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Witty Wordsmith: Making things better by making them worse

Drama and action thrives on ‘raising the stakes.’  This is what keeps readers turning pages in a book and it keeps players excited to read the next set of posts in a game.  But if you’ve been playing for a while, you’ve probably played a storyline where escalation spiraled out of control.  Sometimes raising the stakes can make the threat seem so powerful that players get discouraged.  On the other hand sometimes we raise the stakes so high that the story flies off into the uncharted territory of ridiculous superpowers.  So how can you raise the stakes in a plot – either as a mission planner or as a player – in a way that feels believable and helps develop your character?

One answer is a bit counter-intuitive: consider having one of your characters make things worse.  Making a mistake and having to play out the consequences is a compelling addition to a narrative, especially when used sparingly.  If a character is constantly making mistakes that cost the ship, that character will likely be asked to retire from Starfleet or get remedial training.  But consider the narrative effect on both plot and character development when a normally steadfast officer makes a mistake.  Not only can the mistake heighten the action of the plot overall, but how that character reacts to the mistake and what steps they take to correct it can build and define that character and his or her relationships.


Join the very special 2016 Writing Challenge

Our 2016 Writing Challenge is active and taking submissions! For this year, we’re opening with one of the central themes of the Star Trek universe: “Where No One Has Gone Before.”

For the first time ever, members have the option of either writing a solo story submission, or teaming up with a buddy to submit a collaboration story. So break out your pen, sharpen those pencils! The new judging team is looking forward to the entries being submitted for this special writing challenge event.

To get started and learn more about the rules, click here.

All stories must be submitted by Sunday, May 1st. Good luck!


Graphic Contest Summer Contest Highlights

The Summer Graphic Contest – with the theme “The Spirit of Star Trek” – has ended with some great entries which will be judged soon. Here’s a few highlights from the competition:

Kalianna Nicholotti displays the theme with an homage to the Vulcan saying “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations“. Chythar Skyfire took the same Theme and turned it into a tribute to the crew of Starbase 118 OPS.

What is your idea of “The Spirit of Star Trek”? Does anything jump to mind that makes you think “Yes, that is ST!” or do you have your own homage or tribute? Don’t hesitate and enter the graphic contest before June 22nd. We are looking forward to see your creativity come to life.

You can find all the information and rules in the Graphic Contest Announcement Topic in our forums.


The Regular Writing Challenge Ends

It’s with a heavy heart that I announce that the November & December 2014 round of the Writing Challenge will be the last regular Writing Challenge of the contest as we know it. Going forward, we will hold Writing Challenges only during special events — for example, during our yearly Writing Improvement Month — and we will be working to incorporate much of what kept the Writing Challenges going for so long into the Top Sims Contest. The decision to end the Writing Challenges wasn’t easy and involved a lot of discussion on the Executive Council, but it’s our hope that by ending the Challenge now, we will be able to improve the many forum contests (Top Sims, Featured Bio, and Graphics) that also exist.

I know that many of you will be disappointed by this announcement, so I encourage you to remember the Challenges on the forums — a favorite story or theme, perhaps, if you’re a regular writer, or something you learned or enjoyed writing as a result of the Challenge. I look forward to reading your remembrances, and I’ll start off with one of my own: In August of 2005, I was a cadet and was just poking around the forums for the first time when I noticed the Writing Challenge that was going on at the time. The theme, “Devil in the Dark,” seemed to be encouraging a lot of grimdark, gritty entries, so I decided to write something lighthearted about a Q who went by X. That story, “X Factors,” was named the Challenge’s winner when I was barely an ensign, and it established my interest in and association with the Writing Challenges from the very first.

I look forward to reading about your memories! Help us celebrate the end of this great contest in style!


Sinda Essen, Maxwell Traenor Win Final Writing Challenge of 2014

Congratulations to Chris, the writer behind Sinda Essen and Jhen Thelev, who has won the November & December 2014 Writing Challenge. This is Chris’s sixth win, an unprecedented number in the history of the Challenges, so special congratulations to him. Judge Jamie, the writer behind Lt. Cmdr. Sal Taybrim, had this to say about the piece:

 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!

This round’s runner-up was a first-time entrant, the writer behind Maxwell Traenor, who received his honor because of his short story “Chocolate.” My comments, as judge Cassandra Egan Manno:

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. … 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.”

Please drop by the forums to offer these writers, and all our entrants, your congratulations if you haven’t yet done so!


Final 2014 Writing Challenge Almost Over

2014 is almost over, and that means that the end of the year’s last Writing Challenge is just around the corner! This year, we’re ending on an operatic note in the best traditions of the big emotions of Star Trek: We want you to show us your very best “Love & Betrayal”!

For our final Challenge of the year, the writer behind Nathaniel Wilmer and our previous Challenge’s winner asks you to consider a theme as old as writing itself. With clear roots back to the first recorded epics, including The Epic of Gilgamesh — so famously used by Jean-Luc Picard in the TNG episode “Darmok” — there’s no more mythic or archetypal way to close out 2014!

Is what ways will your characters access this theme? Will they be the lovers or the beloved, love unrequitedly or reciprocally, love from far or near; or will they be the betrayer or the betrayed, the watcher or the enactor or the friend? There are endless ways to interpret this theme, and the judges look forward to seeing what your take on it might be.

The judges look forward to having each entry play havoc with their emotions, but remember that all stories must be submitted by Friday, December 26th. Good luck!

 


Leland Bishop & Della Vetri Are Writing Challenge Runners-Up

Many congratulations to the writers behind Ensign Leland Bishop and Ambassador Della Vetri! These writers’ stories were selected by the judges from the September & October Writing Challenge, “Run Shivers Down My Spine,” as co-runners-up, a very unusual honor indeed! Their stories — “The Last Night on Lookout” and “The Touch of the Sleeper,” respectively — stood out for a variety of reasons. I’ll let the judges’ comments speak for themselves! In response to “The Last Night on Lookout,”

The morbid images, crafted so subtly by the author, are what stuck with me: Whether it’s the final sentence of the opening paragraph that so wonderfully plays with language and image (“choking … on Lookout”) or it’s the final line (“How sad it was that the poor man beneath him hadn’t had time to shave”), this story refuses to sit down quietly and instead forces the reader to consider it head-on. That’s really a fancy way of saying that I was hooked…!

In response to “The Touch of the Sleeper,”

This is a solid story, a double-braid that considers two archaeotechnology specialists on the one hand and their subject on the other. Perhaps it’s the theme or the time of year, but I saw this as a nice riff on Frankenstein’s basic territory, and it was a pleasant little riff! There’s a good escalation of tension throughout the piece, and it’s handled well: I felt the sort of full-body realization of my heartbeat that means that what I’m reading is doing a good job of scaring me — or at least signaling to me that it’s about to do so.

Well done, you two! Please offer these talented writers your congratulations if you haven’t done so already!

The year’s final Challenge, “Love & Betrayal,” is currently ongoing and will end on Friday, December 26th, so be sure to hurry over to the Writing Challenge Forum for guidelines, deadlines, and inspiration!

As always, don’t forget that you can pick up a complete collection of all this round’s short stories, in PDF format, for free. Get yours here!


How can I be a Writing Challenge guest judge?

You may have noticed, at the end of every announcement of Writing Challenge winners and runners-up, that there’s a short paragraph thanking each of the judges. While many of the judges are the same from challenge to challenge, there’s also usually a note thanking a special guest judge. But who are these guest judges? How are they chosen?

Winning a Writing Challenge comes with a fair number of perks: You not only get to choose the next challenge and request a snazzy winner’s banner, you can also serve as a judge for the next round. Because the previous round’s winner picks the next round’s theme, s/he won’t be able to enter a story, so acting as a guest judge for the round is an extra bonus: You not only get to pick the theme, you also get to judge how close to your vision the round’s writers interpreted it!

However, guest judges aren’t made up solely of the winners of previous rounds. Starting in mid-2014, runners-up were also approached about being guest judges, though it wasn’t until the current round that any of them decided that they would like to do so. However, the result will be a great panel of judges for the November & December Writing Challenge: Not only the usual judges, but also the writers behind Ensigns Nathaniel Wilmer and Leland Bishop and Ambassador Della Vetri. It’ll be wonderful!

Don’t forget, the November & December challenge, “Love & Betrayal,” is now open! Head over to the Writing Challenge forums to learn more and submit your own entry.


Nathaniel Wilmer Wins “Run Shivers Down My Spine” Writing Challenge

Many and varied congratulations to the writer behind Nathaniel Wilmer, the winner of the “Run Shivers Down My Spine” Writing Challenge! His winning story, “Heritage of the Lost,” impressed the judges amidst a strong and varied field of great contenders. In fact, the Challenge hasn’t seen so many contestants in many months, which made this winning story especially memorable. According to the judges, “Heritage of the Lost” stood out especially:

…dropping the descriptions of Charlotte Farnsworth’s life in between the the status of the antiquated house played well throughout the story, and made the reader want to know more about her, and of her mad grandfather. … Wilmer’s strong command of the English language, grabbed this reader’s attention and never failed to deliver the unwritten promise of  the drama and suspense of Charlotte’s heritage, and when the end came, all he had written came to life all over again.  “Trelane.” Charlotte choked on the name. “Your name… is… Trelane….” And there was no question (or question mark) or doubt as to the identity of the specter who dwell within the pistol.

If you haven’t yet, please offer the winner, the runners-up, and all our fine writers some congratulations!

Our winner has kindly provided the theme for our November and December Writing Challenge: “Love & Betrayal.” Head over to the Writing Challenge forums to learn more!

As always, don’t forget that you can pick up a complete collection of all this round’s short stories, in PDF format, for free. Get yours here!


It’s Almost Curtains for the “Run Shivers Down My Spine” Writing Challenge

I’m sure you guys see what I did there. Don’t worry, I’ll be here all week.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and this spooky Writing Challenge is no exception! Halloween is almost upon us, which means that you have only a scant few days to submit your story. We’re looking for the best hair-raising, spine-tingling, hiding-in-the-corner-with-all-the-lights-on story you can give us, so please don’t hold back! Writes Jess, the writer behind Jalana Laxyn and the winner of our previous Challenge,

For the next challenge I would like to see something that would run shivers down our spines. Be it something unbelievable, something so touching one gets goosebumps, something so cruel you want to scream, or is it something spooky? What causes shivers for you?

Whatever your characters’ particular fears may be — the Borg, the horrors of the Dominion War, or even the neural parasites that made an attempt on Starfleet Command — be sure that your words are truly terrifying!

The judges look forward to having their pants scared off, but remember that all stories must be submitted by Saturday, October 25th. Good luck!


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