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By Kellnerin (Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 05:27:38 AM EST) (all tags)
D and I went to vote first thing in the morning on Super Tuesday (which is when I started writing this). Despite the hoopla around the presidential primary, at our precinct it was the Lamest. Election. Evar. Sure, there was cold rain falling and this nasty slush everywhere that morning, but there wasn't a single person holding a sign out in front of the school. "Where's the bake sale?" we exclaimed to each other by the door to the gym. "This is why no one bothers to vote anymore."

The whole right side of the ballot was taken up by the candidates for Town Committee. The instructions stipulated that you must "Vote for no more than 35 choices." So I counted the number of candidates. There were thirty-five. So, I guess they were just being thorough.

In other voting-related news, another WFC has come and gone. I meant to write a crime story, honest, but I wrote "Wheel Man" instead.

THIS WAS ONE of those times where the first line popped into my head and took up residence until I turned it into a story or something like it. The worst thing about getting shot in the chest is the breathing. It was first triggered, I think, when 2 plus 3 equals 5 made an offhand remark about what the next WFC theme would be, but I shelved it until the official announcement, when it started to dig its parasite tentacles into my brain.

Originally it was going to be a statement by the narrator, and the approach would have been not entirely unlike "My Last Day Alive," where he's speaking from experience but the actual gunshot doesn't happen until the end. And I had planned to have an elaborate Ocean's Elevenesque setup in which the narrator and his crew plan a heist but, during the course of the story, it becomes clear that the plan is doomed. The story would end right before the bullet to the chest, on the last action that the narrator takes when the outcome becomes inevitable, ending on a seemingly innocuous line like, "I opened the door." (This version of the story, I guess, would not have had that pretentious present-tense narration.)

I still think that idea, properly executed, would have made a cool story, but I realized I am unable to concoct an elaborate Ocean's Elevenesque setup, at least not in three weeks. A bunch of other things also happened to derail my orignal plan:

  • The initial line attached itself to this other character, a grizzled, cigar-smoking veteran of something or other, talking to a narrator who ended up being more naive.
  • I read a lot of Amy Hempel, whose style is not only almost completely unsuited for hard-boiled crime, but which I also failed to recreate -- this last didn't stop me from blaming her influence for making Hunter perhaps the least convincing male narrator I've ever written (although by the time I submitted I think it wasn't as bad as it was at one stage).
  • I went to a casino and was gripped by this arrogant anthropological impulse to record my impressions of that experience, which became a good portion of the setup for the story I did write. Unfortunately I'm a very boring person and thus my casino experience is a lot less thrilling than you see in the movies.
So, I found myself with this setting (complete with the mysterious dame) and still no crime or way to get my narrator shot until, at 2 in the morning one weekday not long before the deadline, I saw how to write around it, to brush against the edges of the crime ("The planning, the aftermath, ... The victim," per the original mission statement, although even these were only addressed peripherally). I was never going to shoehorn an exciting crime in there, and the tone so far wasn't much for the exciting, anyway. Aha, the gunshot is metaphorical, was my breakthrough, or the cop-out, depending.

It sort of half-works, but it's also sort of over-engineered while missing crucial pieces. The character relationships and motivations are somewhat fuzzy-to-non-existent (why the hell does he even visit this guy, anyway?) I did kind of enjoy working on it, though, playing with a slightly different narrative voice, avoiding killing any characters, yet ultimately straying back to my usual domain with a love story (only in this case also skipping most of the love).

Well, at least maybe I can mix up the way I do postmortems, and respond to the reviews:

2 plus 3 equals 5 wrote, I thought this was well done. But I wanted him to screw her, to have him drop her off for the crime, and drive away, leaving her for the cops. Thanks for liking the protagonist enough that you wanted him not to get screwed. I think. It bothers me too that he's so fatalistic and accepting of what happens. Maybe it's all a metaphor for how I always write the same story. I keep thinking I could do something different if I wanted to, but maybe it only looks like a choice.

Scrymarch quoted, Spring is under construction. That's my favorite line, and I think it almost justifies having written that story to wrap around it.

ana commented, Interesting situation, interesting setup. Not quite sure who all the characters are, notably the woman in the hotel room. It was a calculated gap that I left between one Wednesday and the next, counting on leaving enough clues elsewhere to fill it in. I guess I miscalculated.

fleece added, the rhythm was good it flowed well and that matters above all else, to me. This comment from fleece and one from blixco, another a master of rhythm, makes me feel better for having written archetypes instead of actual characters in my story.

As for my own review: Hunter would have made a mediocre journalist; the story has the Who, When, and Where but is missing a lot of What, How, and Why. I can't decide if it's a clever subversion of the crime genre or, er, the other thing. This is probably one of those cases where the overanalysis of my own piece gave away that I was the author. I should probably have stuck with something generic like, "Well, someone had to be the first to submit a story."

I WAS GOING TO give a WFC Book update here, but due to the following section this diary became far too long; I'll just say that comments are still welcome for at least the rest of the month, and I'll post a separate diary about this soon.

SO, ELSEWHERE, CRWM posed the question, WFC: is it alive and well or should it be allowed to die with dignity?*

CRwM is kind enough not to litter other people's diaries with lengthy responses to the issues raised therein, so I feel I should return the favor, and litter my own diary with my unstructured thoughts instead. My first inclination is to say Neither of the above -- the WFC is ailing but don't put it to sleep yet. However, I don't know that I have any definitive ideas about how to nurse it back to health.

That's not to say I don't have a lot of non-definitive ideas. This is a typical piece of Kellnerinian over-obsession, so skip over this or look for the summary at the end.

It's funny to me in a way because everyone on this site writes. That's how we interact with each other, how we know each other. Sure, writing diaries and comments isn't like throwing a piece of your work into a ring to be judged and dissected. We all approach writing here in a different way and so we have at least as many views on what the WFC is good for (if, indeed, it's good for anything).

In the early rounds we had lots of new blood, and the first three WFCs were won by first-time entrants. Lately it seems like the trend has been toward submissions by the usual suspects. I like much of the work that the usual suspects produce, but new blood is a good thing. It keeps things fresh and besides, when you only have regulars participating and several of those regulars don't submit for one reason or another -- lack of time, lack of inspiration, anvils from the sky -- you only get six entries. So, I'm interested in the reasons why people are inspired to participate in one WFC but not to repeat the experience. Here are a few theories that I'm not sure how much I believe:

  • It's somehow inherent in the nature of the challenge -- we've gone through everyone who would ever have considered doing a WFC and we've sorted out the people who are "into it" and those who aren't.
  • People are more theme-sensitive for the most part rather than being up for writing anything for the sake of writing.
  • People who Take Writing Seriously have come to dominate the WFC, both writers and voters, and that makes the atmosphere less friendly for the casual writer.
  • The fact that it is a competition (however low the stakes) creates an unfriendly atmosphere, because no one wants to be a loser.
  • The multi-select convention makes the competition aspect worse. With non-multi polls, everyone gets fewer votes overall, but they mean more, and not getting a vote means less. It's pretty humbling to think that you couldn't inspire more than one or two people to click your check box, but easier to justify to yourself if readers have one and only one vote to spend.
  • The poll doesn't matter, but the reviews can be a real turn-off.
When it comes to the reviews I feel a little guilty, because I wonder whether the universal review practice is a bad thing, and I kind of started that trend. It seemed like a good idea because when I write stuff out in the semi-public I like to get feedback, positive or negative. But I suspect it's not the best thing because we end up with a lot of reviews along the lines of "Meh" or "OK, whatever." Those aren't really useful comments (except maybe to express "I read this," with an implied "I didn't think much of it" and parenthetical "You suck").

The need to say something about every piece also leads us away from what our mothers taught us about what to do if you can't say anything nice. While I hardly ever made anyone's short list when they picked only a few stories to comment on, I think that the overall vibe during the voting was more positive when we had a mix of people who reviewed all stories and those who only commented on the ones that moved them. In the future, I'm going to stop reviewing every story in the voting story and stop trying to be so damn clever in my voting reviews. If people want to write diaries about their stories afterwards, I can comment then.

I have to admit I sorta stressed about this most recent WFC. I mean, an epiphany didn't hit me at 2 a.m. out of some serendipitous lightning bolt, it struck because I was lying awake churning this stuff over in my mind, trying to make it work. That isn't really anyone's fault but mine (and my mind was spinning with things other than the WFC at the same time), though if the deadline had not been so tight I probably would have had a more relaxed attitude about it.

Weirdly (or not), the last couple of WFCs I've enjoyed working on the pieces where I contributed to a story in a last-minute rush, as a lark, more than the one that I slaved on to get just right (or right enough to submit). Maybe I like the results because they're not bad for something dashed off in half an hour, not because they're better than the story I spent more time on. Or, maybe the story I spent time on isn't as good because I polished all the rough edges on it, when a story should have at least a few sharp corners.

There are frustrations with collaborating, of course (you have only so much control over how it turns out) and with doing things at the last-minute (you can't really go back and fix the problems in your initial spew). But there are advantages too (you have only so much control over how it turns out, and you can't really go back and fix the problems in your initial spew) that may tip the scale toward having "fun" compared to "working" on a story.

Anyway, to sum up:

  • Don't take it so damn seriously (she says at the end of a 2000-word diary)
  • Less pressure = more fun
  • Jerkitude = less fun
I'm looking forward to WFC9.

* ana and others have echoed this too, but CRwM's was the first I saw, so I'm going to take his formulation.

< My one success is one more than you will ever have | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
Uncontested Challenge | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)
Collaboration... by ana (2.00 / 0) #1 Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 05:42:52 AM EST
Always a pleasure, at when done least last-minute, with you.

As for why I didn't write one on my own, I blame the anvil from the sky thing.

Anyway, thanks for musing on the whole WFC phenomenon, and I really am looking forward to holding the book in my hands.

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin

story of your own by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #3 Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 08:12:28 AM EST
Given the sky anvil factor, I consider "Snake Eyes" to be your story with some 500-odd words from me to get it from your Point A to the Point B that materialized at the other end, which also came from your pen (er, keyboard). And as I said above, I had fun with it. The skeleton of "Connecting Train" came from you, too. And I like 2+3=5's ending to "Wheel Man" better than mine. Maybe what I should do from now on is write other people's ideas :)

The book will be holdable one day, really. Maybe even before it's time to start Volume 2.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
that counts me out by 2 plus 3 equals 5 (2.00 / 0) #2 Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 06:07:59 AM EST
Where jerkitude = less fun, and I'm inherently a jerk, the sig gains new meaning.

-- Do the math.
Seeing as by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #4 Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 08:15:10 AM EST
you've won this thing twice, I'd say there's a case to be made that you've contributed a positive amount of fun to the WFC equation.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM
[ Parent ]
The other way of looking at it by 2 plus 3 equals 5 (2.00 / 0) #5 Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 08:21:51 AM EST
You could also argue that other people have had less fun because they didn't win the times that I did.

Glass half-empty type, that's me.

-- Do the math.

[ Parent ]
The glass is poorly designed, by blixco (4.00 / 1) #7 Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 02:34:33 PM EST
and is fifty percent inefficient.

It is not the quantity of the water that measures your outlook.  It is the volume of the glass.

"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin

[ Parent ]
o yay i'm such a hempel fan too by fleece (2.00 / 0) #6 Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 12:23:31 PM EST

I only came to her recently by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #8 Sat Feb 09, 2008 at 05:48:46 PM EST
but I was like "hey! Someone who kills off characters as often as I do!"

Maybe one day I'll even write that well.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
it almost justifies having written that story by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #9 Sun Feb 10, 2008 at 04:37:22 AM EST
What do you mean almost? Lines like that justify stories with ease. What do you mean justify, for that matter, not sure why you would need to do that ...

Why I WFC by George Scrywell

From a very early age, perhaps as early as five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be an occasional contestant in a series of high quality amateur writing competitions.

No, wait.

Here's what I like about the WFCs. I like the DIY aesthetic. It's more craiglist organic suburban post-hippy than punk rock, but hey, so am I. And it's people I sort of know, in a lurked internet sense. So every so often you get an absolute screamer of a story, and it's like, bang, culture being made right in front of you.

(This also goes for the MFCs, but I'm not really very musical.)

You can get that effect in other ways, you can love tracking the creation process of movies, but there's no feedback, you can hit the writer's scene on the internet, like Toasted Cheese, but it's so exclusively about the writing I can't deal with it, it's like all the oxygen has been used up in the room. And I like amateurish writers too, in the non-pejorative Edwardian sense, writing by people who might have an understanding of technique but didn't just go through all the stages of undergrad-grad school-writing workshops-teaching position like accountants climbing the corporate ladder.

I like the criticism too. Maybe it was a bit harsh last time, but given the amateur preferences above, it's often a space for information on technique.

Ah, I should have put as much effort into my non-entry as this comment, who am I to say. Life is making too much sense right now to write about. Spring is under construction.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

almost by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon Feb 11, 2008 at 03:38:39 PM EST
Well, I find it hard to say anything definitive about my own stories, thus my noncommittal formulation. Besides, in my head as I read my stuff I keep a running tally of things that are kinda neat and dings against the story that make it less cool than it might have been, so by the end I never really know what to think. The dings always seem to detract more than the cool stuff seems to add.

I do agree with you about what's great about the WFCs. I like trying out things I might not have thought of (even if I stumble badly at least half the time). I like the surprise of reading the entries and finding something really well done in the bunch (and there usually is). I like getting reactions from (quasi-)real people about something I made. That's cool, and I do hope it continues.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
Uncontested Challenge | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)