Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

July 2018 Microstory Contest - COMMENTS ONLY

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message 1: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1045 comments The following rules are from Jot Russell, moderator for this contest:

To help polish our skills and present a flavour of our art to other members in the group, I am continuing this friendly contest for those who would like to participate. There is no money involved, but there is also no telling what a little recognition and respect might generate. The rules are simple:

1) The story needs to be your own work and should be posted on the goodreads (GR) Discussion board, which is a public group. You maintain responsibility and ownership of your work to do with as you please. You may withdraw your story at any time.

2) The stories must be 750 words or less.

3) The stories have to be science fiction, follow a specific theme and potentially include reference to items as requested by the prior month's contest winner.

4) You have until midnight EST on the 22nd day of the month to post your story to the GR Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion. One story per author per month.

5) After, anyone from the LI Sci-Fi group or the GR Science Fiction Microstory Discussion group has until midnight EST of the 25th day of the month to send me a single private vote (via GR or to for a story other than their own. This vote will be made public once voting is closed. Voting is required. If you do not vote, your story will be disqualified from the contest. You don't need a qualifying story to cast a vote, but must offer the reason for your vote if you don’t have an entry.

6) To win, a story needs at least half of the votes, or be the only one left after excluding those with the fewest votes. Runoffs will be run each day until a winner is declared. Stories with vote totals that add up to at least half, discarding those with the fewest votes, will be carried forward to the next runoff election. Prior votes will be carried forward to support runoff stories. If you voted for a story that did not make it into the runoff, you need to vote again before midnight EST of that day. Only people who voted in the initial round may vote in the runoffs.

7) Please have all posts abide by the rules of GR and the LI Sci-Fi group.

8) For each month, there will be three discussion threads:
a) Stories - For the stories and the contest results only.
b) Comments - For discussions about the stories and contest. Constructive criticism is okay, but please avoid any spoilers about the stories or degrading comments directed towards any individuals. If you want to suggest a change to the contest, feel free to start a discussion about the idea before making a formal motion. If another member seconds a motion, a vote can be held. I will abstain from voting, but will require a strong two-thirds majority to override my veto.
c) Critiques - Each member can provide at most one critique per story, with a single rebuttal by the author to thank the critic and/or comment to offer the readers the mind set of the story to account for issues raised by the critique. Critiques should be of a professional and constructive manner. Feel free to describe elements that you do and don't like, as these help us gain a better perspective of our potential readers. Remarks deemed inflammatory or derogatory will be flagged and/or removed by the moderator.

9) The winner has THREE days after the start of the new month to make a copy of these rules and post a new contest thread using the theme/items of their choosing. Otherwise, I will post the new contest threads.


Theme: The family road trip

Required elements:

1) An unexpected detour
2) A mechanical failure
3) "Are we there yet?"

message 2: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1045 comments Nice one Tom!! Great use of the elements!

message 3: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Thank you, Justin.

message 4: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1277 comments Mod
Are we there yet?

message 5: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments Jot wrote: "Are we there yet?"

Not far now...

message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments I was able to cobble something together for this month. So, mine's up. :)

message 7: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments Only 2 stories this month, so far? Yikes! Only 5 more days!

message 8: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1045 comments I'm trying to get mine written. Being on the road was not conducive to writing!!!

It is truly the summer slump.

message 9: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1045 comments Mine's done. It may or may not be a semi-autobiographical account of my recent road trip...

message 10: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Sounds like you had quite a trip.

message 11: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1045 comments It was crazy for sure, but went well. Visited Trekcetera in Drumheller, Alberta. Look it up online. A CBS licensed museum with all kinds of great Star Trek props, uniforms worn by the cast and displays.

message 12: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1045 comments Great story C!

message 13: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Thanks Justin,

I'm really crazy busy this month, but I didn't want to let Jot down.
Anyone else got a story? Time is short for the July deadline!


message 14: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Justin wrote: "It was crazy for sure, but went well. Visited Trekcetera in Drumheller, Alberta. Look it up online. A CBS licensed museum with all kinds of great Star Trek props, uniforms worn by the cast and disp..."

Live long and prosper.

message 15: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1277 comments Mod
Got mine in and posted about it on facebook. I need to figure out how to drum up some more attention :)

message 16: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Come on, people! How about coughing up a few more stories? Don't let Tom's wickedly sharp pencil scare you off!

message 17: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments I started my story yesterday and plan to have it up by deadline :) Family and friend illnesses have put me out of the loop.

message 18: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments "Wickedly sharp pencil?" Ouch. I'll gladly stop reviewing if it gets us more entries.

Thank you, Jot, for promoting; I will, too. Thank you C., for being a trooper and a cheerleader. And, thank you, Marianne, for making the effort. You've always given us fine and colorful stories. And, I hope your loved ones are better soon.

message 19: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments Got my story up. It is based on a recent experience in Rehoboth whilst visiting a sick friend. Write what you know ;)

message 20: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1277 comments Mod
That's funny, I was just in Rehoboth a couple weeks ago. Nice beach town!

message 21: by Marianne (last edited Jul 23, 2018 06:06AM) (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments Jot: For the little bit I was on the boardwalk, it was fun. I am seeing my friend pretty much once a month until she gets better so a little taffy and Zoltar in the evening is in my future.

By the way, I did post yesterday on Twitter for people to check out this month's stories. I think to get new blood, we have to let people know we are here every week.

message 22: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1277 comments Mod
I'm curious, how many people read all the critiques before they read and judge the stories? I'm not saying you can't, but for myself, I prefer to decide on the stories first.

message 23: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1045 comments I read stories first, then critiques. That way, no spoilers. :)

message 24: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments Honestly, I generally only read my own critique, fully reading each of the stories to vote. I usually only rely on the critiques for my own personal improvement, but very occasionally will refer to them if I can't decide between two good stories. I think it's sometimes helpful to get a different perspective I haven't considered, when judging between two close ones.

That being said, I think the critiques are a valuable way to get third-person insight into your own story and they are definitely helpful.

message 25: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments I do not read critiques of the stories of others or their stories until after contest ends.

message 26: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments I never read a critique until after I've read the story. Critiques never influence my vote.

message 27: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Critiques have been weaponized like low grade plutonium. If a person comes out with a story early and then criticizes all comers, it's effectively a subtle shout down, not a contest.

message 28: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Not to mention the effect of every story being strongly critiqued shortly after it's posted. That has to be intimidating and a discouragement to any new authors. No wonder participation is shrinking.

message 29: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments I strongly recommended we not critique current contest stories when I recommended the critique thread some time back. These are some of the unintended consequences I was worried about.

message 30: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Just sayin'

message 31: by Greg (last edited Jul 25, 2018 09:59AM) (new)

Greg Krumrey (gkrumrey) | 200 comments I read the stories, then vote and then read critiques of my story. Somtimes I read other critiques, too but vote before I read any. BTW, I vote on how much I enjoyed reading a story and not on any careful analysis which may lead to bias against distopian stories.

Truth be told, I contribute not to win but primarily as a way to encourage myself to write a story a month and secondly, to get critiques, which are pretty accurate. If I win, it is usually an unexpected bonus.

message 32: by Greg (new)

Greg Krumrey (gkrumrey) | 200 comments Also, I value critiques more than winning the contest. I often file the critique(s) in the folder with my story in case I get time to do a re-write. Looking at story (and the critique) a month or a year later often leads to a clearer path to a better story.

message 33: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments C. wrote: "Just sayin'"

I disagree C., and I'm not sure how far an author will get in writing if they can't take criticism positively. Also, I think every member of this group has been nothing but kind, even in their critiques.

I'll admit, in the beginning, I was dubious of the critiquing system when we added it, fearing it would sway the vote. That being said, I've grown to appreciate everyone's input and it has really helped me grow as a writer. Like Greg, I also don't write to win, though. I do it for the challenge and enjoyment of creating something new.

And, as someone who's never published anything, another writer's constructive critique has never discouraged me. I welcome it, even if it is hard to swallow sometimes. I think the best way to grow in any endeavor, is through feedback, be it positive or critical.

message 34: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments I hear you, Chris, and I've certainly benefited from the many critiques of my stories, no doubt about it. We have lots of talented critique writers, but not much diversity of contributions at the moment.

It's a little like someone talking too loud at a party, where all the air is sucked out of the room and nobody else has much to say. Next party, fewer people show up. It's just human nature.

What I did for some time was to pick my 3 favorite stories and offer critiques on them, and more critiques from others seemed to also show up. But then, the air was sucked out of the room, and everyone apparently suffocated.

I still believe, as I originally recommended, the most interesting scenario would be for Jot to select a notable story from the prior month's assortment and all who wish to critique do so privately the month following and then Jot publishes the resulting critiques simultaneously like the vote results. This way, we all get to see the many viewpoints about a particular story that Jot found noteworthy, and Jot can pick a story to focus on a particular area of technical interest such as point of view, ending, visual imagery, descriptive prose, or other cool stuff.

Also critiquing a single story is less work so more might contribute, and Jot would not put a new writer on the spot unless there was a good reason to do so, such as an amazing first contribution. And if a lively debate occurs about a story being critiqued, it has nothing to do with the current month voting and that, too, would be welcome additional interaction.

Personally, I think that would be much more constructive and it would encourage rather than discourage new writers as well as more critique writing.


message 35: by Marianne (last edited Jul 25, 2018 11:50AM) (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments I tend to think that the critique thread would be better left to after the contest as it might be a distraction while the contest is ongoing. I do find the critiques useful. I often disagree with them. I am not one for doing individual critiques as I do not like to discourage the sound of someone's voice. That said, from month to month across all stories, including mine, I see the same issues. These are:

1. Telling, not showing.
2. Choppy structure (600 words of backstory for 2 paragraphs of real story)
3. Recycled story ideas.
4. Grabbing a quick story out of the file box rather than creating a new story, i.e., the story is part of something bigger, not a stand alone.
5. Too much dialogue. I often feel I am reading scripts, not stories. This is the demon of first person narration as opposed to third where description has a bigger role. In a stream of dialogue I often can't keep the characters straight.

Our biggest issue regarding membership is gender/racial/biological diversity. I have tried to encourage folks on the Twitter writer chats I follow to come have some fun with us, but our cohort, and quite frankly our storytelling, does not reflect or represent a wide range of audience experience. Overall, we look like and sound like an SF group from the days of first fandom. There is nothing wrong with this, but our voices do not speak to modern readers.

Just my observations.

I do this contest to keep my pencil and brain sharp :) And I am grateful for the opportunity.

message 36: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Kraftchak (smkraftchak) | 123 comments Greetings, all.
Sorry I've been away so long. I've missed you. Life has been so overwhelming I haven't really written much since last November, but this group has been an anchor to at least keep me thinking about writing.

To answer Jot's question, I have never read the critiques before I voted. My vote has always been based on how well a story relates its idea and appeals to me. After that I sift them down through a filter based on technical elements to determine one great story over another.

To my mind, a critique is letting the author know how I perceive their story. Our job as writers is to express the picture in our minds in such a way that the picture in a reader's mind matches as closely as possible. That's what I give, and look for in a critique. Sadly when there are so many entries, there is not necessarily the time to offer a critique on everyone, and sometimes, others have said more or less expressed what I might have said about a story.
I value critiques from this group because many of you have a keen eye and a good sense of storytelling that will improve my own writing. I'm not sure critiques are helping or hurting us other than adding to the time commitment.

As far as 'recruiting' people to join? Most of the regulars in this group set an extremely high standard of storytelling which may be intimidating to newer writers. I'm not saying that is a bad thing, but many new writers are too timid when they feel like they 'aren't good enough to stand shoulder to shoulder' with someone they perceive to be superior. Would many of us have dared to match our early stories with 'the giants'? I would suggest that each person try personally inviting one or two people to the group. Flash fiction isn't for everyone because it's tough. Flash fiction with science fiction elements to some may be even more restrictive and intimidating.

I didn't get a story written this month, but I did get to read everyone's wonderful stories and have sent Jot my vote.

I, like Marianne, am grateful for this group and the opportunities it provides.

message 37: by Chris (last edited Jul 25, 2018 04:02PM) (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments Marianne wrote: "I tend to think that the critique thread would be better left to after the contest as it might be a distraction while the contest is ongoing. I do find the critiques useful. I often disagree with t..."

So, I suppose the question becomes, how do you effectively fix this? Each of us is going to write according to their own style and the preferences with which they connect. I, for one, prefer a dialogue driven narrative, leaving the descriptive elements to the imagination of the reader. Others prefer the exact opposite. So, I'm not sure this is a weakness or just a matter of personal preference. Additionally, I think every writer incorporates their own actual experiences into their stories and, while sometimes repetitive, this allows the reader to get to indirectly know the writer that much more.

And, while I would enjoy the most diverse group of writers we can attract, I'd welcome any writer willing to share, no matter who they are. I don't think anyone in this group or anything we've done discourages diversity in any way. But then again, I also acknowledge that science fiction may inherently be a niche genre, appealing to a narrower segment of the population, diversity or not.

As someone who's never professionally authored anything, I've never been intimidated by any of the other writers here, and if someone hopes to ever write professionally at any point, I think they'd have to develop the courage to join a group like ours, no matter their current level. I also hope they'd be able to grow from the experience.

I first joined this group a couple of years ago as a rookie. No books. Nothing published. And nothing's changed. But I'd still like to think I can occasionally knock out an interesting story, even "against" quite a few established/published authors in this group. Then again, I do it purely for fun because I enjoy writing and the challenge each month brings. Since then, I've enjoyed the stories, the critiques, and even these discussions, not missing a single month. I've even had a few wins. Thank you all for that.

As to whether critiques are discouraging new members, I think every one of us has been kind and constructive. I would hope that any new member finds our reviews honest, encouraging, and helpful.

message 38: by Marianne (last edited Jul 25, 2018 06:31PM) (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments Chris: It is good to have this discussion for one. I look for balance when considering a story. That informs my opinion/critique. The issues I mentioned I see month after month. They bubble up in all our work from time to time. It isn't about fixing, but polishing. It is easy to fall into a knock it out rut.

Our greater problem as a group is in not being able to attract a more diverse audience, and possibly more diverse writers, not so much on whether we agree or disagree on critiques or how they are done.

I think writing in general has become more genre fluid. This mostly male group skews toward harder SF, and those of us writing with a different SF prism have a little more swimming upstream to score a win here. That can be discouraging to newer members, especially given some past comments over time regarding what constitutes SF.

message 39: by Jon (new)

Jon Ricson (jonricson1) | 61 comments I try not to read the critiques before I vote, but it is hard if someone critiques my story and then I may see another...

I agree with no critiques on current stories.

And I just want to thank you all for letting me be part of this group. It’s so much fun.

message 40: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments Marianne wrote: "Chris: It is good to have this discussion for one. I look for balance when considering a story. That informs my opinion/critique. The issues I mentioned I see month after month. They bubble up in a..."

I generally agree in principle with all of the that. I guess the pragmatic part of me asks, how can we as a group fundamentally change who we are, to attract more writers and readers? And while hard sci-fi is what I know, I would love to see more genre blending in the group. It's definitely something which would help my own writing improve and would make some of the stories that much more interesting. I love a challenge, especially writing outside of the box. As an aside, Marianne, I've really enjoyed your stories in particular because they tend to be different and a little quirky, and I do miss some of the amazing writers who've not been contributing lately. Even so, the challenge continues! On to the next month!

message 41: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments I for one have loved the color and wonder of Marianne's stories, even though it differs from my own style. She's had my #1 vote more than once, and I certainly would welcome more diversity.

I'm surprised and dismayed by all the controversy and mixed signals on critiques. They influence votes? They scare off new writers? They're weaponized, and suck air? Good God! Before we had the critique thread our moderator would sometimes complain we weren't critiquing enough. Now that we have one, I assumed we were supposed to use it. Sometimes, I felt guilty for knocking off and not using it. I was told my critiques were welcome and appreciated, so I did more. Now, people say, don't do it once voting starts. Don't do it early on. If you post early, don't critique early. I give up! Take a vote and decide what's to be done. Vote on selected past stories, alternate monthly, do group discussions, critique the winner, whatever. I'm not critiquing again until we can decide what's acceptable and what isn't. Not worth the headaches.

I'll say this: Nobody should ever let a vote be influenced by a critique. There's just no reason to. And, don't be scared off, either. Just be yourself. Opt out of critiques if you want, but just write. That's what we're here for. And, nothing is "weaponized."

message 42: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 456 comments Tom, don't get discouraged. Your critiques are fantastic. I actually look forward to mine every time!

message 43: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1099 comments Thank you, Chris. You've done a fantastic job yourself on critiques.

I know some people don't like to do it because tastes differ, and sometimes you feel you're just stating your own particular likes and dislikes rather than making useful observations on style, method, etc.

But, I guess that's the challenge; finding out if we can help each other improve by offering diverse vantage points.

message 44: by Paula (last edited Jul 26, 2018 12:35AM) (new)

Paula | 955 comments I don't really want to jump in here, as I've scarcely had time to even read more than 2 or 3 stories here each month, recently.
Re the critique thread, though--my recollection, from 3 or more years ago, is that the critique thread was begun specifically to take the critiquing out of the comments thread, so that no one would accidentally come on critiques while reading general group news/discussions/etc.--i.e., so that persons not wishing to read critiques during the judging period didn't have to.
As for diversities---in fact, Jot's group was more diverse in its early years, although always leaning toward "hard/old-fashioned/space-ships-and-tech/space-war" more than toward the more literary or "speculative" or fantasy-tinged sf that people often work in today. At a certain point, the balance tipped further toward "old-line" sf, until the group stabilized largely as it now stands. To regain diversity of styles and themes, perhaps--in addition to the excellent suggestions to ask diverse friends/writers of diverse style to visit or join the group--run 2 or 3 months (in a row) of themes common to speculative, literary, or fantasy-related sf (for instance, a world only describable in 6 dimensions, or a Dostoevskian-style narrative, or a story of music and mouse-folk)--and perhaps the same for any parameters, and *defintely* for the styles. Since persons who consider joining probably will first read some of the stories, this may entice them to join much more than would, say, a story of alien computernauts who (1) must have 3 legs, (2) are at war with Planet Sparta, and (3) must be humorous. And, this stretching of bounds can open up possibilities here for those concerned with possible "same-old same-old."
Having said which, I enjoyed this month's stories but am crazy-busy and no time to do a good voting job this month.
Chris, I am amazed that you've no publications; send stuff out! And that goes for others here too.

message 45: by C. (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 736 comments Tom, you're by far the best critique writer in the group. All I'm saying is that if we can't make changes then maybe use a little restraint.

But the changes I've suggested would be cool to try. Jot, may I propose a vote on this?

message 46: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Kraftchak (smkraftchak) | 123 comments Critiques are an important part of this group, and I for one would miss them. I wish we had the ability for a like button on these comments. If we go back and distill down the comments, I believe everyone likes critiques, doesn't read them before voting and wants to keep them; we just need to be sure critiques and comments that can be construed as critique should be kept to the critique thread. Tom- don't be scared off; I agree with C. that your critiques are indeed the most thorough. Chris- SEND THEM OUT. You're good.

I believe Jot's question about critiques came because he's trying to increase numbers here. I agree with Chris, Tom, Paula, Marianne (and any others) who said we need to expand our chops and try more flexible themes to include elements of other genre, to not only try to bring others in, but to keep our own writing more relevant. I think if try this AND we all actively post the theme each month to all our social media outlets, we will begin to increase interest (and they'll tell two people, and they'll tell two people...).

message 47: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1277 comments Mod
Every person who responded to my question said the same thing, they do not read the critiques (other than for their own story) before reading and voting on the stories. Certainly, people may feel the critiques can sway the votes, but they can't if people follow this unwritten rule.

As for the critique thread:
1) I find this to be one of the best things about this contest.
2) If we waited on critiques until after the contest was over, there would be much less of them.
3) It doesn't impact the vote, from what we can tell.

That said, I would be strongly against its removal.

message 48: by Marianne (last edited Jul 26, 2018 05:45AM) (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 401 comments Jot: Here is an idea: Make a requirement of one line as to why a person voted for a particular story when a person submits her/his vote. At least people getting votes can get some feedback that way. Just a thought.

And Tom and everyone who takes the time to critique, I have enjoyed reading your critiques of others after the contests. There is much to learn from your observations.

message 49: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 1045 comments I appreciate any critiques and comments about my work and the critiques do not influence my votes in any way. I vote for what I like, not what other people like.

The critiques are opinions, and it is good to get other opinions about one's work (in my opinion - ha!). Tom's critique this month of my story noted that he did not like certain aspects that deflated the suspense. That's okay with me! It also helps me see if someone did not understand the story I had in my head but it did not translate so well in type.

So thanks to everyone who has taken the time to comment or critique my work, it is greatly appreciated!! I'm just sorry I have not gotten many critiques out myself!

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