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July & August Response and Winners


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Thank you to all our entrants in the "Fashion" Writing Challenge! Before I reveal the winner and runner-up of this Challenge, I want to note that the judges had an extremely difficult time declaring a winner this time, and at times it looked as though there would be a three-way tie. As it was, there were single-point differences between our top three contenders, so I want to offer those two who made it to the top with some hearty congratulations!

Our winner for this round is the writer behind Jalana with her story "Fatal mistake"! Our runner up is by the writer behind Irina Pavlova with the story "Dress Greens"! Congratulations!

I'd like to recognize my fellow judges for this round: the writers behinds Fleet Captain Toni Turner, Lieutenant Sal Taybrim, and special guest judge Lieutenant Ren Rennyn. My special thanks to the judges for writing extra reviews for this round to ensure that every story received two!

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"Fatal mistake"

Writer's Character: Jalana

Comments from Judge 1 (Character Cassandra Egan Manno)

I'll admit that, upon my first reading, this story was a heartbreaker. Poor Claire, the kidnapped kindergarten teacher, sentenced to death for wearing green! Where this story could have been preachy or ham-fisted, however, it's pleasingly abrupt; I thought the end, which ends without rescue or execution, but with Claire alone and despairing, is incredibly strong and incredibly gutsy. Well done! I also like the scope of the story: There's no galaxy at stake here but, as many stories did this time around (and I love that they did), the major stakes are personal and manifest in monologue or dialogue. Claire, with the unknown lizard alien, jogs between the two, and the result is a pleasing but distressing story about what happens to a Starfleet officer when there is no rescue at the end of the day. Very strong stuff!
Claire's fear and despair are written very convincingly, and I'll admit that my only sticking point in this story is that they might have been too convincing for the ultimate reveal that Claire's sin was that she wore green. The crime seems too cartoonish because of its buildup, and I'd challenge this writer to think about her strengths (emotional writing, character creation, pacing) and question the decision of the crime's reveal. For example, I could see a story in which the first thing Claire understands is that she's been sentenced to death for wearing green. As a result, she not only despairs but has to grapple with the absurdity of the situation, and I think that recognition (of absurdity) would make this story even stronger. The Federation may be all about IDIC (the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations), but some of that starts to look exceptionally absurd when seen close up, especially when it tries to kill you.
Comments from Judge 2 (Character Ren Rennyn)
This story, with its twist ending, could be compared to a Twilight Zone-style tale, where the resolution is unexpected and unjust, leaving the reader off-balance at the end. The identity of the main character, not a Starfleet officer, but a teacher, is smart and effective. Claire was brave enough to join a mission to deep space, but didn't sign up for something like this. I instantly felt for her, and the tragedy of her end is enhanced by this.
Claire is disoriented by darkness, bright lights, and untranslated speech. The alien speech had me just as disoriented, putting me into the story to sense what Claire must feel. It punctuated her thoughts, adding layers of confusion. More could have been made of Claire's growing ability to see and identify details, but it forms a strong line through the story as it stands, up to the moment her fate becomes clear. The identification of colors - the aliens' blue and purple uniforms, their red eyes - cleverly foreshadows the final surprise without giving it away.
There are a few spelling and grammatical errors, particularly in the use of run-on sentences. These could easily be improved by some light editing. The creativity and strong use of details in this story had me on the edge of my seat throughout.
*****
"Fashion Misunderstanding"
Writer's Character: Idril Mar
Comments from Judge 1 (Character Ren Rennyn)
Here's an engaging story that capably combines personal characterization with established Star Trek canon. There are several elements at play here - Klingon history, Kirk and Archer references, and use of a well-established 118 character - that could easily overpower or confuse the story. Instead, the elements are well-balanced and used to good effect. Without knowing a great deal of Mar's established history, I have enough of a sense of her that the story entertains me without interruption. References to canon play their part without stealing focus. Klingon and Trill characteristics are explained in brief where they effect the story, feeding the reader information as needed, leading to the final joke. The story works for me as a Star Trek fan, and would work for a non-fan as well.
The third-person narration is told mostly from K'tal's perspective, but a couple of times, it shifts to Mar's perspective in a way that can be jarring. Smoothing this out would take the story all the way from sim style to short story style, Either way, it's an entertaining story and well told.
Comments from Judge 2 (Character Sal Taybrim)
I admit I am a fan of lighthearted stories. I find they often put less focus on flowery writing and get to the nitty gritty of plot and character development than the dark and brooding stories.
I found this an enjoyable little story arc. Tightly written and amusing. I found the language was clear and the descriptions clean. It is a good, solid entry to the challenge.
To make this story better, I would love to see a stronger development of K’tal as a Klingon. I admit I found myself wondering what species he was at first because he didn’t really seem very ‘Klingon Warrior.’ A good strong characterization would not only make this story shine brighter, but could bring out even more comedy. I also think you could explore the relationship K’tal had/has with both Mar hosts. Develop how well he knew Azulay and how he reacts to Idril. These relationships and the development and humor that comes from them could bring their piece from a good story to a great one. Or in other words – character development is the difference between a story that I am glad I read, and one that I want to read all the sequels to.

*****

"Dressed to Kill........"

Writer's Character: Hannibal Parker

Comments from Judge 1 (Character Cassandra Egan Manno)

This story takes the Challenge's topic and runs with it! The story chooses for quiet reflection for its short length, and it eschews dialogue entirely, a choice I was excited to see this writer had made! Well done! The colors here are sumptuous, and the repetition of colors and color-related words -- aqua blue and tanned, notably -- immediately create the evocative atmosphere (tropical, vacation, even paradisical) I think the writer had in mind.
I'll admit that the story's description of Kamela left me a little uncomfortable. She appears to be less of a character and more of an object for the unthinking consumption of the reader; it's notable that the only time in which we get to see her thoughts, outside of physical descriptions of her, are when she's thinking of a pair of men (Parker and Tredeau). I can see shades and flashes of Kamela as a competent professional -- an SFI agent, a very respectable and professional position -- but I would like to see her thoroughly explored as a character, not as an object. I would challenge the writer to put her in a situation in which there are no romantic moments or thoughts of love or seduction involved. How will she respond? What sort of intelligence agent is she? Show us the character beneath the blue and tan and I will happily follow you!
Comments from Judge 2 (Character Sal Taybrim)
This entire piece feels like one long gratuitous camera-pan up a half naked woman’s body that is oh so prevalent in today’s action movies. (Except in some Marvel movies where they pan up, say, Thor’s naked chest so the ladies get their cookies, too…) So I am of a mixed mind of this: it takes the theme and runs with it, making the intentions extremely clear. I like clarity, and I like it when a story can clearly communicate what it is and what it is doing in a short space of time. On the other hand I found myself a bit bored with what seemed like a typical titillation trick and wanted to see the actual action and characterization of the story. You know, the good parts where the seduction and subsequent assassination happens, or we find out about what makes Kamela tick.
My biggest problem with this story is the sixth paragraph. It should the most engaging part of the story, the part where it brings everything else together and binds it into her motivation for this intensive fashion focus. But the language falls apart. This paragraph is very difficult to read. There are too many pauses, run-on sentences and rambling narrative. Right in the area where you need to punch your readers with the raison d'etre. Re-writing this to make this paragraph concise and focused would really help tie to this story together, as well as emphasizing the idea that Lieutenant Allison is doing this for a reason: her mind is focused, clear and every bit up to this part has been meticulously planned for this very good reason.
Grammar Nazi quibble: Way too many ellipses. Seriously, three is all you need unless you’re going to start writing in ASCII. Also, don’t use ellipses when a comma will do, it breaks the flow of your writing.

*****

"Re: Implementation of a New Fleetwide Uniform"

Writer's Character: Atherton Grix

Comments from Judge 1 (Character Sal Taybrim)

This one is interesting because it completely breaks from the normal forms and puts the action into the tone of a first person letter. At base I think this is a very interesting structure. I like the tone, I like the idea of a story communicated in correspondence. The writing is very clean and easy to read.
The problem? It is much too short. There is no story structure that is uncovered in this piece, and no characterization. We don’t get a feel for Commander Eckleston – while the letter keeps the same professional tone throughout I found myself asking questions like ‘is she obsessive? Is she pedantic? Has she posed these changes before? Do her colleagues like her or dismiss her as a harpy always pressing the same topics over and over again…’ There is so much potential in this story that remains unexplored.
If you like the correspondence format, consider the following ideas to strength your storytelling within the piece:
  1. Write a much longer letter. Make the personality writing the letter of the sort where she/he will rant, rave/lecture/somehow recap the story to this point. How many times have new uniforms been proposed? What prompted the proposals? What is Commander Eckleston lost a child to a problem with the current duty uniform and was seeking to correct this or she is obsessive about bio-polymer fabric because she developed the technology….
  2. Write a correspondence with several letters that develop the plot. How the letter is taken by the person receiving it matters a lot to a developing plot.
Always focus on what the story is – this becomes your plot. Make sure your story, no matter what form it takes – tells a story. If it just sets a story up, your audience will keep scrolling down, looking for the next installments and get disappointed when they don’t show up!
Comments from Judge 2 (Character Toni Turner)
Mr. Grix's offering was refreshing due to the unusual format. I think we all tend to forget that letters can tell a story as well as manuscripts. But in this letter, I think that mark was missed. While it did make me want to see the new uniform and promised that the attachment would show it, I was disappointed that, alas, the attachment didn't materialize.
Although the reason the "Think Tank" had come up with the idea was clear, I found myself wanting to read more about the hazards of the current uniform, or better, Commander Eckelson's personal tribulations with it (e.g. Did it ride up in embarrassing places? Did women have to tape the necklines to prevent fall out? Was static cling a problem? Were the skirts too short/too tight or pants too floppy?).
The point is, it was a well written letter, but it missed the chance to be a great story, when there was so many stories to be told. Having said that, I loved the format, and Grix's writing style, and would like to see more of it. Keep up the good work!
*****
"Dress Greens"
Writer's Character: Irina Pavlova
Comments from Judge 1 (Character Cassandra Egan Manno)
Wow! I've read and reviewed several stories involving Irina and her struggles to assimilate into times and places unfamiliar to her, and I think this may be the finest entry I've read. The titular focus that allows Irina to access her thoughts and feelings, her dress greens, are a clever gateway for the storytelling, and there's an emotional depth here that I appreciated and seems entirely warranted by Irina's situation. The recitation of Irina's vitali statistics -- her height, her weight, even the height of her shoes' heels -- compare favorably with other post-war writing I enjoy, most notably with Tim O'Brien, specifically his often-taught short story "The Things They Carried."
In future stories of Irina -- and I hope there are many more to come! -- I would strongly urge the writer to continue uncovering her emotional underpinnings. I found the sections when Irina was most cerebral, dealing in her own mind without lots of external action, to be the most effective way to explore those underpinnings, and I thought that, again, her inspection of her uniform and her awards, as well as her reactions during Waltas's speech, to be very fine. However, I was a little disappointed when she actually ran from the hall. In my mind, it would have been more effective to watch Irina think about running away, but not actually doing it -- because she is, after all, an experienced professional, and she would know that such an action would accomplish nothing -- but I want to see, in the story, the fruition of that realization.
I was a little distracted by some common mistakes (comma splices or omissions, confusion with its/it's, your/you're, etc), so I would recommend running future stories through spelling and grammar checks to ensure that the presentation is the best it can be!

Comments from Judge 2 (Character Toni Turner)

Irina Pavlova hit new heights in characterization and descriptions in this story of a woman surviving 219 years and finding herself dumped into a virtually new world. The only thing that had stayed the same was that she was a Marine. But a Marine whose fear of the alien world made her reluctant to step into the future.
The descriptions of the only uniforms she had were so vivid, I could visualize them. I imagined the physical changes of her body made her uncomfortable. But despite all the struggles, in the end, she faced the future for her child
Kudos on a nice piece of work, Irina. Well done!
*****
A final, general note from the writer behind Judge Sal Taybrim:
Consider reading your piece out loud, either to yourself or to another listener. This will highlight where your language stumbles and when things do not flow properly. I found that several stories were trying to paint an intriguing picture of what was going on, but I was continually tripped up on fractured structure. It was much like looking at an abstract piece of artwork, trying to gather enough clues to piece the whole scene together.
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Congrats to Jalana for an excellent story. I was gripped until the end, and then shocked by the ending and its abruptness and finality. Not every story has a happy ending, and I like that this one didn't.

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