What Kind of Stories does Writers of the Future buy?

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/

~Marina

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10 thoughts on “What Kind of Stories does Writers of the Future buy?

  1. You flatter me. Thanks for mentioning my old “how to win” article. I am pleased people are still finding it relevant, instructive, and useful.

  2. I’m really glad I didn’t read this post (or any similar) before I sent my story. I would have been too scared to enter. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

    • It’s purely advice based on observation (ETA: and experience as a three-time finalist cum winner, for those visitors who don’t know my history with the contest) and should not at all be taken as “Don’t enter if you don’t have these.” I definitely don’t want to scare anyone away–but I do want to increase their chances of winning. 🙂

  3. disperser says:

    It seems counterintuitive to the title of the contest. If writers of the future write what appeals to current writers in terms of check-marking certain boxes, then it’s more along the lines of writers of the future who write like writers of the past.

    I mean, I recognize the need for recognizable structure to a story, and the benefit of having engaging characters.

    However, the advice seems directed at not necessarily writing to what one wants to write, but to please the judges. A fine distinction, to be sure, but isn’t the aim here to write to one’s passion, and wow the judges into liking it?

    Or is the aim to try and win, and then ride the notoriety boost to doing other things?

    Perhaps it’s both.

    I ask because I often hear conflicting things about “what to write”. Editors will invariably say to write to your passion, but statistic indicate editors buy what is “currently hot”.

    Their whole “don’t chase the market” advice sounds lofty and perhaps a tad idealistic. If someone wants to get published, they should most definitely try and provide a product both publishers and readers will be interested in.

    Anyway, to bring it back to WotF, and I admit only casual research before submitting, I thought it geared not only to new authors, but to new ideas, structure, storytelling, etc.

    The advice I’m reading so far can be summarized as . . . write what has won in the past.

    Just wondering.

    • I think your observations speak to the dilemma most writers who want to be published face. Do we write what moves us, or do we write to market? I think you’ll find that those aren’t mutually exclusive, but the merging of the two can be daunting (I was certainly passionate about my winning story–though, to be honest, even more so about one of my non-winning finalists).

      Pursuing art for art’s sake is both worthwhile and rewarding, but cannot be expected to pay the bills. If one’s goal is simply to write a story the writer enjoys, then there’s no need to examine marketability. And hey, the writer might still submit and get lucky (Heaven knows there are plenty of WotF winners and other published writers who do just that).

      But, if a writer wishes to write professionally and make an income with his or her ability to tell a story, then market research can’t be ignored. A farmer can farm beets if he really likes to eat beets, but if his community would rather buy cabbages, he has to consider if it wouldn’t be better to allot some of his land to cultivating cabbages.

      I don’t think the essence of the advice is “write what’s come before” so much as “write what readers are willing to pay for.” That will mean something different to those who buy Analog and those who buy WotF anthologies, and those who buy the Paris Review.

      I think the *real* essence is “know your reader.” If you want others to pay for your work, you have to give them what they want. This doesn’t always mean sacrificing what *you* want, but it might mean tweaking your expectations or your execution.

      This is true for any industry. A chef might want to open a restaurant that serves nothing but monkey brains, but she has to ask herself, do I have an audience? Are there enough people out there that share my passion for monkey brains? If the answer is no, that makes her business model unsustainable. Which means she’ll either have to daylight as a burger flipper, or tweak her menu.

      This does not mean her passion for monkey brains is invalid. Nor does it make those who do not wish to consume monkey brains ‘tasteless’ or ‘backwards thinking’ or ‘thick headed.’

      Writing is about communication. Passion is a huge factor in effective communication. So is clarity. I’ll I’ve tried to provide in the post is some clarity. It’s up to you to make the words sing.

      Hope that helps.

      • disperser says:

        In a general sense, yes, but only insomuch as most of that is common sense.

        Not that I am a trailblazer of any kind, but it seems to me there are other issues at work.

        For instance, an established writer with name recognition might get away with something a bit off the beaten path, whereas a new writer with the same general idea/style/etc. might have a more difficult time getting recognized for the very same thing.

        When I first read about writers of the future, I had the impression it was meant to foster (and here I show my lack of writing prowess as I search for words) daring approaches, innovative stories – yes, but also writing styles, type of stories, original ideas, etc.. Stuff that a regular publishing company might not touch precisely because they are interested in making money.

        To that end, I almost envisioned “Dangerous Visions”-like stuff. Apparently that is not the case.

        I do look at the out-in-the-industry submission spectrum as ranging from “get the bills paid” to “I like this, and I’ll write about it even if it does not pay the bills”. You are right that is the difference between a professional and someone who writes for writing sake, but I thought WotF trended toward the latter rather the commercialism end.

        Sorry; just rambling on now . . . I was just surprised to come across a number of articles geared to “winning”. If enough people do that, and if it’s valid, pretty much all the entries will trend to the same; a narrow band of similar offerings.

        Anyway, I just got an offer to buy 6 volumes for a reasonable price, and I will find out for myself what kind of stories win, if indeed there is a “kind”.

        Thanks for your answer, and I appreciate the time you took to write it . . . you could have just written “Yeah, it’s a poser, alright!” and let it go at that,

    • I do think reading a market (and yeah, for all WotF does to help new voices [which is wonderful!] it really is just another market) is the best way to understand what the editors and its readers are looking for. I will point out, though, that originality is the first thing on my ‘how to win’ list. And I think it heartily deserves its position as number one. I do believe they are looking for fresh ideas expressed in fresh, new ways. They aren’t a cozy, familiar-story sort of venue.

      Good luck in the contest, by the way!

  4. […] understood why. This coming year, I’m planning to change that. I’ve been reading some blog posts about what the contest seems to be looking for as well as reading the past anthologies […]

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