The Winner

If I open this post by saying something like “all of you are winners” will you promise not to throw up? Okay, then I will. Here’s why that statement is absolutely appropriate and not merely a “line” to soothe the pain for all but The Chosen One: you took on a writing task…and completed it. That’s a big deal. Do you know one of the biggest differences between published authors and unpublished authors? The published authors actually completed their books. Okay, there’s a whole lot more that goes into getting published, but I can assure you you’ll never get published if you don’t finish your book. (This is a sentence I must read aloud to myself every day until mine is done.)

So congratulations on a small accomplishment. Now, just do that 400 more times and you have a novel.

Did you read Jenny’s comment about the first five finalists? She said the entries were “like the first paragraph of books I wouldn’t be able to put down.” That’s high praise for 200 words, and exactly the point of the exercise.

Some of you wrote great short stories for the contest, but since I was looking more for scenes that imply a larger story, I graded them a little lower than the rest. (I’ll show you a couple of them tomorrow anyway, because it’s not easy to tell a story in 200 words and you did a good job.)

So, about these top 10. I want to tell you why I liked each one. If you haven’t already read them, please do.

Melissa’s entry caught my attention because it presents a complex relationship between father and daughter and yet doesn’t pretend to resolve it in 200 words. Even though the writing itself is spare, the implication of the larger story – what precedes the excerpt and what follows it – makes it interesting to me.

I waffled a bit about selecting Terry’s entry for the top 10 – not because it wasn’t well-written, but because it feels a little bit like a short story rather than a scene. But the more I thought about it, the more I could see this as an opening to a unique novel with a quirky protagonist. It was Terry’s distinctive “voice” that lifted the entry into the top 10. (More on “voice” in a future post. Voice is important. Maybe the most important thing of all.)

Machelle’s entry caught my eye because of the conflict between the two characters and the interesting use of the watch. I’ll admit I have a minor issue with the POV shift (I think it would be even stronger just from the woman’s POV), but there was enough here to compel me to want more. The brief interplay between the characters told me something about their history and was a nice set-up for the last two lines. I like it that the story could go a lot of different directions from here.

I loved the emotional impact of Robin’s scene. (I admit it, I teared up.) Like Terry’s scene, I wondered at first if it was a bit too short story-ish, but the twist she writes into the last lines could easily be a springboard into a novel about a contentious relationship between father and daughter.

R. Alexander’s zombie scene may be a familiar idea, but it was well-paced and interesting and just did everything right. I can only presume that the battle rages on long after the character’s proclamation of doom, and that’s a story I want to read.

Because I’m all about honesty, I need to tell you that Mark is my brother. His entry was also a bit short story-ish, but I liked the way he used the watch to tell us about the protagonist and his nemesis – and I can imagine this being expanded into a story about those two people meeting later in life as neighbors or co-workers. Could be a rather funny story.

Wendy’s scene is intriguing to me not only because of the relationship between father and son, but because of the curious premise. It’s the stuff she doesn’t say that makes me want to know more. “This is the day…” she wrote. Well, was it? And if it wasn’t, would the day ever come? A good scene is bigger than the words used to write it.

Stance’s scene is packed with details that imply a much greater story, and after just 200 (plus a few) words, I want to know more about this character and what is prompting a visit to the grave. I also like the way Stance seems to be developing a unique voice, too.

Adam’s post-apocalyptic scene caught me off guard (in a good way). It took me a couple of reads to fully appreciate the contrasting textures, but this is just the sort of writing that grows on me. I like being stretched as a reader, and Adam’s entry does that. Plus, his protagonist has a unique and compelling voice. I want more of this.

And finally, Seth’s entry. Yes, this is my top choice. The vivid descriptions and the surprisingly rich characterizations are terrific, but it’s the voice Seth imbues in his words that gave his entry the edge over the other great scenes. So, congratulations Seth, you win the gift card and the Santa Yoda.

And once again, thanks to everyone who entered. I’ll have more good stuff from entries in tomorrow’s post. Don’t miss it. And keep reading, okay? As long as someone is out there, I’ll keep filling the blog with words. And contests.

12 thoughts on “The Winner

    1. I’ve read your words, Amber. You do a pretty good job of arranging them on the page, too. Maybe you should write a book together someday? I’ll buy five copies.

  1. As I neared the bottom of this post and noticed Seth was missing…I **hoped** that meant what it did–I loved all the questions his scene provoked, and yes, I wanted to know more. Plus…I’m a fan of him in general, one of the nicest guys on the planet (I don’t actually know).

    And of course, I love Amber :).

    (ND’s readers, check out to get to know Seth better.)

    Sorry, Steve, don’t mean to hijack your comment thread with the longest comment EVAH, but it’s my way of applauding the entrants, the winner, and you, for constructing this fun exercise. I’m impressed with the caliber of players; it almost intimidates me not to try **next time**. Thanks for adding additional insight into how you arrived at your conclusions (for finalist and the winner). That’s helpful.

    And…I had the same thought you had about my entry; it told too much in a single scene (that occurred to me after reading the other finalists’ fantastic entries). But, live and learn…it’ll make me try harder.

    Then, again, I’m not exactly a fiction writer, so this WAS a stretch for me! Thanks again!! 🙂

    1. Well, you may not have been a fiction writer before, but you are now. I suggest you keep the dream of writing a novel someday in your pocket along with a pencil and paper. Just in case the muse shows up. They tend to show up when you’re not looking, you know?

  2. Thank you Steve, and thanks for the Congrats Robin and VenetianBlond. I really enjoyed reading the entries from all of the finalists. I especially liked the bit about the dog having 1 minute to, well, relieve himself.

    It was interesting to see where everyone took it. And I am definitely with Steve, would love to read more about the zombies.

  3. Thanks so much for organizing this, Stephen. Congrats to Seth & all those who entered! Really enjoyed participating and loved all the entries that I read! I greatly appreciate the feedback, too, and would be fine if you decided to take a red pen to my entry in front of your readers. Write on!

    1. I really loved your excerpt and hope you’re planning on writing lots of books. Be sure to let me know when they hit the B&N so I can get my copies.

  4. Thanks so much Stephen for organizing this! I enjoyed reading all of the entries, and especially enjoyed re-reading them after you’d posted what made you choose each one.

    I had fun participating. Can’t wait for the next one!

    1. It was my pleasure to host the contest. And it was just the right number of entries for this perpetually busy and/or distracted editor. I may have to hire help for the next one.

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