Recently, over on the WotF Forum, there’s been a lot of submit-o-mancy. What does the new coordinating judge want?
I think the greater question is, what does the contest want? Yes, David Farland is master of the gate, he opens and closes the door, but then there are four more judges to please before you get to see this through to a win.
Having read the most recent volume of WotF, plus two of Q1’s winners (not to mention many past volumes), I think it’s safe to say the same kinds of stories are going to win under DF as they did under KD. For David Farland’s specific likes/dislikes, nits and more, see his Daily Kicks (He’s had several recently that focus on the contest specifically).
Several past winners have made lists of what they think a winning story must have, and I largely agree with them. Of special note is Brad R. Torgerson’s list. You can find it here.
Below are my points. Most are basically the same as what others have said, I just phrased them a bit differently. As I’ve said before, I think learning the same information over and over again in different ways helps solidify it in the mind. Plus, perhaps the way I lay it out might resonate better with some, while Brad’s, etc., might resonate well with others.
Here are the basic requirements I’ve identified. There are occasional exceptions, but around 95% of the published WotF stories I’ve read have contained these:
1. Original idea or original handling of previously used (but not overdone) idea. Also, the Bigger the Idea the better.
2. Layered conflict. Big picture conflict plus either personal conflict or inner conflict (if you can get in all three, that’s even better).
Big Picture conflict equals something like: human understanding of the universe will change because I discovered X, and people are trying to kill me before I reveal it.
Personal conflict equals something like: I must rescue my mother who sold herself into slavery so that I wouldn’t go hungry.
Inner conflict equals something like: I accidentally shot my best friend when I was a child, and now I must learn to forgive myself.
I always try to identify these layers in every story I write.
3. Wow factor meets human factor. The closer the tech or magic relates directly to a very human desire/behaviour the better.
4. Characters who Believe. Not necessarily in a deity or anything (though this definitely isn’t a venue where that’s taboo. My Q4 finalist had a very religious main character) but characters who have a very strong point of view and strong values that are confronted within the conflict.
5. Stuff has to happen. I’ve read great stories that were very moving, but essentially nothing happened. The character wanders around, observes some stuff, then makes up his/her/its mind about something. A story like that wouldn’t be a good fit for the contest. When a reader gets done with a WotF story, they feel like they’ve gone somewhere, be it physically, emotionally, or psychologically. And they’ve all gotten there through some form of action.
6. Discovery. In almost every WotF story a character makes a discovery about their immediate environment, or the universe, or a community, or an organization, or their personal origins, etc. The character didn’t know or understand something in the beginning and it is uncovered by the end.
I find that these are just good things to include in any story, but I’ve read venues where Big Idea stories were few and far between, and there are venues where characters don’t have to have strong feelings about any one thing in order to move through the plot, etc.
But, it’s also good to keep in mind that while there are venues that don’t require all of these elements, there’s also proven crossover between WotF tastes and other pro-venue tastes. Finalist and semi-finalist stories have appeared in Analog, IGMS, and Clarkesworld, just to name a few.
So, I highly suggest that anyone who hasn’t read Vol. 28 pick up a copy. Not only is it a great read, it’ll absolutely help you get a feel for what kind of stories WotF buys.
Or you could wait until Vol. 29 comes out… Not like I’ve got a vested interest in anyone reading that volume, or anything. 😉
If you find these points helpful, please let me know!
ETA: If you’d like to enter either the Writers of the Future contest, or the Illustrators of the future contest, please visit: http://www.writersofthefuture.com/