saying....

I write long sentences and my editor kicks me in the nuts and tells me to shorten most of them. Of course none of my sentences are extremely long (no 1,000 word behemoths), but sometimes I guess they stretch into the 30's; maybe a few hit the low 40s, but usually in the rewrite I chop them down. I have the writing book (can't think of it's name) that talks about sentence length and what the average reader can take. I'd like to give the reader the benefit of the doubt though and would like to consider him a little bit more well read. I'd like to think that the average reader can take a 30-something word sentence and sometimes a 40 word sentence. Given that the words themselves are commonly known words.

Like I've said before, writing should go through the heart after it's gone through the brain. Put down what feels right and good and true. Of course, this is just my opinion. We each have our own way of getting it down on the page.
Be humble, talent is God given.



Some wins,
Some losses,
One failed book,
One bad car accident,
One lesson learned: He who writes for money, recognition, or self-promotion has forgotten the face of his father.


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