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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!


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!


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