How to get called up to the WOTF Majors

Open topics on the Contest itself, to include results-watch threads and other items of note.

Postby jloonam » Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:06 pm

I think depicting a character as at first sarcastic, clusmy, and awkward offers an ideal situation for a combined tragedy-comedy. But that would add a whole other dimension of complexity that wouldn't be easy to compose or might likely not appeal broadly. By way of example, Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea.

Plot spoiler alert. When Hemingway beaches his catch, its fleshless carcase represents a Phyrric victory. He's proven he can still, indeed, catch a mighty fish, but he didn't deliver the meat. He didn't have it in him to land the fish intact. Still "Salao, the worst kind of unlucky." but Santiago's esteem is restored in his community, for the time being. A mixed tragedy and comedy ending.
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Postby AMcCarter » Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:09 pm

Well, if you look at the traditional meaning of Comedy and Tragedy, no.

Comedy was defined by the Greeks as any work having a happy ending. It wasn't necessarily funny, just didn't end in the normal doom and gloom. Tragedy is the downfall of a hero or important figure, a fall from grace. Oedipus Rex is a great example. I think a lot of modern dramatists forget the original meanings. I always grimace when I hear the word tragedy in the media, because they usually use it in the wrong context.
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Postby jloonam » Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:15 pm

Language is ever alive. One of my bête noirs is what's happend to the term mundane. Fiction particularly is envigorated by descriptive language usage, prescriptive language usage notwithstanding.
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Postby wswingley » Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:32 pm

jloonam wrote:I think depicting a character as at first sarcastic, clusmy, and awkward offers an ideal situation for a combined tragedy-comedy. But that would add a whole other dimension of complexity that wouldn't be easy to compose or might likely not appeal broadly. By way of example, Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea.


Good example! Maybe I'll have to re-read that or keep it in mind when trying to smooth out my story's tone. I think the importance of "achieving the goal, but with a tragic spin" could be key to that equation.

I've submitted the story to a pro-market, so we'll see if I get any interesting feeback in this regard.
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Postby jloonam » Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:45 pm

I spent decades worrying over the denotative meaning of "Salao" I finally found it, recently, after many false trails, in a Portugese language dictionary of all places. Then duh-huh, it hit me, a Brazilian loan word used in southern Cuba at the time of Hemingway's living there. Salao: useless, used up, has been, washed up, past a prime age or ability. Salao pretty well sums up the story's premise, theme, and figurative meaning, and Hemingway's sentiments at the time after the debacle of Over the Hills and Through the Trees. For me, fully realizing Salao's meaning showed me my geocentric bias. My spatial orientation to the story was from the north side of Cuba. Santiago lived in and fished from southern Cuba.
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Postby Gary Cuba » Wed Oct 14, 2009 2:47 pm

wswingley wrote:On the comedy note, I have a different sort of problem. I tend to unconsciously inject sarcasm, wit, dry humor, etc. into everything I write. One story I went with it as a pure comedy piece, but sometimes I have trouble keeping a serious tone or balancing the tone.

The story I intended for Q4 (that I mentioned here before) had the problem that my main character is sarcastic, clumsy, and a bit neurotic, so the beginning is quite comedy leaning, but then when the story gets serious it loses that comedic tone. Is this OK or should the tone carry through the whole piece? I dunno...

You always see Comedy vs. Tragedy..... is it possible, or simply incredibly difficult, to combine both?


Well, I'm certainly no expert, but I suppose there is the traditional "comedic failure" type character, like Charlie Chaplin's little vagabond. Things may have worked out okay for him occasionally (like getting the girl at the end), but sometimes you'd see him at the end, tripping over his feet whilst receding down a long dirt road after going through hell, in search of his next encounter with capricious fate. Those type of sympathetic, bumbling characters will always have appeal, IMO. "Poor guy!" you say, "There but for the grace of God go I. But what a funny, quirky little trip he had! I wish him well..."

Going back to my own records, it appears that 35% of the stories I've lucked into having published have had a comedic tone, either humorous characters, situations or both. Not all of them have "ended well," per se -- but the character(s) all survive to try again, perhaps chagrined and yet a tiny bit illuminated from their experience.

Generally, I think (and it's strictly my opinion) that it's probably more "editorially" expected that the starting tone of the story be carried on throughout -- but that doesn't say there can't be "serious" things happening along the way. Sometimes you need to have something hard for the humor to bounce off of effectively. But there are a jillion ways to do things, and no rules can ever absolutely govern what makes for an entertaining and memorable story. You just have to set it out on the doorstep and see if the cat licks it up.

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Postby Sarah » Wed Oct 14, 2009 3:13 pm

Be careful with sarcasm. While a few people consider it an irresistible form of humor, many readers will misinterpret it as defensiveness, cynicism, or hostility--particular in prose, where it's stripped of all verbal intonation. It can be done well, but it's even more difficult than other forms of humor.
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Postby soulmirror » Wed Oct 14, 2009 6:53 pm

[quote]Comedy (from the Greek κÃ
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Postby EmeryH » Wed Oct 14, 2009 7:00 pm

lol soulmirror you always crack me up
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Postby soulmirror » Wed Oct 14, 2009 7:41 pm

EmeryH wrote:lol soulmirror you always crack me up


If you mean 'crack up' as in haha then that's the mask on the left.

But if you meant 'crack up' like "There are alien radio broadcasts echoing in my head and so now I must stuff my hat with tin foil" ... then maybe it's the mask on the right.

Once bitten, twice shy, babe! The whole comedy/comedy thing has taught me not to assume I know what anyone's talking about from here on in! :)
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Postby jloonam » Wed Oct 14, 2009 7:48 pm

I know the names of drama's masks as Pathos and Bathos.
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Postby Alastair » Wed Oct 14, 2009 8:05 pm

soulmirror wrote:If you mean 'crack up' as in haha then that's the mask on the left.


Or stage right...
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Postby EmeryH » Wed Oct 14, 2009 9:40 pm

soulmirror wrote:
EmeryH wrote:lol soulmirror you always crack me up


If you mean 'crack up' as in haha then that's the mask on the left.

But if you meant 'crack up' like "There are alien radio broadcasts echoing in my head and so now I must stuff my hat with tin foil" ... then maybe it's the mask on the right.

Once bitten, twice shy, babe! The whole comedy/comedy thing has taught me not to assume I know what anyone's talking about from here on in! :)


haha I mean crack up as in go CRAZY XD
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Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Wed Oct 14, 2009 11:10 pm

Sarah wrote:Be careful with sarcasm. While a few people consider it an irresistible form of humor, many readers will misinterpret it as defensiveness, cynicism, or hostility--particular in prose, where it's stripped of all verbal intonation. It can be done well, but it's even more difficult than other forms of humor.


It's been my experience that there are some people in this field who think raw sarcasm -- all by itself -- substitutes for having a personality or having something truly worthwhile to say.
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Postby EmeryH » Thu Oct 15, 2009 12:33 am

that makes me a tad bit sad...
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Postby soulmirror » Thu Oct 15, 2009 7:07 am

jloonam wrote:I know the names of drama's masks as Pathos and Bathos.


Huh ... I thought that was the name of the little-known bi-polar Musketeer! :wink:
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Postby klaatu » Thu Oct 15, 2009 5:15 pm

soulmirror wrote:
jloonam wrote:I know the names of drama's masks as Pathos and Bathos.


Huh ... I thought that was the name of the little-known bi-polar Musketeer! :wink:


Now THAT made me laugh out loud in the staffroom. Thanks.


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Postby jloonam » Thu Oct 15, 2009 6:51 pm

I'm just now recollecting that O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi" is both a tragedy and a comedy.

Plot spoiler alert. Della's noble sacrifice of selling her hair is a personal tragedy. More so, she can't wear the comb her husband Jim buys her with money he got from pawning his watch. Nor can he use the watch chain Della bought him with the money from selling her hair. Dueling noble sacrifices, but depicting the noble selflessness of their actions reveals them as a truly loving couple more concerned with each other's welfare than their own or their material possessions. Love triumphs. A comedy ending; a tragically beautiful ending. Pathos and Bathos. But then it's not a conventional conflict resolution story either. It's a revelation story as many of O. Henry's stories are.
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Postby soulmirror » Fri Oct 16, 2009 7:15 am

'That's the show for tonight, I'll be appearing here all week, G'night ladies and gentlemen, Drive home safely and please remember to tip your waitresses.

Because a five on the nightstand will bring a smile to anyone's face, etc...'

Pretty much the familiar Dave Letterman riff, except sometimes he really isn't wearing in pants, it turns out.
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Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Thu Nov 19, 2009 1:52 pm

I cleaned the original post up a little, and re-posted it at my blog:

http://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/200 ... e-contest/

Not advice for everyone, equally. But it might help a few folks.
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A little advice to the riff raff?

Postby Prisoner » Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:48 am

Thanks, Brad. I was going to ask you and Skadder about your winners, just to understand a little of what it takes. After all, KD hasn't slushed for too many years. We don't have the samples we had with Budrys in the published anthologies. There's a lot of good info from her visit to these boards as well.

Some thoughts:

The differences between my HMs and rejects have been the hook. I don't see amazing first sentences in the winners, but they're hard to put down after the first paragraph/10 lines. All mine had clear speculative elements, though, even the rejects.

Ms. Wentworth has indicated a fondness for stories with tragically beautiful endings.


I agree. I had a comedic one that got HM. It was accepted elsewhere.

Another thing KD likes is Writing to the Point by Budrys. I've read it. It has the least BS of any book on writing, IMHO. WttP is rather insistent on the 7 points that make a story, so use another structure at your own risk. I think you'd be wasting a quarter.

I have noticed the religious in a lot of the winners. I have also noted elsewhere that, in contrast to other breakout markets, this one likes long. Average winner is 10k words. No winner is fewer than 6k in the anthology I studied (I think it was the 24th).

As with Budrys, the climax has to be life or death, with a last minute save, or defeat. Something dire has to be at stake. There must be peril.

I've noticed the most recent anthology has very plain writing. The grand prize winner doesn't have a single comparison. Poetic language may not acceptable to WotF (opposing viewpoints welcome).

Maybe I missed it, but it would be good to know the category of Brad's and skadder's stories: space? near-future? Tense, person, viewpoint(s),

Can you say?

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Postby Prisoner » Fri Nov 20, 2009 12:02 pm

jloonam wrote:I'm just now recollecting that O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi" is both a tragedy and a comedy.

Plot spoiler alert. Della's noble sacrifice of selling her hair is a personal tragedy. More so, she can't wear the comb her husband Jim buys her with money he got from pawning his watch. Nor can he use the watch chain Della bought him with the money from selling her hair. Dueling noble sacrifices, but depicting the noble selflessness of their actions reveals them as a truly loving couple more concerned with each other's welfare than their own or their material possessions. Love triumphs. A comedy ending; a tragically beautiful ending. Pathos and Bathos. But then it's not a conventional conflict resolution story either. It's a revelation story as many of O. Henry's stories are.


GREAT story! The one about the leaf is also unforgettable.
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Postby skadder » Fri Nov 20, 2009 12:41 pm

My winning story is 5000 words long--space and planet (so, a journey happened)--3rd person limited--past tense.

In terms of themes, it is about what is life and what is slavery. I purposefully picked themes I thought would work for classroom discussions, and I was fairly unsubtle about them.

My story was sci-fi as I knew it was under-represented--they get more fantasy that sci-fi. It was mid-future (lol).

In terms of style, I prefer authorial invisibility--so I laid off any poetic stylin', yet tried to make descriptions vivid and effect-full where possible.

This was the first story I SPECIFICALLY wrote for WOTF--my first two were just my best stories of the time (they were also thematically dubious and probably crossed rules in terms of content).
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Postby izanobu » Fri Nov 20, 2009 2:17 pm

what would you guys think of maybe entering a story that has a homosexual relationship at the core? (no onscreen sex or anything, I realize that would violate the rating rules). I really like the story, but am unsure if the untraditional element would kill it...
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Postby Prisoner » Fri Nov 20, 2009 3:03 pm

izanobu wrote:what would you guys think of maybe entering a story that has a homosexual relationship at the core? (no onscreen sex or anything, I realize that would violate the rating rules). I really like the story, but am unsure if the untraditional element would kill it...


I hope you don't self-censor that one. If WotF doesn't like it there's Expanded Horizons.

Thinking back on what I've read of KDs and the judges, no such relationship comes to mind. Too bad. And, KD lives in a red state...Card is a Mormon, makes you wonder if their mores influence selection. I'd like to think not.

Heinlein played on mores in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, with group marriages an adaptation to the lack of women. There's always the Left Hand of Darkness, about gender-changers. It's silly to have boy aliens and girl aliens. Their method of reproduction will bear no resemblance to our own, not to mention their social structures. It's a rich part of world-building, just like another place's art, politics, religion, language, modes of transport, etc., etc..

I don't think that WotF is an inhibition on what the future of SF will be like. I think it is pretty broad and tolerant, given the three anthologies I've read. It has simple limits, imposed by its use in high schools, perhaps.

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Postby Brad R. Torgersen » Fri Nov 20, 2009 5:22 pm

izanobu: I imagine the contest would be open to the story as long as there was no graphic sex. How far it got with the judges would probably depend on how the judges feel about something as 'controversial' as an openly gay central character. Of course, putting gay in your fic is very "in" right now, so if WOTF can't take or won't take the story, I am sure several other markets would be interested in it.

Prisoner: Both of my Finalists have been explicitly science fiction, space as the setting, Sol system; one of them fairly near future, the other farther future. I actually wrote them back-to-back, as the Q3 winner was written directly on the heels of the Q1 Finalist -- Q2 was an older story from 2008 that I pitched at the contest because I didn't have anything else for that quarter. My Finalists have quite a bit in common, in terms of backstory and plot features, though they are not linked at all and don't share the same 'universe' as it were. Both of them were written specifically with WOTF in mind -- the winner was never even workshopped or critiqued, I sent it in cold!
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Postby Prisoner » Fri Nov 20, 2009 5:42 pm

the winner was never even workshopped or critiqued, I sent it in cold!


I've had the same experience. I think it is a skill in itself to incorporate crits. You have to have a solid keel to reject inappropriate criticism. I have chased criticism to the point that it was as if I was saying 'if only I please all my readers, then it MUST get published'

In fact, the ones I don't want just anyone to see, those have gone on. I don't want the crits because I can't use them. Of course, if someone catches a their/they're/there problem, of course.

But when someone says the story doesn't work for them, all it means it they didn't like it. About as useful as saying the story is orange, or pentagonal.

We are writing for readers, so we do need feedback. I just don't know when to disregard advice.

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Postby skadder » Fri Nov 20, 2009 6:20 pm

It is a skill incorporating crits. I usually err on the side of caution and try out what someone suggests--I bin it if it doesn't work me.

The way I figure is that I probably can't divine the route to good prose, so it's good to try stuff you initially don't agree with--you may find your prose/plot/story improves and it was the missing ingredient.
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Postby Alastair » Fri Nov 20, 2009 10:55 pm

Prisoner wrote: It's silly to have boy aliens and girl aliens. Their method of reproduction will bear no resemblance to our own


While true to a certain degree -- heck, even amongst terrestrial biology there are some pretty strange reproductive methods -- I'd argue that two sexes is likely the most common number in complex organisms. It can be shown mathematically to be an optimum for chromosome rearranging (which is why sexual reproduction is so successful - it lets species evolve faster). One sex is too few, three is more than you need to mix and match chromosomes. (If a species requiring three sexes did arise, it would be at a reproductive disadvantage compared with a species with two sexes.)

Of course different biochemistries could arise and even similar biochemistries can do really weird things (as witness Earth lifeforms), but a lot of the weirder lifeforms seen in science fiction just make no evolutionary sense.

Not that it isn't fun to speculate. It's fairly easy to imagine a world where species are all hermaphroditic, for example: they have sex to swap genetic material (even some bacteria do this), but each individual has all the equipment necessary for reproduction. Various authors have done riffs on this. But three sexes? Niven's puppeteers sort of do this, but in actuality (if I remember right) the third sex (the "female" in terms of the mechanics) is actually a genetically distinct (and non-sentient) host species. (And you have to wonder: how did that evolve?)

Edit to add: Of course if you're not writing hard science fiction, the above doesn't really apply. Do whatever you want to make the story interesting. ;)
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Postby soulmirror » Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:41 pm

It's interesting that the topic of "three sexes" came up here --

I just had a scene that I decided to CUT, which featured the alien race having three sexes ... and what I thought was an intriguing (but cut because it extended the scene into wordiness and deflated the main story's pacing) cultural taboo, where the two "end" sexes on the spectrum felt it was sinful to interact in any way EXCEPT through the "middleman" sexed being, whom they both had the emotional bond to. Sort of a reference not so much to bi-sexuality (since that alien character was now dead) but rather OUR taboo against homosexuality (but among the aliens the issue was that the two opposite sexes would be not "same" enough, lacking their common lover)

If THAT brief version/explanation lost you ... that's why I had to lose the scene! Clutter. Cool ideas that turn into dealbreaking (or story breaking) asides ...

Anyway, it was fun trying to think up ideas about what exactly it would be that a "third sex" would DO in their reproductive process, and how dissimilar sexes within one species could become, and still remain part of the species.

It is "the love of which we dare not speak" ... :shock: ... Mainly because it'll undoubtedly work its way back into another story, somehow, soon.

It can be shown mathematically to be an optimum for chromosome rearranging (which is why sexual reproduction is so successful - it lets species evolve faster). One sex is too few, three is more than you need to mix and match chromosomes. (If a species requiring three sexes did arise, it would be at a reproductive disadvantage compared with a species with two sexes.)



PS

I never really had given it thought along the actual lines of chromosome-sharing, and reproductive benefits of only TWO sexes as opposed to three, though. Are you saying there's a definitive calculation of why three sexes wouldn't work as well or better?

Not doubting, just wondering.

I wonder though if "three sexes" might not be explainable (even then) by just being a survival of some early, arbitrary trait? There was a world with both two-sexers and three-sexers ... and the continent that had the two-sexers got hit by a comet so the clumsy three-sexers were the survivors by blind luck?

Sort of like marsupial mammals versus placental mammals on Earth, where obviously the placental guys dominated, but the marsupials had a refuge in Australia (and if you count oppossums, our attic, maybe) ???

Once a trait develops (even if by chance) , I think I recall, there still has to be a natural selection force working AGAINST it for it to necessarily disappear, perhaps?[/quote]
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