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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!

Irina Pavlova Named July/August Writing Challenge Runner-Up

Special recognition is due to the writer named runner-up for July & August: The writer behind Irina Pavlova has regularly entered the Writing Challenges for a while now, and so it’s excellent to see this commendation. The story, “Dress Greens,” again the primary character Irina Pavlova, this time in a piece that dealt a lot with Irina’s interior journey. Judges were favorably impressed by this take; from the judge behind Fleet Captain Toni Turner:

Irina Pavlova hit new heights in characterization and descriptions in this story of a woman surviving 219 years and finding herself dumped into a virtually new world. … The descriptions of the only uniforms she had were so vivid, I could visualize them. I imagined the physical changes of her body made her uncomfortable. 

And from the judge behind Captain Cassandra Egan Manno:

The titular focus that allows Irina to access her thoughts and feelings, her dress greens, are a clever gateway for the storytelling, and there’s an emotional depth here that I appreciated and seems entirely warranted by Irina’s situation.

Well done! Please offer the July & August entrants and winners your congratulations if you haven’t done so already!

The next Challenge, “Run Shivers Down My Spine,” is currently ongoing, 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!

Why Do Comments Matter in the Writing Challenge?

If you’re familiar with the bimonthly Writing Challenge, then you also probably know that, at the end of every round, a panel of judges not only ranks the stories and announces a winner, they also provide detailed commentary for each of the stories. Previously, only one judge reviewed each story, but beginning with the May & June Challenge, two judges reviewed each story. The same was true for the July & August Challenge. But why do it at all? Isn’t it faster to simply rank the stories and name a winner? It would be, yes, but one of the goals of the Writing Challenge is to help entrants hone their craft and become better writers!

The Data Artistic Award, a special award given out once a year at the fleetwide Community Awards ceremony, recognizes an “officer in the fleet who has made a consistent effort to enter each of the bi-monthly Writing Challenges. Most notably, the officer must have continued participation even if their submissions were not picked as the winner, thus sticking with the challenge and always giving other something exciting to read.” Those of us behind the scenes at the Writing Challenges don’t want to see you only enter one story in a single Challenge and never enter again. Even if you don’t win — especially if you don’t win — we want to see you come back and try again, and that’s what our comments are meant to do: Help you figure out what worked and what didn’t, so that you can make the critical choices when drafting and revising that help your writing improve.

Remember, always, that the judges’ comments are only guidelines. Our end goal is always to improve you as a writer, but it’s hard to say everything that can be said about a story in a few scant paragraphs. Acting upon those suggestions or otherwise improving is always up to you — but, as evidenced by our recent list of winners, it seems that our writers are indeed improving, and that’s very gratifying for the judges!

Don’t forget, our September & October Writing Challenge is open now! Head over to the Writing Challenge forum to learn more!

Jalana Laxyn Wins July & August Writing Challenge

Many congratulations to Jess, the writer behind Jalana Laxyn, who won the July & August Writing Challenge with her short story “Fatal mistake.” This is Jess’s second win, following her first-place story in the December 2012 that wove a delightful tale that involved Klingons and Santa Claus. “Fatal mistake,” which was written in response to the Challenge’s theme of “Fashion,” was the high-risk “adventure” of a kidnapped kindergarten teacher sentenced to die for violating one of the sacred laws of another sentient species: wearing the color green. Judges had this to say about the story:

…the major stakes are personal and manifest in monologue or dialogue. Claire, with the unknown lizard alien, jogs between the two, and the result is a pleasing but distressing story about what happens to a Starfleet officer when there is no rescue at the end of the day. Very strong stuff! (judge’s character: Cassandra Egan Manno)


The identity of the main character, not a Starfleet officer, but a teacher, is smart and effective. Claire was brave enough to join a mission to deep space, but didn’t sign up for something like this. I instantly felt for her, and the tragedy of her end is enhanced by this. (judge’s character: Ren Rennyn)

Jess has kindly provided the theme for our September and October Writing Challenge, and it’s a perfect complement for the approach to Halloween: “Run Shivers Down My Spine.” 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!

“Fashion” Writing Challenge Nears End

Is there no truth in beauty? The current Writing Challenge asks just that, and even references the TOS episode itself:

I’m rewatching TOS, and got to “Is There No Truth In Beauty?”, where (spoilers) Dr. Miranda Jones’ elaborate dress turns out to be a sensor web that allows her to “see.” It got me thinking about how fashion is used in sci-fi, whether as a plot device, or to set the scene, define a culture, or place us in a certain time. 

That’s from Brian, aka Ren Rennyn, winner of the previous Challenge, as he explains his choice of “Fashion” as the theme for our current Challenge. Many of our Challenges have posed an open-ended, often moralistic question as their inspiration, but this is even more open-ended than those, since fashion can be taken in so many different ways. Or, as my New Oxford American Dictionary says,

fashion |ˈfa sh ən|
1 a popular trend, esp. in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior : his hair is cut in the latest fashion.
• the production and marketing of new styles of goods, esp. clothing and cosmetics : [as adj. ] a fashion magazine.
2 a manner of doing something : the work is done in a rather casual fashion.
verb [ trans. ] (often be fashioned)
make into a particular or the required form : the bottles were fashioned from green glass.
• ( fashion something into) use materials to make into : the skins were fashioned into boots and shoes.

There are so many ways you can interpret this particular Challenge, but please be sure to interpret it soon: Entries will only be accepted up through Monday, August 25th!

What is a Writing Challenge “Champion”?

Some writers enjoy occasionally entering a story in the bi-monthly Writing Challenge contest. Others make a concerted effort to enter each and every round, and most are rewarded for their efforts — not only with recognition as a winner or a runner-up, but also in honing their skills and receiving feedback from Challenge judges. But it’s that select group of folks who not only enter Challenges regularly but also win regularly that I’d like to praise today.

The Writing Challenges have seen many multi-time winners (you can see a full list at the bottom of the “Challenge Winners” page), but simply winning multiple Challenges doesn’t make you a Writing Challenge Champion. Champions enter and win multiple Challenges in one year, demonstrating that they not only have the stamina and perseverance to think through individual topics and craft memorable stories, but that they also can do so again and again!

There have been five Champions in the history of the Writing Challenges: Saveron in 2011; Kali Nicholotti (now Cascadia Rainier), Velana, and Alleran Tan in 2012; and Saveron again along with Sinda Essen (previously Jhen Thelev) in 2013. These talented writers submitted winning entries in multiple Challenges in the years listed, making them Champions — and recognizing their excellent abilities!

Will you be our next Writing Challenge Champion? There’s only one way to start, and that’s by entering the Writing Challenge! Our current Challenge, “Fashion,” will be open until Monday, August 25th, so make sure you get in an entry before then!

Kaitlyn Falcon Named May/June Writing Challenge Runner-Up

While their praises may not be sung quite so loudly as the winners, runners-up from the bimonthly Writing Challenges still deserve accolades for crafting fine pieces of fiction! One such story is “Orders and Consequences,” the May & June runner-up, written by the writer behind Lieutenant Kaitlyn Falcon. The story, which follows the ongoing saga of Captain Robert Falcon, was praised by judges for its provocative take on the Challenge’s theme. Wrote judge Toni Turner: “Mr. Falcon spun a tale reminiscent of Swiss Family Robinson, taking into account that command was more like a family decision.” By using the familiar character of Robert Falcon and his XO and wife Jiana, the writer was able to weave together his continuing story with the Challenge’s theme. Well done!

The next Challenge, “Fashion,” is already up, 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!

Ren Rennyn Wins May & June Writing Challenge

Congratulations to Brian, aka Lieutenant Ren Rennyn, whose story “The Wind Knows a Song for the Ages” has won the Writing Challenge for May and June! The story was written in response to the “Do What Is Right, Not What Is Easy” prompt provided by the the last round’s winner. Special congratulations are due to our winner: His story was unanimously chosen by this round’s four judges as the finest of the entrants, and that doesn’t happen very often!

The story, according to the judges’ feedback, was well-written, engrossing, and effectively asked its audience to consider the Challenge’s theme. “This story makes the reader struggle with the concept of ‘right’ as it carefully balances in a morally grey area,” writes judge Jamie, aka Lt. Sal Taybrim. “I find that balance is the most intriguing part of the story in the end, the question of whether it is more right to preserve life or knowledge.” Excellent work, Brian!

The next Challenge, “Fashion,” is already up, 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!

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