A fellow writer and I judged entries to our writing club’s High School Short Story Contest. I was impressed by the writers’ creativity and chosen topics. Organ donation, bullying, suicide, and goals for a better society were some of the issues woven into fiction. We had to compromise in deciding who should win first, second, and third awards. We each chose two different stories, but we both liked one so we chose that story for the first place award. One of my favorites received the second place and one of hers, the third place.
I was one of the judges last year and a similar compromise occurred. Although the elements of a good story are taken into consideration, often times, I think judges’ preferences are a large part of the decisions made in the contests we writers enter. I don’t envy their task. It’s not that easy when there are many good entries.
From these student samples, this next generation shows a depth of thought and a maturity I don’t remember from Sophomores and Juniors when I was in high school. They gave me hope for the future.
I’ve extended the date for entries to the Poetry Contest about Choices. See the Menu Bar above for requirements and post your poem in the reply after the last entry. The new date is June 1st.
I attended the Redwood Writers Conference on Saturday with Julie Royce, author of PILZ. We enjoyed hearing Ransom Stephens and Dana Gioia. I met Brooke Warner and her marketing and publishing packages are inspiring. The organizing team added the “First Page Critique” session. Two literary agents gave their reactions to first pages submitted by conference attendees. “An insider’s view into that make-or-break moment.” Everyone I talked to wants the critique session to be expanded and continued at the next conference. It was a pleasure to spend a day with writers.
Mark Twain said, “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out.”
Often we have to cut what doesn’t serve the story and it might be our favorite line, paragraph, scene, or chapter.
Lisa Cron, on page 129 in Wired for Story, talks about obstacles to block the protagonist’s goals . She states “Obstacles mean nothing unless, beneath the surface, the seeds of that conflict are present from the outset, as they begin pushing their tender shoots through the soil in search of the sun.”
I thought about my novel, Hada’s Fog, when I read that page. I have external and internal conflicts in the first couple of pages, but I’m wondering if I planted enough seeds for the underlying need. What Hada desires in the beginning, is different than what she thought she wanted or needed at the end. Hints for the reader to suspect that everything about Hada is not what it seems is something for me to keep in mind as I polish this last draft. Her complaints and internalizations might be a bigger mask than I intended.
Cron says on page 143, “The story must make complete sense without the reveal, but in light of the reveal, the story must make even more sense.”
Emily De Falla’s interview continues from my April 15th post. Her Western flash story, “The New Ranch Hand”, and her essay, “You’re Going to be on Art Linkletter”, are in my anthology, Written Across the Genres.
I asked Emily to name a favorite author, why she writes and where, and what she is working on now. She answered:
I can’t pick just one author. I love Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Louise Erdrich, Geraldine Brookings, and Ann Patchett. I learn something every time I read something they write, about myself, about the human condition, about the meaning of life.
I write because it requires me to “think with consequences.” To write well you have to think hard and deep, answer difficult and complex questions, and take a position. I don’t mean in a political way, but even deciding what word to use, or how to begin a story is taking a position. Writing is work and takes skill and concentration.
I pretty much always write at my dining room table, or the desk in my home office, not because “I like it” but because it is where the computer is when I have the time to write.
I almost never have a work in progress, and now is no exception. My pattern is to go for a long time without writing anything and then to sit down and pound something out, often a full draft in one sitting. I am seriously considering taking a stab at poetry because it is the highest distillation of emotion and words and requires intense focus and observation. I welcome what I consider would be an extreme challenge. I think the reward would be similar to that of a spiritual journey.