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#15288 · 14
· · >>Chinchillax >>Pascoite >>Fenton >>horizon >>Lamplighter >>Kitcat36
Anyway, now that we're rolling with thirty-five entries (!) spanning 133,000 words, and a huge number of fresh faces in the comment thread:

(ahem)

Welcome to the preliminaries, fellow authors!
(A quick guide for Writeoff newbies)

The hardest part is behind us -- the writing! Now it's time to pit the stories against each other and figure out which ones end the round with shiny metallic pixels. Along the way, we're going to engage in one of the Writeoffs' oldest and most beloved traditions: The constructive criticism that turns this into something more than just a competition!

(Also, we're going to create art based on the stories. That's an experimental thing this round. Just know that there's an "Art" contest too, which just started its submission period, and the prompt for the art is the contents of one or more stories you read this round. Ask one of our regulars, or speak up here, if you're interested but confused.)

The most important things to know for the next week or so:

1) Do some reading and ranking!

Up on the "Voting" tab at the top of the page, you'll see a "slate" of stories from your fellow authors, and a list where you can drag them into order. This is what determines competition rankings! (Anyone can vote, author or not. The site's set up so that you won't ever vote on your own story.)

Voting is totally subjective and up to you. We can't stop you from voting based on arbitrary factors like the number of E's in a story, if you want. However, community standards are that you rank stories based on which ones you think are best (whatever that means to you), and that you make a good-faith effort to treat them fairly despite factors like genre, form/style, and characters used. If you feel like you can't treat a story even slightly objectively ("OMGWTFBBQ THORAX AND EMBER SHIPPING?!?! BOTTOM SLATE 4EVAR ARGHABALHARGABARGLE"), you can click on "Abstain" to remove it from your voting pool.

When your slate is empty, you can keep clicking on the empty area to be given new stories to rank! Don't feel obligated to "only" read what you're assigned.

There's no penalty for not voting, unless you count "you don't get to have a say in who wins". But, c'mon, we're a community here — let's work together and make this thing awesome!

2) Don't break anonymity!

This is crucial. The competition is based purely on the quality of the submitted stories, NOT the name/reputation of the author. That means if you prematurely reveal which one you wrote, the entry has to be disqualified.

When you put your name in the "Author" box, the site registered it and then locked the information away. All the stories in the gallery are shown without author information -- for now. Once judging is complete for a story (at the end of prelims for stories which don't make finals, and at the end of finals for everybody), the Gallery page will show author names next to their stories. Don't claim your story until the Gallery page identifies you!

People are gonna start leaving reviews on your story (see below). You'll be tempted to respond to the commentary immediately, especially if readers seem to be misinterpreting things. Don't.

This is really, really hard.

It sucks like anything. It's going to hurt. I'm sorry.

But please resist the temptation. It can be eye-opening to see the ways in which people misinterpret what you write when the context of the vivid images inside your brain are stripped away. If you let it, that waiting and self-reflection process can make you a better writer. (Also, one nice silver lining: When the first reviewer misinterprets your story, and someone comes along later and says "Uh, actually, I think this is what the author meant," that silent little "HA HA, IT DID COME ACROSS, SUCK IT!" is super satisfying.)

It can help to sit down, immediately type up a comment correcting the reviewer, and then don't post it. Copy and paste that comment somewhere and save it for a week. At the end of your anonymity period, take a look again. If that week has given you a little perspective and you've figured out how to edit the story to resolve the misunderstanding, let it go. If the misinterpretation is still sticking in your craw, post your reply then. (Most reviewers will be happy to engage if there's a conversation that needs to continue past then.)

Finally, if you're reviewing (see below) — and we hope you do! — be aware that reviews can impact anonymity too. The best way to provide reviews is to go through the stories on your slate and/or ballot, but you will never be asked to rank your own writing — so if you write a review for every story but one, it's obvious which one you wrote. In the event you get prolific with your reviews, sneak a fake one in for your own story somewhere along the way so that you have 100% coverage.

3) Contribute to review culture!

We're here to compete, yes, but large numbers of us are also here to learn what people think of our writing and sharpen our skills.

A lot of Writeoff participants sacrifice a hell of a lot of time to leave critique on everything they read. This has never been mandatory. It has always been encouraged, because if nobody did it then nobody would get feedback.

If you're here to get better, then writing reviews helps you in two ways. First, it encourages other authors to do the same for you. Second, the process of analyzing a story and thinking about what did and didn't work for you refines your own writing. The ability to identify writing flaws in other people's stories works for your own stuff, too! Even simply saying "Gee, I prefer such-and-such story elements over other-such elements" forces you to make explicit in your mind the things that you enjoy about stories, and might open your eyes to types of writing you might not have considered for yourself.

Reviewing is intimidating! Leaving useful feedback is a skill just like writing fiction, and it's a skill we don't often get to practice. I'll try to outline some basics:

+ The most valuable thing you can offer is your honest reaction.

Our humble host >>RogerDodger calls this "wise reading", lifted from some text on critiquing; I wish I could dredge up a good link for that, but it's a tough phrase to google. :P

Suggesting fixes — "John McSpace should carry a ray-gun, not a chroma-lance" — is a very natural pattern to fall into with critique. (You'll see me do it a lot, too! It's an easy one to backslide on.) But it's the second step of a two-step process. The first step is realizing that something bothered you about the story, and explicitly pointing out what you have a problem with. ("John McSpace's introduction broke me out of the story because his technology seems anachronistic.") "Wise reading" is simply about pointing out what worked for you and what didn't. This might seem incredibly basic. It's also rare and valuable because everyone skips over it and goes straight to the second step.

Why does that help, if you want to make suggestions to improve a story? Because your goals for the story might not be the same as the author's. Flagging what made you as a reader stumble is an opportunity for the author to compare goals ("well, this is a crossover Spacedude fanfic, and chroma-lances are canon, so if you're bothered by the anachronism you're not in my target market"). Also, it may point them toward a way to fix your actual problem without throwing off their rhythm ("Hey, if Spacechick asks John why he's carrying a chroma-lance, it'll let me explain away the anachronism without changing his equipment!").

So, to sum up: Don't feel like you've got to point out ways to improve the story you're critiquing! That's a good way to flex your own creative muscles, sure, but simply flagging things that work or don't work for you is by itself a super valuable act, and don't undervalue it.

+ Be honest but positive.

There is a person on the other side of the screen. Even if true, "This story sucked" is going to hurt feelings. "This story did not work for me" might still hurt feelings, but it's also how you feel, which is necessary to communicate — and it's worded in a way that doesn't force all the blame onto the author. (Let's be humble. It might work for other readers!)

In other words: Every story here will have flaws, and we need to be able to talk about them in order to make them better. But remember that a thing you see as a flaw might just be a thing you disliked, and not every reader is going to be you! A critique is a conversation between you and the author; try to phrase your feedback in a way that makes that clear ("the sad part didn't make me cry"), instead of making incorrect blanket faux-objective statements ("the sad part was done wrong").

Also:

Even if a story needs a whole lot of editing, try to find at least one positive thing to say. (I've been doing this for years, and it's a VERY rare story that I can't legitimately praise at least ONE element relative to the rest of the writing.) Acknowledging the good along with the bad is a signal to the author that you're trying to give the story a more fair-minded view rather than just piling on — and it gives them something to feel good about if you have a lot of critique.

+ Add detail where you comfortably can, but don't worry if you can't.

To go back to John McSpace above: It's great if you can dig down into the writing enough to identify that it was his lack of ray-gun that threw his introduction off (for you), but sometimes you're just going to end a scene with a vague sense of dissatisfaction. That's still better than nothing! You saying "John's introduction didn't come off right but I'm not quite sure what bugged me" might be what spurs another reader to say "The ray-gun's anachronistic", and their own dissatisfaction might not crystallize until they read your thoughts.

That said, reviewing can be a giant time sink. Don't force yourself to write more about a story than you immediately have to say. (That's a recipe for burnout.) And if prior reviewers have made points you agree with, a simple "agree/disagree with X on point(s) Y" can be more than enough. (I guarantee as an author that even that is valuable! There's a BIG difference between "a flaw every reviewer complains about", "a flaw which half of the reviewers hate and half acknowledge but aren't bothered by", and "a choice which some readers label a flaw and some defend").

+ READ reviews with a grain of salt.

What I said above about comparing goals? Internalize that. Make it your mantra. Wrap yourself in it. Your story is going to have a lot of arrows fired at it over the next week; and "their goal for the story might not be my goal" is gonna be your armor.

I've received a lot of excellent feedback on Writeoff stories which I have thanked the reviewer for and then promptly ignored, because it was fantastic advice for a different story than the one I was writing. I have given advice (probably far too much of it!) that's on the other side of that divide. EVERY SUGGESTION YOU READ HERE WILL ONLY IMPROVE YOUR STORY IF IT ALIGNS WITH WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THE STORY.

(And sometimes you'll read a suggestion and realize that you like what they're pointing at better than what you originally wanted to do. That's fine too! Just keep in mind that's your decision to make.)

And finally,

+ Thank you for participating!

You've done a good thing in getting a story assembled. You've done a hard good thing in whacking it together within 72 hours! That, in itself, has value, and please don't let any criticism detract from that.

Writeoff stories, by their nature, are first drafts. Some of us write better first drafts than others — but that doesn't invalidate the less polished ones. Every story has the capability to shine after editing; some of them are just closer to their final form than others. (This is why, when my HORSE assessment system ranks stories into "tiers" based on my overall appreciation of them, even the lowest tier is named "Keep Developing" — because further development will improve it if you put in the effort.)

You've done good.

It may not feel like it as the critiques mount (though, hopefully, if we keep these rules in mind we can collectively reduce the sting), but no critique can take away from you: You have written a thing, under difficult circumstances, and thrown it out to the public despite insufficient time to sync it with the shining vision in your head. Every factor is working against you here. Don't take disappointment personally, and treasure every compliment because you motherf*king earned it.

Thank you all! Looking forward to my reading. We're all in this together!
#14520 · 13
· · >>Pascoite >>MLPmatthewl419
I got hit hard with a case of RL last round, and wasn't able to follow up with this promptly, so I thought I'd put this here where everyone will see it rather than bury it at the end of a dead thread.

I owe Ranmilia a public apology for my post during the dispute over poetry last round. I stand by the substance of my arguments, but I made them in a disrespectful way. All of us here want to make the Writeoffs a better place; it's obvious — and should have been obvious — that Ranmilia was acting from that impulse as well, regardless of our disagreements. To take an obvious example, he's been consistently providing detailed, insightful critique on a wide range of entries; nobody does that without a lot of investment in the success of the Writeoffs and their participants, and I want to take a minute to thank him for that effort.

We've talked a little bit privately, and a little bit via Discord, about topics including poetry entries. RogerDodger also joined the public conversation in at least one point, to clarify that different formats were not intended to be banned/discouraged by the rules. (Supposedly there was going to be a change in rule wording accordingly; I don't know if that's happened.) I don't think that's the end of the conversation, but there also hasn't been a good place to have that conversation in an inclusive (and archiveable) way. I still disagree with the argument that poetry and prose are not comparable, but that's a topic that should be revisited later; I also don't want to ignore the point that was made about the additional difficulty of reading poetry if English is not your native language (since I know that we have many regular participants for whom that is the case).

Hopefully we can set aside a forum thread here (or on FIMFiction?) to let everyone weigh in on ways to mitigate and/or solve that — I really don't want to start that back up here, but it's a conversation that needs to be had. A meta-discussion forum also would give us a place to pitch formal ideas for changes in format or rules without clogging up the content threads.

But anyway.

This is an apology post, not an attempt to start those conversations. So: Ranmilia, I'm sorry. I took umbrage with the implication that poetry was an insult to authors of prose submissions, which on further discussion was not the intended implication of your post. I also got upset at what I saw as an attempt to enforce a nonexistent rule at odds with the competition's history, and that's been talked out. You deserved better than my anger, and I appreciate the contributions you've made here, and I'm sorry I didn't assume good faith.
#4580 · 11
· · >>Monokeras
📣📣📣 ALERT 📣📣📣

MONOKERAS MADE FINALS

Many sincere congratulations!!! :D I know you joined the Writeoffs to improve your English as a non-native speaker, and you've worked a long time to get to where your language wasn't standing in the way. Round after round, you've joked about your low finishes, but you kept picking yourself up and kept improving. This new achievement couldn't happen to a better guy.

And let me be the first to say I told you so. 😇
#12905 · 11
· · >>Trick_Question
What I find most hilarious is that the winning prompt tied with "Unintended Consequences".

(And that I voted for both. And none of the 13-vote getters. I regret nothing. :trollestia:)
#1312 · 10
· on No Story! I Had Fun!
>>The_Letter_J
A Basilisk For One was my entry to the "Title Drop" contest a while back. I got the crazy idea of doing title drops of other submissions to the same contest, because if I found a way to make it work it would blow everyone's minds, and ended up hacking a solution together. This was back before the code change that gave each submitted story a randomized URL; stories were put into the databases with sequential numeric URLs, and so I actually was able to read the other entries before the story gallery went live. I wrote a blazingly meta story (riffing largely off of Being John Malkovich) in which Twilight and Spike are confronted with the mysterious arrival of 25 books in their library, books which Pinkie Pie warned them were existential hazards and desperately tried to keep them away from. Then pulled the mother of all plot twists at the end to reveal that those books were their own story plus the other 24 entries — complete with a scene in which they sat down and read and discussed the books, commenting on their titles and content — and then Pinkie burst in to wail that by reading the other entries, Twilight had gotten their story disqualified.

The reaction on the comment thread was glorious. Absolutely everything went right for it — I had to make a judgment call on how many other entries there would be, and guessed correctly how many last-minute submissions there were, so the story correctly cited the number of other entries. The stories were presented in a fixed-numbered gallery then rather than giving everyone randomized reading slates, and the custom at the time was generally to go through them in numerical order; Basilisk was randomly placed near the front of the list (for maximum impact before the thread spoiled it for later readers, but after one of the other titles it specifically name-dropped, so readers had enough context to realize what I had done). The first person to read it was the author whose story I described right at the beginning and used as foreshadowing for the big reveal, so they got the full effect without any spoiling whatsoever. In short, many brains were melted into puddles.

The story was a bit of a mess, but it was an event, and I am probably prouder of that one than of any of my gold medal winners. :D
#5130 · 10
· · >>ArgonMatrix >>MCA >>Trick_Question >>Trick_Question >>The_Letter_J >>Baal Bunny >>Not_A_Hat
I see a lot of people talking about prompt adherence this round, so I would like to Have Opinions for a moment.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a Writeoff authority. You have an absolute right to vote in whatever way you like. It is legitimate to factor prompt adherence into your voting.

That said, I'd like to make a case that the Writeoff's goal of "reward high-quality stories" is best served by treating prompt adherence with a light touch. As I said last round:

... my personal opinion is that the prompt is a starting point rather than an endpoint, and as long as you can squint and see the prompt from some angle in the story, I'm inclined to otherwise ... ignore that in my scoring.

Here's why. In a round with several dozen rapid-fire stories — especially with an unusually unambiguous prompt like "Look, I Just Want My Sandwich" — the cumulative effect of them all makes the obvious interpretation tedious, and it's easy to succumb to reader fatigue. Authors willing to take liberties with the interpretation break that up and give you something fresh; it's a necessary mercy if you read beyond a single slate.


The other half of that, which might be a bigger factor this round, is: when you ding a story for poor prompt use, what that means is not that it doesn't connect, but that you don't see a connection. We've had stories in the past that were widely criticized (and voted down) for a failure to incorporate the prompt, but whose promptworthiness seemed obvious in hindsight once the author was able to open their mouth and explain how they got there. (I'll suggest some examples of this in a bit.)

The net result of aggressive prompt policing is:
- To penalize people trying to think outside the box, providing incentives to write "safe" stories that take the most obvious interpretations
- To similarly incentivize prompt drops (quoting the prompt verbatim in the story), which is tedious in excess, as authors second-guess whether their prompt usage is obvious enough

It's already a truism around here that subtlety is a bad idea in a Writeoff. And experimentation is already dangerous enough. I don't think we need to stack even more incentives for people to write cookie-cutter stories. Wider variety both makes slates more entertaining, and increases the range of writing lessons we can learn.

That said, I wanted to back that up with some data. Over the last few days I've read through all 69 stories, minus the DQs, and I categorized them by their approach to the prompt (the numbers are the stories' gallery numbers):

Catch/disclaimer in a contract, humorous
06 11 13 22 30 36 48

Catch/disclaimer in a contract, serious
05 07 15 20 45

Catch/disclaimer in a prophecy
01 19

A lack of princesses in a toyset or product, concrete
09 12 35 55 57 58 60 69

A lack of princesses in a toyset or product, implied
02 43 50 59 63 64

Princess(es) excluded from an event or group
04 08 10 23 26 29 37 38 40 41 46 51 53 58 67

Equestria or its gov't is missing one or more princesses
14 16 31 32 39 42 49 52 66

Someone's not a princess despite being an alicorn
44 54 56 62 68

Princesses are excluded from being able to die
03 24 34

Celestia's historical exclusion of Luna leading to Nightmare Moon
33 61

"Princess" as metaphor for purity/innocence that young characters don't have
17

Horizon doesn't get it
18 25 27 28 47


Prompt quoted verbatim in the story:
05 15 24 35 48
(and possibly others, I wasn't tracking this closely)


The thing that leaps out at me here is that the number of stories willing to break from a few core interpretations is quite small; 90% of our stories are in the "contractual disclaimer" bucket, the "princesses not in a product" bucket, or the "princesses are excluded from a gathering or collection" bucket. With over five dozen stories, things start to look a little samey, and even some novel twists on those ideas (such as having the fine print refer to a prophecy rather than a product or service; or princesses being excluded from being able to die; or focusing on the show's S1 myth about Celestia not including Luna) end up getting multiple treatments from different authors.

And I wouldn't be surprised if most of the outliers came into line with a little thought. For example, I couldn't initiially figure out what #17 was doing (that's the one about Applejack and Rarity talking about their younger sisters owning condoms), but it hit me that young girls are typically associated with the idea of "princesses" as a sort of shorthand/metaphor for virginal purity, and the core of the story was the older sisters' loss of that princess myth. When that occurred to me I found it awfully clever, to the point where I wanted to give it a little extra credit in my voting for novelty. If instead I'd read through it and not thought about it and penalized it for bad prompt use I'd have given it a double penalty, both in missing out on that cleverness credit and in the poor-prompt ding.

Tl;dr don't be too aggressive with scoring adjustments for prompt use plz. And if you're curious why I put a story in a particular bucket or if you see how the five I'm stuck on connect, speak up.

As a little bonus, have a breakdown of which princess or princesses each story used!

Celestia
07 08 13 20 30 39 41 52 55 59 62 68

Luna (incl. NMM)
01 08 33 35 40 45 49? 52 55 61

Twilight
04 02 10 14 24 26 29 31 34 37 39 42 43 46 48 51 54 58 60 64 67

Cadance
10 52 63

The Cutie Mark Crusaders
17

G1's Megan
19

Trixie
22 36

Flurry Heart
44

Princess Platinum
49?

Dinky
56

Unspecified/generic
05 09 12 50 69

All princesses equally
03 06 11 15 16 23 32 38 53 57 66

???
18 25 27 28 47
#10629 · 10
·
> prompt isn't Ot

[img]http://dashie.mylittlefacewhen.com/media/f/rsz/mlfw11320_medium.jpg[/img]

> prompt is Onesh Ot

[img]http://pinkie.mylittlefacewhen.com/media/f/rsz/99_large.jpg[/img]

(Back to the con. Have a fun round!)
#15038 · 10
· · >>WillowWren
So of course I get a Search & Rescue callout on Writeoff weekend, after two months of silence, as I'm walking home from the market to start writing on the idea I've been gnawing on all day. >.<

Crossing my fingers I can submit a less ambitious version of it regardless. Good luck to all.

EDIT: Subject was found before I got on-site so it's time to put the rest of the evening toward writing ...
#1207 · 9
· · >>billymorph >>plumander >>Bradel
>>billymorph
Huh, my prompt tied for first place? That's a first.

So, uh, I guess this is just a "screw getting a core of an idea to wrap your story around!" competition? I know I tend to creatively stall out with such a completely open window, so here are some brainstormy ideas to get people's minds going:

* Take the prompt literally, or as a quotation, or as an excuse for the world's worst feghoot. (Or don't, because I bet there will be at least half a dozen entries which do this)

* Use "Killing Time" as an alternate stealth prompt ... or, heck, just use your favorite prompt ot of the entire batch, since nobody's grading you on ot

* Grab your friendly local Tarot deck, or lay out an online spread, and see what story the cards suggest.

* Use one of Seventh Sanctum's story idea generators for a full premade premise in one of many genres

* Use the premise+plot+setting that you had already half-planned before the prompt dropped and were going to try shoehorning into whatever won. P.S. we hate you you cheater

* Flip through your circular file of unused story ideas, find one that you jotted down a while back after waking up from a really vivid dream but never developed into a published story, and flesh it out to a few thousand words. P.S. you goddamn super ultra mega cheater horizon don't you dare

* 2000 words of Shakespearean sonnets written in Urdu about a werewolf spaceman throwing The Ten Commandments into the sun, as a metaphor for the midlife crisis of a twice-divorced Manhattan junior publishing executive
#2715 · 9
· · >>CoffeeMinion >>Ceffyl_Dwr
For the first round in I-can't-remember-how-long, I actually have the weekend free and am not at a convention. This feels profoundly weird. I can actually submit something without setting my schedule on fire.

[img]http://pinkie.mylittlefacewhen.com/media/f/img/mlfw10525-1387643319165.gif[/img]

>>CoffeeMinion >>dunerat
Personally I'm rooting for an early Saturday birth so that Minion Jr. can start their life right, by becoming the Writeoffs' youngest-ever co-author.

(And congratulations, Minion and >>Ceffyl_Dwr!)