1st: Psychedelic Mystery Solvers, by Angelique Pacheco
2nd: The Prescription, by Jenny Young
3rd: A Goat Story, by Jay Balwanth
HIGHLY COMMENDED: The Book Against The Memory, by Michael Peppas
Judging the writing of others is never something I enjoy doing. It lacks the relationship built between editor and writer, where flaws and plot holes are pointed out to be dealt with rather than to measure the worth of a story. That said, I do believe feedback – in all its forms – is crucial for the development of any writer.
With that in mind, I have pin pointed some common flaws that I noted in most of the submitted stories:
Incorrect formatting and grammar. With only one exception, all the stories were incorrectly formatted. This may seem like a small thing but it is something submissions editors use to weed out weaker stories from the slush pile. Don’t let your good writing be dismissed because of poor formatting. It takes a bit of work to get right but once it becomes habit, you can focus on your writing. Please take careful note of the articles I linked at the bottom of this report so that you can fix these errors.
Too much telling and not enough showing. Too many of the stories felt like revisions of a story rather than a story itself. This unfortunately made it very difficult to get into the story and be swept away by it – a crucial component of Fantasy. In a short story, showing will help eliminate unnecessary words that could be used in plot or character development. Here is a helpful article on how to spot the difference in your own writing: https://jerryjenkins.com/show-dont-tell/
Lack of understanding of the Fantasy genre. I know this sounds harsh, but I felt as though most of the writers who submitted to this competition do not read fantasy at all. Fantasy is an opportunity to create a world that does not exist, and too many writers played it safe. When submitting anywhere, even to an SAWC competition, you should know your genre well before beginning your piece. Your judge is bound to be an avid reader (and probably writer) of the genre you are submitting for, and they will judge you based on that genre.
The dictionary defines fantasy like this:
– imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.
– the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualising.
– a mental image, especially when unreal or fantastic; vision.
– caprice; whim.
– an ingenious or fanciful thought, design, or invention.
– Also fantasia. Literature. an imaginative or fanciful work, especially one dealing with supernatural or unnatural events or characters.
These definitions are the reason why I read and write fantasy, and why I was slightly disappointed when most of the stories started in the normal world. In some cases, the stories felt very similar to one another, as though they existed within the same story universe, and this too was slightly disappointing because of the scope fantasy gives a writer. Though moving a character from a mundane world to a fantastical one can be effective when done well, I felt as though many of the writers in this instance did not manage to do this well. I was encouraged that some of the writers came up with interesting ideas, but they were poorly executed in writing.
Yes, there were a lot of flaws, but all is not lost! There were many gems hidden within the awkward writing and poor formatting and grammar, and each and every one of the contestants have the potential to be good writers if they continue to work at their craft.
Writing is not an easy endeavour and initially, writing happens in a vacuum which means that your ideas go unchecked until you let these stories out into the world. This is why I am so proud of each and every one of the contestants. I know it is difficult to let someone else read and critique your work, but this is an essential part of being a writer. Without feedback, you are bound for failure.
I remember the first SAWC competition I entered about seven years ago. I was devastated by that first critique. However, once the devastation wore off I realised that the judge was correct in almost all of his critique. I allowed that critique to be a catalyst of growth rather than a needle of despair, and I kept working on my craft – something I continue to do and will always do.
One thing I can say is this: a good writer is always made better by their editor. Editing is an underrated weapon in a writer’s arsenal. I highly recommend reading the following articles to help you on your way:
Here is an example of correct formatting for short stories: https://www.shunn.net/format/story.html
Here is an article on correct formatting for dialogue:
Thank you once again for the privilege of reading your work. I hope you will continue to push forward and do the hard work of storytelling.