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Tony (Kells)

November & December Responses & Winners

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Thank you to each of our many entrants in this round! The judges were extremely pleased with your efforts, and though we had five judges for ten entries(!), that didn't make deciding upon a winner any easier. But, a few days after the new year, I'm pleased to bring you the results of the last Writing Challenge of 2014, "Love and Betrayal"!

Our winner, with his story "The Ties That Bind," is the writer behind Sinda Essen, and our runner-up is "Chocolate," from the writer behind Maxwell Traenor. Congratulations to these writers and to the rest of our fine entrants!

I'd like to recognize my fellow judges for this round: the writers behinds Fleet Captain Toni Turner, Lieutenant Commander Sal Taybrim, Lieutenant Ren Rennyn, and special guest Captain Della Vetri. Each of them worked hard to make sure that their reviews were thoughtful and detailed and that their rankings were especially well-considered, given the number of stories. My thanks to them!

Unfortunately, I won't have access to my home computer until mid-January and so I won't be able to create the normal story collection in PDF format until then. Please let me know if you would like a collection!

***

"Out There"
Writer's Character: Irina Pavlova
Judge's Character: Sal Taybrim
I like how you are exploring and fleshing out your character with every successive story. Focusing on Irina’s Terran past is a great way to make a more believable and empathetic character.
I found this was a clean, well written story, but it was a bit underdeveloped. When I read “Stargazer” I though that instead of two companion stories, you could have combined them both to make one story that was better than the sum of its parts. Both stories taken as separate pieces were interesting little tidbits, but left the reader wanting more. If you blend these stories in a dramatic fashion (think of your favorite movie tricks – like split screening or flashbacks or scenes that ‘ping pong’ between two related characters in different situations) you can come up with a cohesive whole that really tells the story of love from both perspectives at once.
This feels like an often told tale – one that you have thought about so much that it seems ingrained. The trap of an often told tale is that it can seem stale with multiple retellings. But the opportunity in an often told tale is to the ability to really play around with literary devices and experiment. As I mentioned before, draw from your favorite narrative tricks from the movies and see what happens. What if you wrote a story that flashed between Irina in the future and Dmitri in the past, melding the story so each one’s thoughts and actions seemed to play off the other one’s even though they were decades and light years apart. Or try different focuses. What would the story sound like it written strictly from Katya’s perspective? Or if told from the perspective of Dmitri as a ghost watching Irina and Katya finally come home? Exercises like these will not only help you grow as a writer, but will help you develop an even better understanding of your characters and how they react to things.
***
"A Vulcan Scorned"
Writer's Character: Sivah
Judge's Character: Toni Turner
"A Vulcan Scorned" is a provocative, but short, story dwelving into the age old question sparked by "He loves me, he loves me not." Only in this case the one scorned, ended up asking, "Why did you not want me?” While it is true that Ensign Sivah painted a perfect picture of Seltuur's arrogance, and the unreasonable demands he wanted to force upon her, he was willing to honor their betrothal, if she so willed it.
Both clearly loved someone else, but Seltuur paid the price for his betrayal, especially since Sivah contrived such a vicious fate for him and his true love, while she was set free to marry Angelica.
I liked the story because it was different, but in places it seemed a bit choppy and words forced. However, in it's entirety, the composition was quite understandable and well-developed. I like to see new members enter the challenges as they bring new ideas to the front. Well done, Ensign Sivah.

***

"Birthdays"
Writer's Character: Talia Kaji
Judge's Character: Cassandra Egan Manno
Oh, wow, does this story have a gift for scene-setting! I could easily see the frantic pace and the quick rotation through memory and scene being disruptive and off-putting, but "Birthdays" presents that movement very well. Each flashback begins with an evocative, vivid description to place its reader, always before any dialogue, and each of those descriptions is awash with color, shape, and sensory information. I would've followed this story into another ten scenes if it asked me to -- it was that deft with its movements. Of course, including more scenes would mean risking the story's overall structure, which I wouldn't advise -- but "Birthdays," as written, never does that. Each flashback returns to Marianette in the present, and the repetition of "it was her birthday" never lets the reader forget why.
"Birthdays" is ambitious with its descriptions and the overarching story it tells, but it's even more ambitious with the range of emotions it asks its readers to feel -- and that's where it faltered a bit for me. Each of the flashbacks was to such a pivotal, life-changing moment, and each happened so quickly, that I never really felt strongly invested in any of them. I felt more connected to the Marianette in the present, and I think that this may have been the goal: This present Marianette has (albeit only on her birthday!) reviewed these memories so often that she's become a little deadened to them. If that is the case, then I would've liked to have felt a little more of that, because it seemed that every memory was, for her, still sharp and painful. It may be that they were! But if so, then many such memories may have been too much for one short story. My advice for this writer, then, would be to let such emotionally charged flashbacks breathe a little. Give them more space, use your wonderful abilities to illustrate them with sensory information, and trust your readers to feel along with your characters.
All things considered, this was a wonderful, strong story from a first-time entrant, and I fully expect to see more of your great writing in the future!

***

"Chocolate"
Writer's Character: Maxwell Traenor
Judge's Character: Cassandra Egan Manno
I struggled to find the best word to encapsulate this story, but after another read-through, I think that "delightful" is the way to go. It's as stilted and awkward as I'd expect a first contact between a physicist and an alien over food and drinks to be. What really makes that atmosphere work, though, is that it revels in its minutiae -- the untranslatable "cuisine" and "dessert," the description and delight involved when Maxwell eats that desert. In my experience, it's very difficult to write an awkward story that isn't constantly tripping over itself to prove its awkwardness, but "Chocolate" pulls it off: We've already seen, by the time the dessert arrives, how uncomfortable Maxwell is feeling, so that provides a whole different perspective with which to view his sudden obsession with the dessert. Also, the phrase "bloat with joy" is definitely one I'll be using again. The twist, such as it is, is both funny and oddly touching, as Maxwell's companion protests ignorance and Maxwell himself doesn't ever want to stop eating. "Delightful," in retrospect, is definitely the right word to describe "Chocolate."
I'm quite happy with the story as presented, but if I had some advice for its writer, it would be to think more deeply about what's going beyond the first layer of the story. As above, I read here an essential awkwardness that may not have been intended to be present throughout the story, but which I found quite pleasingly present in all of what I read. Could there have been more, though? Perhaps, in the midst of the humor, some subtle comments about the terror of food allergies and unconscious body reactions, or perhaps something about unintended addiction (if Maxwell really couldn't stop eating)? I've found that comedy is often the best medium to express both the terrible and the terrifying, and given what had been built up by the story's end, I would have absolutely followed it into some darker territory. Not every story needs a dozen layers, of course, but given that this story was so strong on its surface, I'd challenge the writer to try for more!
All in all, this was an excellent story from a first-time entrant who has some real chops to show off with vivid description and some nice humor. I'll be looking for more great writing from this writer in the future!
***
"Betrayal of Love"
Writer's Character: Nugra
Judge's Character: Ren Rennyn
Nugra's tale of love and betrayal proves that every theme has an unpredictable amount of variations. The story kept me guessing as to how it would fulfill the contest's theme, but in the end, the overall effect was spot on in making its point. To save Iria from being the monster he has made her, Nugra has to become a monster himself by betraying her.
Details that seemed minor at first later proved important. The picturesque monastery was revealed to be part of Nugra's plan. The reason he knew which berries were safe illustrated his premeditated intentions. I enjoyed the teasing out of information about Iria, how the damage done to her by her father becomes more clear as the story progresses. The way this is revealed piece by piece in both images of Iria's actions and information in Nugra's thoughts, makes the story enticing all the way through.
The action sequence showing that Iria was at her father's side in battle was told in exciting language that made it fun to read. This part of the story might have been improved by showing Iria's participation in battle, illustrating what is described about her battle tactics in the next section. The imagery of Iria gleefully taking down enemies would be interesting to see in more detail.
A number of minor grammatical and spelling errors disrupt the flow of the story, and these could be easily fixed. Nugra's story illustrates that betrayal can be one of the strongest forms of love, if as difficult for the betrayer as for the betrayed.
***
"Can I help you?"
Writer's Character: Avaris Torrin
Judge's Character: Cassandra Egan Manno
The conceit of this story was absolutely fascinating: True to the Challenge guidelines, the story doesn't focus upon canon characters, but Benjamin Sisko and his actions during DS9's series run are integral to "Can I help you?" It's an approach I haven't seen often in the Challenges and was a welcome take on the theme, as it accomplished what, for example, the TNG episode "Lower Decks" did so well: We often see what becomes of the great leaders and their officers, but what about the normal people? There's something quite subversive in the thematic approach of this story, as expressed (or, rather, oppositely expressed) by the bereaved Aelya -- is it inflammatory to care about those who died under great leaders, and to question those qualities that seem to make the leaders great?
I did find "Can I help you?" to work better as a story of themes and large concepts, however, and it broke down a little bit when I considered its scenes and individual lines. At that small level, it didn't seem to be a Star Trek story, really, which are characterized for me as both thoughtful and thought-provoking (and I do think there is a difference!), and I would have liked to see more thinking on the page. For example, phrases like "the ultimate sacrifice, doing what was right" are very much in twenty-first century political vogue, but "Can I help you?" doesn't appear to update them or think about what they mean, and that follows for a lot of its rhetoric, too. I found myself frequently distracted by errors in spelling, grammar, and usage -- and while I usually tend to read past such things, misspellings and incorrect grammar kept me from understanding what the story was trying to say in a few places. I would certainly encourage this author to use checkers for spelling and grammar in the future, as well as to think deeply about what makes a Star Trek story -- and why such stories are still important to tell. Overall, though, I did appreciate the large ideas contained herein, and I'd like to see more of this type of thinking in the future!

***

"Blunt Forces 2: Debriefing"
Writer's Character: Clayas Vell
Judge's Character: Della Vetri
This story was something that we tend not to see all that often: a dip into looking at what happens *after* all the big action that tends to be many writers' focus. It was made especially interesting since the main character of this story, Ellen, is a long way from as experienced as she might wish she was. Indeed, that forms a sizeable part of what is explored during the story, as well as her thoughts and feelings about what she has endured.
Whilst it might help to have read what went before, the important details are not only recapped in this one, but it's done in a way that makes them important elements of the story itself instead of simply a quick info dump. In fact, I actually found myself drawn to go read the preceding story just to give this one the extra context - not that it needed it, but it did help.
I did find it perhaps a little cumbersome in terms of structure, however, with sentences needing to be broken up a bit more to help the flow. That said, it was still quite readable and engaging, and I had no problem following things. Overall, I can comfortably say I look forward to seeing more of Cadet Cain's adventures in the future.

***
"You will not take this, too"
Writer's Character: Akeelah D'Sena
Judge's Character: Della Vetri
An interesting tale of the conflict between family expectation and personal desire, and how the two can come into rather serious conflict. One thing that definitely came across to me was a sense of inevitability, with the ultimate outcome not really in any sort of doubt - but just how we *get* there is the interesting bit.
The writer made good use of some very evocative language, doing a great job of setting the scene. This gives the reader a solid basis to build their mental image of what is going on, and also gives them a bit more of a handle on the characters themselves. It's also very easy to get behind the main character of the story, Jalana, and be on her side throughout it all... though that is also, in part, due to how utterly unsympathetic her father comes across.
If I have any real issue with how the characters and such are portrayed, it is how black and white things are portrayed. Given the limits of how long these works can be, however, that is quite understandable, and I'd be surprised if more room to work in didn't lead to much more nuanced characterisations.
That said, there is no mistaking the agendas of the characters, and that clarity serves the story well. I also liked the little touches here and there, details that hint to the history behind what is going on. For example, the whole deal with the collar shines a quick light on what is obviously a routine the two characters had fallen into a long time before.
All in all, a good piece of work, and an interesting read. I'd be happy to see more!
***
"Stargazer"
Writer's Character: Irina Pavlova
Judge's Character: Cassandra Egan Manno
In a round of such a large, operatic theme, many of the stories seemed to be like-minded -- and maybe that's why I appreciated "Stargazer" so much. As with many of this author's entries, "Stargazer" was a quiet, personal story. Many times, these entries have felt like one serialized story about Irina Pavlova's background, unfolded and expounded in different ways depending upon the specific Challenge theme, and given that Irina's story is literally one of love across time and space, I was pleased to see that this story focused most intently upon those moments of quiet reflection. In many ways, this story is a call back to the first golden age of science fiction: It's a story that could only be told with such a backdrop, and I appreciate it all the more for the history -- both personal and with respect to the genre -- that "Stargazer" appears to hold closely.
I'm very pleased with the story's length, too; any longer and it would have ruined the meditative quality that this entry possesses. However, I would've encouraged some mixing of structural elements for this one: All of the dialogue in this story comes in its second half, which is not incidentally the here and now of the story, and all of the history/reflection/description comes earlier in the story. Given that I think Irina's conversation with Katya follows well from what came earlier, I wouldn't have advocated mixing the two halves necessarily. Rather, I would've liked to see Irina's reflections after that conversation, after they were aboard the shuttle. Would the style that followed be similar to the first half? Would it have been even more personal? I'm not sure, but I would've liked to see?
All in all, though, this was a strong entry from this year's Data Artistic Award winner, and I am, as always, glad to read more of Irina's ongoing story!
***
"The Ties that Bind"
Writer's Character: Sinda Essen
Judge's Character: Sal Taybrim
Let me start off by saying that this is a well thought out story. I think the plot and the twist was well developed and delivered. The whole idea behind the piece was one of the best of the round. I particularly liked how you sprung the Klingon attack with very little preamble. Marsha was surprised, the audience was surprised, it pushed the action forward in a big burst – a very nice effect!
One thing that struck me was that this story looks so polished. The title with the quote is a nice opening. But within the first few paragraphs there are some spacing problems and some sentences that do not read smoothly. I found this was a jarring transition and I had to go back and keep re-reading parts to see if they were grammatically incorrect or just rough to read. I will note that I am a big fan of a ‘well groomed’ story, visually as well as proof-reading wise. I read pauses, breaks and emphasis into the spacing and layout of the page. At the very beginning it looks like there should be more spacing in the second paragraph, but instead it gets all lumped together like a run-on paragraph.
Another thing I struggled with in this story was the strength of the plot vs. the strength of the characters. The conversation at the end of the story is well written and powerful, but it did not grip me as it should have. And I realized on a second (and third) read though that was because I had very little reason to care about the characters. Marsha strikes me as a human rebel every-woman, with a father who cares more for his wife than his daughter… why? I know you touched upon this with the whole ‘she’s the one who keeps me sane’ but I didn’t really get to see enough of the father character to feel for either one of them. I wanted you as an author to dig into that mindset and really let me know how a man could be driven to betray his daughter.
I am wondering how this story would have read if it was written from the POV of the father. Or, delving into Marsha’s family and past would have also brought a stronger sense of connection. Maybe starting the story with a flashback of their happy family, or giving some personal details to the main characters. Zill gets a stronger personality in the opening scene than Marsha does, so it is difficult to connect with Marsha when it flashes over to such a personal scene in the second half.
I think more background – in both characters and setting would have really made this story shine. I found myself wondering things like ‘when is this in the Alliance timeline?’ and on the first read though I stopped and went ‘wait, did I read that right? We’re in the mirror universe?’ I felt like I was just thrown willy-nilly in to a point of time just before the action starts, making it hard for me to ‘get into’ this story and the characters. That is a shame since the plot is very solid and the ending dialogue is a great piece of interaction! The whole story would benefit from more set-up.
I think this was well written; it had good language and a great idea that just needed a bit of extra polish to really stand out. I’m glad to be able to read one of your stories!

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What an excellent round. I enjoyed every entry. Nice work from every writer who participated. Congratulations, all!

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Congratulations to the winners and thank you to the participants for a great collection of wonderful stories.

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Thank you to everyone who entered and to everyone who judged. The feedback is always appreciated and welcomed.

The entries this round were phenomenal. I'm sorry to see the end of the regular writing comp but, as Admiral Wolf said, we're going out on a high.

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Thank you so much for the recognition! It's one thing to write collaboratively, working together to advance a storyline. It's another thing altogether to compile a piece solely for adjudication. Putting yourself out there, willing to be critiqued for your work, is challenging in any aspect of life. I respect and admire this group for creating a venue to do so in a supporting, safe environment. It's what drew me to SB:118 in the first place, and I haven't looked back since!

I am awed and humbled to have had the opportunity to compete with such talented writers, and I enjoyed everybody's submissions so much. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my story, and I hope the humor of it gave you a bit of happiness, as I enjoyed writing it immensely. It's a shame that this contest will be pared back, but I look forward to reading more quality submissions from across the fleet in other forum venues such as the Top Sims contest.

Again, thank you for the unexpected honor. It is highly cherished.

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Congratulations to the winner and runner, both excellent entries indeed. Also, a big thanks to all of the judges and participants. I've really enjoyed participating in the Writing Challenge, and have learned a lot about character development, style and structure from the many excellent judges and my fellow contributors. I am very sad to see the contest going away and will miss it greatly, but of course the stories of these characters should continue for a long time to come.

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