PART 2: Award-winning WotF story? It's Critique Time!

Critiques (good and bad!) of my short story. Read it and compare your thoughts--there will be spoilers!

By
Jenn Fir
on
February 6, 2023
Category:
Writing

We're back, critiquing my Silver Honorable Mention Writers of the Future story, "Desolate 4869"!

I've collected critiques from a few fellow writers to help show you how this story didn't win--but how it still won an award. The good and the bad.

Remember, you can download and read it over in the Part 1 blog post!

Take a read and compare your thoughts to the critiques below:

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Critique 1

Teague Summerlin, member of my Enchanting Pros writing group

Teague Summerlin is an aspiring author from eastern North Carolina where he lives with his wife and son (with baby #2 due in late October 2022!) along with the world's most ungrateful cat and a..."challenging"...Rhodesian ridgeback. He is a licensed clinical mental health counselor, but has moved into the real estate field for his full-time profession. Under guidance from the late David Farland, he has been  developing a series that could be described as a portal fantasy where The Goonies and Stranger Things meets Narnia, with a twist on Norse Mythology, Dungeons and Dragons, and enough 90s nostalgia to make you feel like you're in a Blockbuster on a Friday night.

Critique: 

  1. Read through a few pages last night... Only made it through a bit but I had to stop and say - This is the best thing I've read from you by far. There are only a few places I was a little eh - BUT You're NAILING the voice. Like, pro-level nailing it in a lot of spots. There's stretches where it just leaps off the page and flows perfectly and I forget I'm reading. It's very enjoyable. I know you worked very hard at this, but it reads like it just flowed out from you onto page with this great voice stuff and didn't take effort at all - and that's not something an editor can teach you. Looking forward to keep reading it!
  2. This was really good - It feels like there is potentially a winner in this story tbh. There’s some structural and pacing preferences I had as I noted. But seriously good work! Really reminds me of another WOTF winner in a previous anthology.
  3. Unexpected and cool ending. I don't think the climax was as set up for as I would have hoped. There was a LOT of pieces of things/world/story and it felt a bit hard to know truly what the story was about at times. Felt like I was just experiencing the character's life without a clear goal in mind. BIG TAKEWAY. This has tons of potential and you've written something really solid here. But I mentioned some structural issues with needing things sooner and happening faster. It's really well written with great prose. I would challenge you to tell this story in 7k words or less, because I think it can be done and would make it more effective. I did enjoy reading it! But I would suggest as an experiment cut it down to the bare bones and use a formula/structure, plug stuff in, nail that down and then fluff it out a bit. This cool twist with the dragon and potential for very emotional high stakes at the end reminds me of another grand prize winner of WOTF a whiel ago. So it can DEFINITELY work. And silver honorable means it's already working well! So, keep at it. I would love to see this story refined and continued to be told. You have a killer voice for this, good grasp of the genre and lots of resonance here. Keep going with this!

Takeaways:

  1. Good things: Voice, twist, high emotional stakes, genre, resonance.
  2. Improvements: Pacing, setup, structure.

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Critique 2

Catherine Weaver, fellow Wulf Pack member

My name is Catherine Weaver, I’m the author of Middle Grade fantasy books, and many short stories for all ages, two of which have won HMs in Writers of the Future. My website is catherineweaverauthor.com.  My book Facebook is LeprechaunParty and my Twitter is @cat_weav. You can find my books, Gold Dust and Phoenix Down on Amazon and Goodreads.

Critique:

I think the reasons it was awarded a SHM above so many other stories that were rejected, or won an HM, were:

  1. Unique and interesting concepts
  2. Strong and complex world-building
  3. Hard SF with a lot of science in it
  4. Likable main character
  5. The end of the story ties up everything that went before
  6. Cool dragon and cute dog

I think the reasons it didn't win are:

  1. Too wordy, too many descriptions, redundant descriptions (eg saying she has red hair several times.)
  2. The beginning doesn't set the stage in a clear way. I don't know who the MC is-- name, gender, age, other description-- until around p 5.
  3. The insertion of a long paragraph injuring the finger doing an uplift into the first page was distracting from the opening scene and also confusing, since I don't know the MC yet or what uplift means.
  4. Some typos and consistency errors, eg one time spelling "its" when it should have been "it's," or having SSai ask what a hot dog is on p3 and then having him say he already knows what hot dogs are on p 9...
  5. The title doesn't hook me. It could be more interesting.The main thing is the lengthy descriptions and wordiness. They get in the way of this interesting story, and also made it start very slowly. I didn't know what the story was about until it was about half-way over. Once you got into the story where her dog starts insisting they take care of the egg, the story started to move along faster.

Wulf Moon's workshops teach how to pare down your language and get to the heart of the story. Especially the KYD workshop, but also the Nail Your Opening workshop. He's teaching about Set Your Stage right now within the discord group, and studying what he wrote and doing those exercises will help you.

Another resource I've found to be helpful is a small book called "The 10% Solution" by Ken Rand, which gives ideas of how to cut out excess verbiage.

I believe you'll have a better chance at winning if you write a new hard sci-fi, complex-world story, using all these tools, than if you try to rewrite this story. I think rewriting this one might take some of the creative spark out of it. You can definitely think up another story. I can tell, because this one was so imaginative and unique.

Takeaways:

  1. Good things: Unique concept, worldbuilding, true hard sci-fi, likeable characters, ending has a nice bow on it
  2. Improvements: Wordiness, over-description, setup, confusing hard sci-fi terms without explanation, copy editing, uninteresting title

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Critique 3

Jenn Fir - myself!

I'm Jenn Fir, science fiction and fantasy author. I've written two books and have four more planned. I've written tens of short stories -- one of which is this, Desolate 4869, my first entry to Writers to the Future and SHM award-winner. I love to write about big ideas such as freedom, identity, other worlds; cute anthropomorphic characters; and goofy cozy humor. I write to entertain, expand minds, and generate laughter in this world. You're on my website (sign up for my newsletter!), and this is my Facebook page.

Critique:

I began with constraints, ended with a huge teary wonder beat.

I was certain I would win something with this story.

The first draft was 4,000 words; the final submission, 11,000. It started as a skeleton draft with one main beat before the ending, but my editor Joshua Essoe told me it needed meat. Readers needed to buy in to this big idea.

I had a general idea how to do this. Intro the world, show the background of parents, girl, and dog, and the status quo, then disrupt it. Make the dog and girl protagonists. End with a big twist, tug on the familial heartstrings.

Problem is, for all my big ideas, great connections, and intense plotting spreadsheets, I am actually really terrible at structure. Molding all the cool ideas I come up with into a continuous and comprehensive plot with promises, progress, and payoff, is not my strong suit.

I'm a plotter. But I'm not even really a plotter -- I write general guideposts, then get really obstinate about plotting beyond a certain point, and just insist on pantsing it. [more info: Pantsing vs Plotting via nanowrimo.com]

So for me, the biggest takeaway is structure. If I can craft the throughlines and ensure they're properly tugged on and resolved, the story would be much clearer start to finish.

Takeaways:

  1. Good things: Premise (Galileo in far future), characters, hard sci-fi concepts, final emotional beat
  2. Improvements: Structure, directly telegraphing plot points and setting/character early, copy editing (smh)

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What are your thoughts? Email me at me@jennfir.com or send me your thoughts via my Contact page!

Tags:
Jenn Fir

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