Part 1: Award-winning WotF story? Let's tear it down (Download it!)

My short story Desolate 4869 won a Silver Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest. Great! Now let's tear it down and examine what could have morphed it into a First Place winner. Download it and read along with me.

Jenn Fir
August 16, 2022

I just won an award for a short story I wrote, but it could have been better.

The short story, titled "Desolate 4869," is about 11,000 words and is the story of a far future Galilean archetypical intellectual collision with religion. There's a solid gold planet and a dog. It's great. I really love it, and I identify as a novel writer, not a short story author. It's my type of story: space stuff, funny, highfalutin smarty-pants with some snarky anthropomorphism thrown in to ensure you don't take it too seriously.

The contest I entered it in, Writers of the Future, is the biggest and unarguably most important writing contest for aspiring science fiction and fantasy authors. If you win, you're IN. Many careers have been forged from the blazing crucible of scrutiny and pressure that is this high-quality contest.

When I submitted Desolate 4869, I felt in my bones I had something. Maybe it was a winner. Maybe not. I wasn't sure. But every time I read it, I felt tension, an emotional squeeze, and a final cathartic burst of wonder. My mentor Dave liked to say that "he or she who makes the reader cry most, wins." I was a bit light on cry points but given 11k words (contest limit was 17k max) I think the ending was fairly rich in feels.

I got my award result, a Silver Honorable Mention (which I am quite pleased with after an initial wave of disappointment), which is above Honorable Mention and below Semi-Finalist, Finalist, and Winners (1st, 2nd, 3rd place).

It doesn't sound like that's a very good result, right?

To put it into context: my editor, who worked for my mentor, took several years to get his first HM, much less his first SHM.

Sure, maybe I may did well for my first submission. But I actually think I just had excellent mentors, peers, writing groups, and editor, and was able to borrow from their awesomeness. Total immersion works well when learning a new language; why not also when learning to write?

But the story could have been better. And I'm going to show you how.

I'm going to do this post in two parts: this first part is an intro and a link to the story. You should read the story before you read Part 2.

👉 Story link:

(it's a PDF; feel free to scan it first. You should never open an unknown document without taking some sort of precaution. I do work in tech, but my favorite motto is "trust but verify" for a reason.)

I'll be traveling in the middle of next week but in a week or so, I will post Part 2 -- where I share my own critique and those of a few of my writing group members.

See if you can guess how this story could be morphed into a winner. I can't guarantee it would have won, but I can guarantee it can be better.

And that's all we should strive for: to be better than our last.

Writers of the Future:

WotF Volume 39 Q2 Winners:

Jenn Fir

Sci-fi and fantasy author with a taste for change and a love of the impossible. Fir trees rule!