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My Self-Critique of My Writing Battle Entry

and takeaways for the next one

By Matthew FrommPublished about a month ago 8 min read
Top Story - June 2024
My Self-Critique of My Writing Battle Entry
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Now that this season’s Writing Battle is over, I felt it was appropriate to do a bit of self-reflection and critiquing on my entry. Key finding: it was fine…but...

Record Scratch

Before we get to that part, let's talk about Writing Battle. For the uninitiated, Writing Battle is a peer-powered writing competition. They run four contests a year with varying word counts and time lengths, with this spring’s being a 500-word story in a weekend.

On the night before the timer starts, you are provided with 3 cards: genre, setting, and character. You are allowed one redraw of the genre and then 3 redraws of the setting and character. Then, you write.

My entry is here:

This is where the fun begins.

Your entry gets sorted into a house with ~63 other entries of the same genre, where it will face off one vs. one against other random stories from within your house, judged by your peers.

While that’s going on, you serve as a judge for ten stories in the other houses and genres, so you’re never judging your direct competition. You provide feedback to each story you judge, positive and constructive, and then select a winner. In each house, the 8 stories with the most wins advance to a showdown bracket against members of the other houses judged by a selection of "super judges," both peer and celebrity.

To build even more anticipation, on the results day, how you fared in each duel round is revealed one by one.

I ended up with 4/10 wins.

And I’m honestly thrilled about that.

On the bell curve, that puts me right in the middle (I’m not a math major–I’ll let smarter people discuss the advantages and distribution of Swiss system results. For now, take my word on that).

One of the things I really like about this competition is it pulls back the judging veil. As you'll see below, the feedback Writing Battle provides is fantastic in its depth and directness, one of the many things I've really found valuable in this contest compared to others.

I’m sure we all have entries into Vocal contests that we feel really good about, yet don’t win/place/get reads/etc., with no real analysis as to why provided.

I’ve got plenty of those.

I felt similarly about this story. I thought it was effective, did what I wanted it to do, and had enough intrigue to engage the reader.

And it, in many ways, did have all those things! It was a fine story.

And therein lies the problem…it was fine.

In a contest where the best of the best out there are staking money on their creative ability to write to a prompt, they don’t even know, fine ain’t going to cut it.

As I look back, this entry had 2 fatal flaws: 1. It was too complex for the word count, and 2. It didn’t focus enough on the most important aspect of any story--the characters.

Even better, my peer feedback agreed! Let’s take a look at some select feedback below:

I enjoyed that you were able to make both a disaster and a medical story. I thought your use of the skyscraper as a representation of the capitalist nature of Corbin was a clever use of a prompt. You used the prompt in an creative way without forcing your story around it.

I thought your use of dialogue was effective at creating a caricature of Corbin and we all know that guy at work.

What I felt might need work with the story:

The story was possibly too complicated to do it justice in 500 words. Which is probably partially because the disaster genre is complicated. But there was too many characters, details and facts that's have to be pushed out that nothing gets fully developed and unfortunately it didn't have the effect I think you intended. I think this would be a fantastic long story. But might be too much for the short writing.

And,

I have to say, I love the first line. The day being so important, but he is thinking about clearing out his desk, something that seems so mundane. It instantly get me wanting to understand more about this character and how he thinks.

I really love the progression of the story. The feigned concern turned to revelation of manipulation. We go from despising Corbin, and seeing him as the enemy, to the revelation that Alfreda played him like a song. It definitely makes you want to read more, to see if Alfred is doing it for the right reasons, or if he is the true enemy all along.

What I felt might need work with the story:

I felt like we were given just enough information to understand everything important about the story. I know you did not have more words, but I think part of me would love to hear a little bit more about the history of this “medical advancement”, and how it correlates to this company. Were they good at first? Were they always corrupt? Something to get me to dive in and born even more with one side or the other. I’m not sure how you could’ve done it with the amount of words we had, but if you had more words, a little bit more to make me despise Corbin, and a little bit more to help me to understand Alfred, would go a long way!

And,

Wow this is great and such a creative take on the disaster genre. The build up/creation of the disaster is such a great way to do it as the reader gets this building sense of dread! I thought the line "pompous fool who played god despite the scientist's objections" - painted a great image!

This worked particularly well when he kept getting interrupted:

“Sir, I–”

“You’re certain our results are accurate.”

“Yes, but–”

“Then we proceed–”

This is also a great commentary on pharmaceutical companies! I did wonder why they would not be more careful about it given they likely want to avoid lawsuits!

I was definitely skeptical about the "trained ones will simply go dormant before dying harmlessly.” and was hoping you would give more information - but the end explained that well!

The voice was great! I particularly liked the line: "Alfred thought it was another phallic monstrosity assaulting Mother Earth".

Your dialogue is masterful - it reads incredibly naturally.

This is incredibly creative!

What I felt might need work with the story:

I really think you should consider expanding this! It is a really interested premised and felt just a tiny bit rushed in the word count (but this might just be me!).

This may also just be me being stupid but I got a bit confused as to how many people were in the room - 3? Maybe just another line of description would have solved this - again this might have just been me!

There are seven other bits of feedback echoing the same sentiment. The premise of the story was too complex to effectively get the point across in 500 words. Looking at some of the stories that advanced, they used simple settings to effectively explore their characters. There are things to work with here, and if it had been for a 2000-word story, it may have worked fantastically, but not for 500.

Ironically, my first genre was Medical Mystery. I redrew that setting, only to write a medical mystery…who does that…

All that complexity took focus away from my characters. When I wrote the first draft of this, it was about 800 words. I edited that down to 500 and in doing so, cut out 2 key elements. Upon review, I shouldn’t have removed a small section about how Albert and Mr. Maxwell had been founders of the company, and I shouldn’t have taken out a small section of Albert’s internal dialogue explaining some of his actions. These would have heightened the conflict and provided more rounding to all the characters than what the final product provided.

There are some cool plot elements, but they don’t serve to deepen the conflict between our characters.

For this summer's competition, I need to stick to this mantra: your setting is only as good as your prose, which is only as good as your plot, which is only as good as your characters.

Finally, as the winners were unveiled, they all had a clear emotional punch–a concise response the story was crafted to elicit. I needed to sharpen up my prose around the character conflict to draw out a stronger response from the audience. In retrospect, the ending felt a little flat.

To sum it up:

Things I think worked in this story

  • A cool and unique twist of the prompt
  • Good dialogue (I'm proud of this; I would never have guessed my prose would be a strength)
  • The core has something going for it. Had this been a 1000-2000 word prompt, I think this scene could have been a much stronger entry–there were plenty of areas to expand on (maybe I’ll rework it)
  • Well formatted. I respect that there are different formatting standards and none that are more correct than others, but in the 10 stories I reviewed, there were several with no coherent or consistent formatting. If you enter, I implore you to spend the time to do a consistent formatting method.

Things that didn’t work or needed to be improved

  • Not enough runway to explore the conflicts between our cast of characters
  • I made a few edits with dialogue tags to reduce word count. The dialogue still works, but it makes it harder for the reader to track
  • Focused too much on explaining plot devices.
  • Lacked a visceral emotional response

Things I’m focusing on for the Summer Nanofiction battle (yes, I signed up. 250 words is a nice number)

  1. Practice to the word count. Examples HERE, HERE, HERE
  2. Remember, the characters are paramount.

Finally, shout out to this great piece by a great author who made it much farther than I did in the battle!

If there are any others who took part, I would love to read your entry. Please drop it here in the comments.

More information on Writing Battle below:

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A/N:

If you've enjoyed this, please leave a like and an insight below. If you really enjoyed this, tips to fuel my coffee addiction are always appreciated. All formatting is designed for desktops. All my works can be found below:

PacingThemeStructureSettingRevisionProofreadingPlot DevelopmentFeedback RequestedDraftDialogueCharacter Development

About the Creator

Matthew Fromm

Full-time nerd, history enthusiast, and proprietor of random knowledge. The best way to find your perfect story is to write it yourself.

Here there be dragons, and knights, and castles, and quests for entities not wishing to be found.

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Comments (15)

  • Dr. Jason Benskinabout a month ago

    Congratulations on having your story featured as a top story on Vocal! This is a remarkable achievement, and it's clear why your work has received such recognition. Your storytelling is truly exceptional. The narrative was not only compelling but also beautifully crafted, holding my attention from start to finish. The way you developed the characters and plot was masterful, making the story both engaging and thought-provoking. Your unique voice and perspective shine through, setting your work apart. It’s evident that you poured a lot of passion and effort into this piece, and it has certainly paid off. I look forward to reading more of your incredible stories in the future. Keep up the fantastic work! Best regards, Dr. Jay

  • Natasha Collazoabout a month ago

    congrats on Top story! 👏

  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    Congratulations on Top Story, and on participating in the competition. Sounds like you learned a lot, and I'm happy to read all about it. If I decide to do one of those challenges, I'll keep these points in mind.

  • Kelli Sheckler-Amsdenabout a month ago

    Congratulations Matthew. I can offer no better comment than the ones already given, except that, your writing always gives me so much to think about and feel.

  • Paul Stewartabout a month ago

    Back to say congrats on a well deserved and helpful Top Story!

  • Stephen A. Roddewigabout a month ago

    Back to commend you on the Top Story 🤝

  • Stephen A. Roddewigabout a month ago

    War. War never changes. Honestly, to reach the threshold of "fine" when you don't have direct control over most of the story elements is an achievement in itself. Especially if you were not inspired by the cards you were dealt. This made me chuckle: "I respect that there are different formatting standards and none that are more correct than others..." Shunn Manuscript Format is on Line 2, and they sound distinctly unhappy.

  • D.K. Shepardabout a month ago

    This is great! Thanks for sharing about your experience in the battle. I've looked into it and plan to participate, but it's good to hear your explanation/evaluation about the judging process! I related so very much to your word count challenge. Just requested Vocal put my piece for the 100 word NYC Midnight challenge back into drafts because I can't leave it in it's current state of confusion, probably needs to be 500 words...I almost always have to take a weed whacker to my word count...

  • Shirley Belkabout a month ago

    Maybe they should do this on Vocal! I agree with Mark Graham, too!

  • Mark Grahamabout a month ago

    You are some reviewer and editor. Your article would make a great discussion piece in a Creative writing course.

  • Sweileh 888about a month ago

    Interesting and delicious content, keep posting more now

  • D. J. Reddallabout a month ago

    This is amusing and enlightening and I admire your self-deprecating candor!

  • Paul Stewartabout a month ago

    Thank you for this - being enticed by Writing Battle and your guide and tips/suggestions are making it even more intriguing.

  • Denise E Lindquistabout a month ago

    Thank you!❤️

  • Lamar Wigginsabout a month ago

    Wow! I think I'm glad I didn't try my hand at the battle without knowing more about it. After reading your article, I think we may all be better equipped to take it on. Now, off to reread your entry and compare it to the given feedback. A great learning curve. Thank you for that.

Matthew FrommWritten by Matthew Fromm

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