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

Postby amoskalik » Wed Nov 04, 2015 12:32 pm

I just started reading Puddin'head Wilson, and the first couple of sentences were hundreds of words long. I didn't find it hard to read. This is Mark Twain though, so average mortals probably would have trouble pulling this off.

I myself write short sentences. And short paragraphs. I guess I just like pauses and breaks. I also use a lot of ellipses and dashes... probably more than I should but I edit a lot them out in the end.

Styles sure have changed over the years...

Which brings me to my point. This is purely subjective, but I'd say most of the winners have a distinctive authorial voice whereas I'd wager most of the slush pile does not. It takes time and a lot of experimentation to develop a voice. I know I'm still developing mine. So ultimately the blueprint for a winning story devolves to write, write, write, submit, submit, submit, repeat, repeat, repeat, patience, patience, patience.

Hmm, where have I heard that before? wotf013
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Wed Nov 04, 2015 2:30 pm

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

Definitely food for thought . . .

[orbilvillein piece redacted because the forum allows three maximum nested quotes . . . ]
-----
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....

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

Postby Randy Hulshizer » Thu Nov 05, 2015 5:47 am

Regarding story length, I'm curious... Does anyone on this forum want to weigh in on your experiences? If you have received HMs, SF, F, or WINS! in the past, does it seem to happen more frequently with shorter stories or longer ones? And how long or short?
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Thu Nov 05, 2015 9:22 am

My longer entries won honorable mentions; shorter, all so rans (declines-rejections). I'm long legged and believe at least eight thousand words are needed to fully realize a conflict's portrait. If a short story I'm working on doesn't run that length, something central is missing, I intuit, often too much first act backstory introduction and summary instead of in-scene action and story movement. Shorter prose functions better, I feel, if another story type than drama: anecdote, vignette, and sketch. Many of the "flash fiction" pieces I've read favor anecdote.

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

Postby kentagions » Thu Nov 05, 2015 11:38 am

Data Here! I've got red hot data, here!

Randy wrote,
And how long or short?


HM 1 - 8,900 Hard F
HM 2 - 3,400 Urban F
HM 3 - 7,700 Hard SF
HM 4 - 4,800 High F
HM 5 - 8,000 Soft SF
Q4 entry unjudged - 5,400
Three Rs of 2,000, 12,500 and 8,300 in chronological order.

Dave gives HM to stories he's read entirely. My take on this is that a story must continue to be engaging throughout. To accomplish engagement, I try to make sure that each scene is vividly depicted, drives the plot, and has creative descriptions of action, character and setting. My length-testing questions for readers:

1 Was there any place you felt bored?
2 Was there any place where you didn't care?
3 Did you feel at any point that you had to finish just to please me?

Kent

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

Postby s_c_baker » Sun Nov 08, 2015 8:23 am

I'm not convinced length plays a huge role, except in how much it allows you to delve into character and boost emotional resonance. This does make flash nigh impossible (as my rejection record can attest) but relatively short stories, as well as those that break the typical contest model, can and do win.

So far as length goes, i think you're better off focusing on a solid structure than trying to make your stories any particular length. A long story with a sagging middle will no doubt do worse than a shorter, punchy one every time.
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orbivillein
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Sun Nov 08, 2015 10:56 pm

Emphasis completeness informs story length to a degree. An anecdote could pass muster for a micro short story and only be of a few dozen words. Anecdote emphasizes event development. Gossip and rumor often take the form of anecdote. Unlike gossip and rumor, fictional anecdotes are received as close from a character-narrator participant as practical. Gossip and rumor often tell second or thirdhand or more accounts of a "friend of a friend," FOAF, a lawyer or doctor or engineer or scientist acquaintance, or a similar first-person witness. Hoaxes, chain letters, e-mail now, and Nigerian bank scams also use FOAF "proofs" of legitimacy.

Likewise, an anecdote' s event emphasis could span a thousand pages. Same for vignette, brief or long setting emphasis, like a travelogue narrative form travel guide, McFluster's Guide to Hitchhiking the Rustics; and sketch -- character emphasis. James Joyce's Ulysses is a slice-of-life vignette about Dublin at 400,000 words, to name one example. Joyce protege, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is a sketch of far less word length though longer than average short story length, even if a play script.

None of the former per se contain drama's beginning, middle, and end dramatic conflict customs. They contain sections that divide though not in any ordinary sense are "acts," mere scenery change does not make an act division. Many short stories for that matter might not divide into acts either. Conflict, though, is an event emphasis, and dramatic conflict is necessary for winning stories, and that require an ample word count to realize a conflict's preparation, suspension, and resolution, regardless of event, setting, or character emphasis, each developed are essential for dramatic drama.

K.D. Wentworth said tragically beautiful ends delighted her though they are rare: tragedy. Farland and contest judges generally favor inevitable surprise ends that are favorable outcomes: comedy; however, that could be due to winning stories favor classic comedy action; that is, circumstances go from bad to good fortune. Other than tragedy and comedy, other dramatic forms involve some of both, good fortune from bad fortune achieved at the proportionate expense of fortunate circumstances turned bad -- a zero-sum scenario on its surface. Maybe not zero sum, though, if an overall gain resolves.

In any case, overall, the contest metric of drama, anecdote, vignette, and sketch proportioned each to the other is far too subjective to assign a value. Higher placers generally proportion ample dramatic conflict events, settings, and characters' emphasis, though, which requires more word count in many cases than only one engaging feature emphasis, like event, setting, or character, so long as the action transforms one feature. For that matter, anecdote, vignette, and sketch do not customarily require a transformation. Only that the event, setting, or character on point be interesting and emotionally engaging.

One of my honorable mentions is more anecdote than drama, I lament now later, and at the upper word count boundary. Another is a vignette and far too brief for the setting's emphasis realization to be clear and place higher. A brief sketch piece also ran. Others, honorable mention or also ran, more effort for drama realization development though short on emotional appeal: pathos. Yeah, working on that most of all.

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

Postby Kary English » Wed Nov 18, 2015 11:19 am

Semi (First Call) - 5,000 words, high fantasy, female protag, omni

Finalist (The Minder's Bond)- 7,200 words, high fantasy, male protag, 1st person past

Finalist (Flight of the Kikayon)- 8,200 words, off-planet, spacefaring SF, female protag, 1st person present with flashbacks (somebody told me I couldn't mix past and present in the same story, so I did)

HM (Totaled)- 5,000 words, tearjerking hard SF, female protag, 1st person present (anti-capitalist msg, FWIW)

Winner (Poseidon's Eyes)- 6,200 words, contemporary fantasy (and another anti-capitalist message), female narrator/male protag (narrator vs. protag is open to debate), 1st person past

Note: the last three (Kikayon, Totaled and Poseidon's) all played in the tragically beautiful end of the sandbox. Dave said to make 'em cry, so I did.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby amoskalik » Wed Nov 18, 2015 4:34 pm

Kary English wrote:
Note: the last three (Kikayon, Totaled and Poseidon's) all played in the tragically beautiful end of the sandbox. Dave said to make 'em cry, so I did.


You make it sound so easy wotf008
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Wed Nov 18, 2015 4:46 pm

Apparently it's time for my metaphor... Again...

There's a mountain. And people race up this mountain. Some race against each other, but most race against themselves. There are more paths up the mountain than anyone can count, and seldom do any two people run the same path.

Nobody has ever won this race. Nobody has ever reached the top of the mountain. No matter how high they race, everyone eventually stops. Some sometimes slide back down; and when they do, some run back up, while others give up and go home.

There's a village at the foot of the mountain. People in this village like to race through their streets, and they like to watch the mountain race as well. Some race on the mountain AND in the village, because the magic of this mountain allows you to be in both places at once.

And there's one particular race in the village that a lot of people run, and a lot more people watch. And if you win this race, the race sponsors whisk you away to a grand party. They fete you, they treat you, and best of all they teach you. Expert racers from the mountain come to the party and teach you: "This is the path I ran. Here are some problems and how I faced them. Here is what you might try." And then they throw a really BIG party, with dozens of expert racers and hundreds of cheering fans. And at the end of that party, they lift you up on their shoulders, carry you out of the village...

...and set you at the foot of the mountain, the very start of the race, and say, "There you go! Start running!"

Oh, I forgot, they also say, "And we all believe in you. We're cheering you on. If we see a chance to help you now and then, we'll be there for you."

Some people look at that mountain, look back at that party, and say, "That was enough. That was what I needed. I don't need to run any more." They go home.

Some people (sadly doomed to disappointment) demand that the party lift them higher. They demand that winning the village race entitles them to success in the mountain race. They are in for a rude awakening!

But the smart people are grateful for the village race, grateful for the party and the lessons. They start running as fast as they can, knowing that they're a little better prepared, and they have friends on the mountain, and now they have to apply what they've learned. And keep learning, keep running. Will they race faster and higher because of the party? There are no guarantees, but their chances are better now.

There's no shame in saying, "The party was enough." There's probably a little shame in thinking the party makes you special, but with luck you can outgrow that. How you proceed -- with or without the party -- is up to you.

But me? I'm lacing up my running shoes and headed full speed up that mountain. The party inspired me, and I want to use that inspiration while it lasts.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Martin L. Shoemaker » Wed Nov 18, 2015 4:48 pm

amoskalik wrote:
Kary English wrote:
Note: the last three (Kikayon, Totaled and Poseidon's) all played in the tragically beautiful end of the sandbox. Dave said to make 'em cry, so I did.


You make it sound so easy wotf008


Without meaning to be flip: it gets easier. Give your protagonist only bad choices, and force them to choose. When your protagonist chooses the one with a high cost to themselves but that benefits others, you're on the right track.
Martin L. Shoemaker
F:1V28,1V29
SF:4V28
HM:2/3V28,2/3/4V29,1/2/3V30
3rd:1V31

WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!
SUBMIT! SUBMIT! SUBMIT! SUBMIT! SUBMIT!
REPEAT! REPEAT! REPEAT! REPEAT! REPEAT!
Patience. Patience. Patience. Patience. Patience.
NNiNN

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

Postby gower21 » Wed Nov 18, 2015 8:15 pm

Or make them make all the wrong choices, but in the end they finally choose the right choice too late.

I'm sure there are other variations of the complex ending. I think DFs simple analysis of endings goes like:

The MC gets what they need not what they wanted.

The MC gives up with they want (the goal through the entire story) to give someone else something they need more.

The MC gets what they want and realizes that it was at the expense of everything else.

I'm sure there are more...

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

Postby s_c_baker » Wed Nov 18, 2015 9:16 pm

gower21 wrote:Or make them make all the wrong choices, but in the end they finally choose the right choice too late.

I'm sure there are other variations of the complex ending. I think DFs simple analysis of endings goes like:

The MC gets what they need not what they wanted.

The MC gives up with they want (the goal through the entire story) to give someone else something they need more.

The MC gets what they want and realizes that it was at the expense of everything else.

I'm sure there are more...

You're forgetting my personal favourite, which is:

The MC suddenly and meaninglessly turns into a goat.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby MattDovey » Thu Nov 19, 2015 2:48 am

s_c_baker wrote:
gower21 wrote:Or make them make all the wrong choices, but in the end they finally choose the right choice too late.

I'm sure there are other variations of the complex ending. I think DFs simple analysis of endings goes like:

The MC gets what they need not what they wanted.

The MC gives up with they want (the goal through the entire story) to give someone else something they need more.

The MC gets what they want and realizes that it was at the expense of everything else.

I'm sure there are more...

You're forgetting my personal favourite, which is:

The MC suddenly and meaninglessly turns into a goat.


Then plays a game of chess with Death. FADE TO BLACK.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby amoskalik » Thu Nov 19, 2015 5:41 am

Plotting has never been my problem, but to achieve a meaningful emotional response from the reader is a higher order quality dependent on character, setting, theme ... the list of prerequisites goes on and on. Once these elements are second nature to a writer, I'm sure it does seem quite simple.

Of course as a reader, I'm a hard nut to crack emotionally. For instance while I enjoyed WOTF v 31 very much, I didn't find any of the stories particularly emotional*, so maybe for the average reader it's easier to achieve than I think wotf017

*please don't take this as criticism because it's meant to be a commentary about me. This holds true for a wide range of highly regarded stories. I only bring up wotf v31 because I assume most forumites are familiar with it.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby MattDovey » Thu Nov 19, 2015 6:27 am

An emotional response requires the reader to be invested in the character.

The simplest investment in a character is to like them.

The quickest way to get a reader to like a character is to show supporting characters liking them. Example: first episode of Firefly, the long tracking sequence through the ship, Kaylee says "I love my Captain!" and so we do too.

I stole this idea from Writing Excuses, applied it forthwith, and won with it. Huzzah!
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby orbivillein » Thu Nov 19, 2015 7:40 am

Tragically beautiful endings are harder to write, and so less common than other kinds, because they involve contrasts of likable scoundrels. Though a no-brainer duh-huh observation: they begin at the beginning, to develop likability. Maybe a moment of humane compassion for another suffering being is all the likability needed at the start. Tragedy also involves a start of fortunate circumstances that turn awry. Also, for dynamic tragedy, the tragic character should be the cause of the personal downfall.

A common tragic character pursues an overtly selfish goal:, fame, wealth, love interest, promotion, justifiable revenge, ease of living, though overlooks the wrack and ruin self-involved efforts do to others' well-being. However, a rarer form and more tragically beautiful tragedy realizes late the error of self-involved pursuits gone awry. Then must make a noble self-sacrifice to make amends, redeem wickedness, and personally satisfy the self's guilt for harm done. Die, maybe, lose face, take a lesser or no share, give back, pay forward, surrender, let go, remove the self from prominence of place, etc.

Several of the Volume 31 stories have pretty much tragic outcomes: merged personal growth at proportionate personal cost. Beautiful, somewhat. If short of reader appeal, the matter of noble humane compassion developed at the start tends low by proportion to self-involved pursuits' emphases and successes. Stronger likability and therefore curiosity and concerned empathy arousal could make the stories and their tragic beauty more compelling if more compassion and greater personal sacrifice held sway.

Tragedy goes from at least routine okay fortunes to worse fortunes. Tragically beautiful goes from okay to worse and at the same time bad to okay at least -- selfless gain at a proportionate personal cost: not a zero-sum scenario though. Loss or gain overall proportionate to the strength of the desire satisfied and noble sacrifice that anchor a tragedy's ending starts at the start and delivers at the end, are beautiful tragedy's features.

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

Postby Kary English » Thu Nov 19, 2015 8:18 am

Re: making the reader cry - there was a period in my WOTF development where I practiced this heavily; it was a skill I wanted to learn.

Kikayon was my first attempt - could I make the reader cry?

Totaled was my second attempt - how much could I make the reader cry? (A lot, apparently. I had readers who said they were crying too hard to see the print or finish the tale.)

Departure Gate 34B was my third attempt - how fast could I make the reader cry. DG34B is flash, so the answer is "somewhere around the 500 word mark."

My point here is to be explicit with your practice. Before you write, make some decisions about what skills you'll be working on, and structure the piece with those goals in mind. I have posts on here somewhere listing what I was practicing in each of my WOTF stories.

Also, the links are down in my sig if anyone wants to see how the progression played out.
WOTF: 1 HM, 1 Semi, 2 Finalists, 1 Winner
Q2,V31 - Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby KD Julicher » Thu Nov 19, 2015 8:30 am

I have two personal preferences that mean I don't know if I'll ever actually win WOTF, despite my two finalists thus far:

I have a hard time writing anything but epic fantasy, and I don't really care for "make the reader cry" endings much. Sometimes. If that's what is called for. My first finalist had that sort of ending. I cheated though. I was only able to write that because I knew it wasn't the end of the story, just the end of that well-contained story arc, and someday I could expand and tell the rest. My other stories tend to be much more upbeat. My second finalist hopefully touches the readers' heartstrings, but leaves them with a suggestion of "happily ever after". Heck, even the villain survives, albeit a little beat-up wotf001

That's just the sort of writer I am. I pretty much hate reading tear-jerker stories. If you put me through hell but give me a happy ending I'll be with you forever, if I think you're just trying to manipulate my emotions, then I get mad. (I call this my "Christmas Shoes" reaction, after the worst holiday song ever written which is specifically designed, from the lyrics to the melody to the stupid effects, to get an emotional reaction and -- ok, ending rant there).

So... is it possible to win WOTF with an upbeat, happy ending, epic fantasy? I will continue my quest to determine this. wotf007
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Kary English » Thu Nov 19, 2015 8:37 am

@KD - I think it's totally possible to win with happy stories.

The make 'em cry approach is just that, one approach out of many possible ones.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Dustin Adams » Thu Nov 19, 2015 9:17 am

amoskalik wrote:Plotting has never been my problem, but to achieve a meaningful emotional response from the reader is a higher order quality dependent on character, setting, theme ... the list of prerequisites goes on and on. Once these elements are second nature to a writer, I'm sure it does seem quite simple.

Of course as a reader, I'm a hard nut to crack emotionally. For instance while I enjoyed WOTF v 31 very much, I didn't find any of the stories particularly emotional*, so maybe for the average reader it's easier to achieve than I think wotf017

*please don't take this as criticism because it's meant to be a commentary about me. This holds true for a wide range of highly regarded stories. I only bring up wotf v31 because I assume most forumites are familiar with it.

Amos,

We all come from different emotional backgrounds, so while some may tear up for a story about abandoned kittens, that wouldn't do a thing for me.

As a guy who has lost two siblings, I am perhaps more greatly affected by loss than others who haven't experienced it as personally. "Our Last Words" by Damon Kaswell in V.23 had salt water dripping from my eyes onto my shirt.

That was the only WotF story that has done that (And I've read many). A few others have produced a lump in the throat, but for the most part I read em, like/dislike em, and read the next one.

Maybe you'll eventually read one that will kick your heart in the nuts.
Maybe not.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby Galen » Thu Nov 19, 2015 9:36 am

Kary English wrote:
Departure Gate 34B was my third attempt - how fast could I make the reader cry. DG34B is flash, so the answer is "somewhere around the 500 word mark."


Well after reading that teaser, I just had to read the story. That was an excellent piece of flash. Woosh! A whole story in all its complexity, but teeny.

But what challenge is next in the cry Olympics?
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby amoskalik » Thu Nov 19, 2015 10:50 am

Dustin Adams wrote:Maybe you'll eventually read one that will kick your heart in the nuts.
Maybe not.


There was one, but I don't remember the exact name... Angelique something? It was about a clone who was a school teacher and made the mistake of connecting with her students (therefore making the human teachers look bad) and paid the ultimate price for it.

Come to think of it, Dead Poets Society had a similar effect on me. I guess in general I'm a sucker for "no good deed goes unpunished" storylines.
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby gower21 » Thu Nov 19, 2015 11:09 am

s_c_baker wrote:You're forgetting my personal favourite, which is:

The MC suddenly and meaninglessly turns into a goat.


DO NOT GIVE AWAY MY SECRET, STEWIE!!!

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

Postby gower21 » Thu Nov 19, 2015 11:12 am

I just realized how close I am to 2k posts!!

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

Postby gower21 » Thu Nov 19, 2015 11:12 am

Is

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

Postby gower21 » Thu Nov 19, 2015 11:12 am

This

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

Postby gower21 » Thu Nov 19, 2015 11:12 am

Cheating?

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

Postby s_c_baker » Thu Nov 19, 2015 11:18 am

Yes. wotf004
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Re: Has anybody ever done an analysis of winning stories?

Postby s_c_baker » Thu Nov 19, 2015 11:20 am

Kary English wrote:@KD - I think it's totally possible to win with happy stories.

The make 'em cry approach is just that, one approach out of many possible ones.

In fact, I would even say that it's a less popular approach, given that the contest (like many other markets aiming to produce chiefly commercial fiction) favours unambiguously happy endings over tear-jerkers.

Rather than "make 'em cry," I'd say "make 'em feel" is what counts.

My winning story is definitely not a tear-jerker, for instance. It's just really high-concept.

I do think the bar is higher for epic fantasy if only because more people write it, but obviously you're doing fairly well at getting across that bar for the most part, KD!
Stewart C Baker - 1st place, Q2 V32
My contest history: Semi-finalist, R, HM, R, R, HM, HM, R, R, R, R, HM, R, R, R, R, Winner
My published fiction, poetry, &c.


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