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gozen
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 9:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
[quote="Obenjo Kusanosuke"]

"You know, why is it that until basically now, nobody but the authors themselves have been posting in this thread?

Could it be that nobody besides the authors and judges have read this year's entries? Freaked Out I don't mean to break up the circle of back-patting that has been going on, but I really wonder. Is there still any value in having a samurai fiction contest? Just food for thought. "

Oh, Obenjo, it surely isn't back patting! What we are doing is supporting each other in the void, because none of us really know why the judges did what they did, whether what have created has any merit, or whether we have just written a pile of night soil. We don't know if we have a kernel of something good, whether we have intrigued, enlightened, annoyed or bored anybody, including the judges.
What we are doing is what nice people do, we support and encourage each other, and try to throw in some constructive criticism. We receive nothing for our efforts, except what we give each other.
Wouldn't you like to comment on some of the stories, assuming you read them? Really, that's all we want, for someone other than us to acknowledge the work we put in, the research we toiled at, the love that we feel for our chosen subjects.

Perhaps I'm speaking only for myself, and the others do not agree with me. If so, apologies all round! But I truly am amazed that anyone could take this thread as back patting. Speaking only for myself, yes, it's obvious that even the judges aren't fussed about getting involved. So maybe it should be dropped, if only to protect the fragile egos of us writers, who thought we had entered into the spirit of the competition, got excited, worked hard, and then found that it really didn't matter. What WT said is true, most people can't read. And, if you have never tried to write, you won't know just how much love and attention to detail we have tried to put in our stories. Maybe we don't even really "get" each other's stories, but we have tried to acknowledge each other's efforts. It's not a lot to ask, and it surely isn't just a mutual admiration thread!

Perhaps the dwindling number of entries has more to do with the lack of feedback than interest/talent/comptetitiveness of the entrants.

I hope this doesn't read as being defensive, because I'm actually not feeling defensive at all, just surprised that you have misunderstood us and our comments to each other.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 11:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
entry numbers have increased overall, or stayed the same, not dwindled. not sure where that came from. working backwards from this year: 8-9-7-8. seems pretty steady, and if I hadn't missed an entry there would have been nine this year.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 12:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Gozen,

I understand where you are coming from and realize the fact that there hasn’t been any feedback has generated a lot of angst among the authors. It probably isn’t helping that I have now waded into this thread, questioning the purpose of the SA fiction contest, at least in its current format.

Again, maybe it's me, but I just don't get it. The format of the contest forces the judges to award 1st, 2nd and 3rd place positions and awards for other stories that *maybe* don't deserve to be ranked. What if all the stories are bad? It doesn’t matter. Awards are still doled out. Again, I’m not saying this is the case with this year’s group of submissions or anything like that, but it begs the question---why give any recognition to a story if the judges really don’t like it? Are the awards given just to make the authors feel good?

The fact that nobody, except the writers themselves, has commented on the stories in public does make me wonder who the contest is for, in terms of who and what are the writers writing for. Officially sanctioned SA recognition? The entertainment of other forum members who represent the mainstream sample of the population that is likely to read samurai fiction? Again, the silence itself unfortunately says something. The brutal truth is that if a story can’t generate attention in terms of garnering positive public reviews, some posts about it, or a private recommendation from a judge or a trusted friend that a story is a “must read”, than the story is likely no more than what it is--just a submission for a samurai fiction contest that not too many people read or didn’t like very much, hence the silence.

I believe if a person wants to write samurai fiction, then write--contest or no contest. If you think you have an interesting tale to tell and can convey it in a well-written form, then go for it. There shouldn't have to be an SA fiction contest to motivate people. If the story is good, then submit it to the Shogun. If he and others think it has merit, perhaps it can be posted on the main SA page for download. Otherwise, submit your stories to publishers and see what they have to say. If they like your work, then all is well and you will be published. After all, isn’t that what the authors aspire towards?
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Last edited by Obenjo Kusanosuke on Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:42 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 1:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I can only speak for myself. I write for the sheer love of it: for the love of the characters, for the challenges I throw my brain, for the visions I see, for the joy of the research. I write because I love to write. Whether it is mediocre or just plain dross, it really doesn't matter to me at all - I didn't charge money for anyone to read it, so nobody got cheated. Whether anyone reads it or not, that's beyond my control.
I entered the competition because it was there. I love to write and it was a challenge. I hoped for feedback on my idea, because it was something I wanted to take further. Whether the quality of the writing was poor, or the story itself didn't grab people, that was I risk I took when I entered the competition. I put myself on the line by entering, because it invites criticism. I expected to be slated. I got indifference.

Yes, if all the stories are terrible, the judges will make the least worst story the winner. Probably. But we haven't heard from the judges, don't know why they chose how they did, if they loved some stories, laughed cried or yawned, whether they are era-driven or genre-driven or quality-driven, so we can't know if they thought any or all were disappointing.

Should we assume that this year's entries were all mediocre and the judges are just too polite to say so? We could, but it would be a little mean-spirited, so we probably shouldn't.

All of us who entered worked hard and did our best. We made some errors, true, but we put our heart and soul into our stories. We knew we wouldn't get anything for it, but we did it anyway, because we love to write.
Do we deserve to be thought of as the most boring, untalented writers who ever had the gall to enter a competition? Is that the only feedback we are going to get? Will it stop us from writing again? No, probably and hell no!

Who is the competition really for? I can't answer that. I don't know who decided to have the competition, whether the judges had to be coerced into taking part or whether the feelings have been the same every other year the competition has been running. If we were all competent, published writers, we wouldn't enter the competition. But we are ordinary people with a love of Japanese history and a need to express our creativity through writing. We are learning as we go, and improving all the time. Is it really so hard to be supportive of that?
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
First, for the record, Mr. Kusanosuke wasn't a judge, so try not to read too much in. Secondly, I wasn't a judge, but was obviously privy to the debate. I think the winners were valid in the minds of the judges. The only reason I haven't commented on the stories (and I have been planning to for a long time) is because I've been busy, but maybe I can get around to it this weekend.

As for "why a contest?" - I just like the idea. And although I am always open to suggestion, input, and criticism, for at least next year if no more after I intend to have a contest. Feedback I've gotten from people who don't visit the forum in regards to the concept of a fiction contest has been positive. That doesn't really speak to the quality of execution of the contest, or logic of how people place, but I agree that I think the concept is a good one. Rather than just scrap it, I'd rather figure out how to make it both better and get more interest in writing for it. So I'm open to suggestions there as well.

And as for any of the judges, feel free to comment on any or all of the stories if you want. The writers should keep in mind though that they wish to stay anonymous.
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onnamusha
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 4:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
gozen wrote:
I can only speak for myself. I write for the sheer love of it: for the love of the characters, for the challenges I throw my brain, for the visions I see, for the joy of the research. I write because I love to write. Whether it is mediocre or just plain dross, it really doesn't matter to me at all - I didn't charge money for anyone to read it, so nobody got cheated. Whether anyone reads it or not, that's beyond my control.
Good reasons! I say the same thing about my blog; but it really IS dross! Just Kidding

Quote:


Yes, if all the stories are terrible, the judges will make the least worst story the winner. Probably. But we haven't heard from the judges, don't know why they chose how they did, if they loved some stories, laughed cried or yawned, whether they are era-driven or genre-driven or quality-driven, so we can't know if they thought any or all were disappointing.

Should we assume that this year's entries were all mediocre and the judges are just too polite to say so? We could, but it would be a little mean-spirited, so we probably shouldn't.
I guess I'm used to this, at least the little bit I've experienced. I only ever got a returned story from the "Writers of the Future" contest each time I tried it. No marks or anything. If I hadn't sent a SASE, I wouldn't have even gotten that. But, then again, there were probably hundreds of entries.


Quote:
Who is the competition really for? I can't answer that. I don't know who decided to have the competition, whether the judges had to be coerced into taking part or whether the feelings have been the same every other year the competition has been running. If we were all competent, published writers, we wouldn't enter the competition. But we are ordinary people with a love of Japanese history and a need to express our creativity through writing. We are learning as we go, and improving all the time. Is it really so hard to be supportive of that?
Actually, your point here is a good one. Making the contest a way for people to express a love of Japanese history might provide a spur for new members to join the site. I would think that a contest like this would be for the purpose of promoting the site and its purpose. An author who has an interest and a writer's hand might stick around to really get the facts on a favorite aspect of Japanese history, culture, art, religion, what have you. As long as there is understanding on both sides of the equation, such an arrangment can work. (I do admit being curious about the judges' opinions, but I've learned that I can often wish in one hand...well, if you've heard this one before...) Wink
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Ow! I broke my hand again patting myself on the back! Just Kidding

No good can come of arguing with OK or any other Moderator on this sight. It is not possible to win.

I know the entries are read by people because I read all the entries of previous contests before I ever wrote anything. I think (ouch! that hurts too!) that the very first entry of the very first contest said something like "You have the right to hate it and I have the right to disagree with you" hmm, who was that? Somebody wise. Wink

The purpose of writing is to generate a reaction, I have done that. If you hate it, that was still a reaction. The subject matter of one story is GAY! I hate it that these great men liked other men.It made me feel uncomfortable that they should be this way. That's a fact historians and joke all you want it won't change it. If it offended you shut down the thread, kill the story. I have to edit this later to find out where I read about the age, maybe they were not all 10 years old, but one was and the others could not have been much older. In fact, Kitsuno was on the thread where this idea came to be. He has the power to control anything he wants on his sight,if he didn't like something so much he could just kill it.

Maybe instead of scuttling the contest or questioning it's purpose you could instead get a better class of writer to enter it? I would so love to see how it is really done. I know next to nothing except how to piss people off and that I will enter again so pull the plug! this Frankenstein is out of control Exclamation
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Since I probably have time today and/or tomorrow, I'll post my feedback on a few of the stories. I don't plan to intentionally offend, but nor do I plan to pull any punches.
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 5:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
A.L.Mundell wrote:
Ow! I broke my hand again patting myself on the back! Just Kidding

No good can come of arguing with OK or any other Moderator on this sight. It is not possible to win.

I know the entries are read by people because I read all the entries of previous contests before I ever wrote anything. I think (ouch! that hurts too!) that the very first entry of the very first contest said something like "You have the right to hate it and I have the right to disagree with you" hmm, who was that? Somebody wise. Wink

The purpose of writing is to generate a reaction, I have done that. If you hate it, that was still a reaction. The subject matter of one story is GAY! I hate it that these great men liked other men.It made me feel uncomfortable that they should be this way. That's a fact historians and joke all you want it won't change it. If it offended you shut down the thread, kill the story. I have to edit this later to find out where I read about the age, maybe they were not all 10 years old, but one was and the others could not have been much older. In fact, Kitsuno was on the thread where this idea came to be. He has the power to control anything he wants on his sight,if he didn't like something so much he could just kill it.

Maybe instead of scuttling the contest or questioning it's purpose you could instead get a better class of writer to enter it? I would so love to see how it is really done. I know next to nothing except how to piss people off and that I will enter again so pull the plug! this Frankenstein is out of control Exclamation


1. Who on earth is your post addressed to?
2. What is the point you are trying to make? I never had a problem with the topics anyone has chose to write about.

Wipe away the flecks of foam that are gathering at the corners of your mouth and get prepared for a dose of reality, as I will give some feedback on the top 3 stories. I will say what I think is good and what is bad about each of them--regardless of who authored them. But again, these are objective opinions and only represent what I think. You seem to already have written off me and the other moderators, so you will likely disregard what I have to say about the stories and that is a shame.

And if you have no faith that the moderators can be "moved" on a discussion or issue, as well as seem to believe that you "know next to nothing except how to piss people off" (hard not to agree with you on that point) then why on earth do you still come around here? Are you that hard up for attention, even if it is negative?
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I'll probably only get to one or two a day, but here is my subjective thoughts on Dog in Winter to start. Basically it reflects my own biases and preferences.

Some of the sentences are so long that they are basically run-ons. I'm a huge fan of complex sentences (as evidenced by my own story, Visions of Blood and Rain at the Gates of Dawn) but there is a fine balance between "complex" - which to me means illustrative and vivid, or even poetic, rather than just plain long. I tend to focus on mechanics and description when I write, so that's what I tend to notice when I read. Complex sentences should be a tightly linked collection of thoughts that build on each other as one complete thought. A string of beads rather than a meandering string, if that makes any sense.

Examples, in my opinion:

Good: In the other direction, if one was so lucky to reach the crossroads, the quaint and quiet post town of Tsumago stood watch, its absent castle residing in a ghost world along the path that led countless travelers from Edo to Kyoto or vice-versa—the great Nakasendo. - The sentence is complex, yet one complete thought - although I did notice the word "Absent" - do you mean "Empty"? Otherwise it is a bit of an oxymoron - "the castle on the hill, which wasn't there..."

Not good: An abandoned wooden house stood behind a cluster of thin conifers about a half mile beyond the gate into the passes of the Seinaiji Road towards Iida and the Ina Valley; the snow had drifted halfway up the side of the faded cedar walls. - there is a house, then you are taken away from the house to the scenery, and then suddenly jerked back to the house, sort of like, "There's a house, and passing the house is a road that leads to Rome, where the great emperor Caesar rules all the lands with an iron fist, but next to the house leaned a solitary broom-handle." See what I'm getting at? I'll point you at Wave Toss'd "Stray Dogs" to see a good treatment of complex sentences, as well as Nagaeyari's "Sakuradamongai no hen". I like use of complexity in my own story, but I'm biased Laughing - but I readily admit my third sentence was just plain too long and messy, and probably just confused the reader.

I find this sentence questionable: Their colors and bearing bespoke the Mito ronin who had passed through only weeks ago; they had been followed by the Shogun’s forces under Tanuma, who had condemned his predecessor to seppuku for allowing the ronin to pass through. It is, in fact, very similar to the third sentence of my own story that I've always hated but didn't really know how to fix: The blues and pinks of the kimono of the daughter of the man who had killed my father darkened as her blood soaked into the cloth. It's obvious in both cases that there is something wrong with them, but I can't pinpoint exactly what. Maybe someone else can.

Anyway, the further into the story you go, the less the long sentences show up.

I think sometimes complex words are good, but sometimes they just don't fit the tone. I'd replace words like "Ephemeral" and "Assayed" with something less likely to show up on an SAT exam, but again, just my own opinion.

Also wondering if it might be more "logical" to introduce the month or year into an earlier paragraph, rather than halfway through.

As for the story itself, I thought it was interesting and didn't have any major logical flaws or weak spots, and the ending was good and clean, it tied everything up well.

A little nagging thing that got me was, who in their right mind would have a shoji window to close off the winter? I don't know for a fact it wasn't done, but it seems odd.


Not much of a critique on the story itself, but that's what I have after my first read of it since I first got it months ago. I still intend to have my friend send me his critiques of the stories, so I'll email him now to remind him.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 1:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
I’ve read all top three stories.

Regarding Onnamusha’s first place winner, “A Dog in Winter”, I’ve sent her via email my opinions. I must say, “Dog” has a very interesting story plot. If Onna wants, she is free to post any of the comments from my email that deal with her story.

Regarding Gozen’s “The Stone Steps” I can say it was an easy and straight-forward read that doesn’t really require any previous knowledge of the Yoshitsune saga in order to understand what is going on. I can tell Gozen did some research and I didn’t have much of a problem visualizing the scenes in my head. Maybe it’s because I’m familiar with the location where the “The Stone Steps” takes place and I know the Yoshitsune story. So, Gozen wrote a nice piece and is to be commended for that. I guess the only issue I have with the story is that it was too predictable for me. Maybe this is because I know the story? I don’t know. Also, the format of the boy who is bullied but finds the inner-strength/friend to help persevere has been used quite a bit in literature and film. I do have to thus say that there was nothing that stood out and grabbed me. If I was Randy Jackson and Gozen was performing “The Stone Steps” on American Idol, I’d have to say, “Hey dawg- that was a good effort, but I don’t know…It just didn’t have the ‘yo’ factor going for it with me. You know what I am saying? It’s lacking something to make it memorable.” Seriously, I couldn’t help but to think of Randy Jackson and American Idol, as I did find myself asking out loud, “Where’s the ‘yo’ factor?” From a style perspective, I wouldn’t have minded to see some of the sentences expanded and fleshed out a bit. I felt the prose was a little choppy in some parts.

In summary, Gozen proved she can tell a tale. I’d just like to see some polishing and a little more creativity. Keep at it, Gozen!

A.L. Mundell’s effort, “Ghostmind of Tomoe”, shows that the author does have an active imagination. This is a very valuable asset, if harnessed properly, when it comes to writing fiction. But I do have to say that this story got off to a bad start with me regardless of how I feel about its author. When the second word of a story is misspelled, it sends the wrong message and puts the reader on the lookout for more obvious errors. ‘Tycho’ is spelled ‘taiko’ and a mistake of this nature honestly gives off one or more of the following signals: the writer does not have a firm grasp of Japanese culture, is deficient when it comes to basic research, or just really doesn’t know how to use a Japanese <- -> English dictionary. To see this error was disappointing, as I have on numerous occasions told the author in private correspondence in the past that what a person writes is a reflection of that person’s personality and intellect—and of course, leaves indelible impressions.

A.L. Mundell’s decision to use Japanese terms for weapons and stances was interesting, but what exactly do those fancy Japanese terms mean? Most people who aren’t familiar with samurai weaponry or Japanese martial arts have no clue to what a wakizashi, bokken, shuriken, saya, tachi or yari is or what chudan, jodan or kata means. Regular English words would have worked fine in lieu of the Japanese. Also using these Japanese words in no way enhances the story, but rather detracts from it as readers are likely trying to figure out what these things are. I think it would be best for the author if he goes back and reads the answer Tony Bryant gave in response to the same author’s request for advice to an aspiring samurai fiction writer.

About the story’s dialog—I laughed. I know the author says he writes to get a reaction out of his readers, but I don’t think A.L. Mundell intended to provoke this reaction with the childish dialog he wrote for his characters. This was like reading a creative writing assignment that was submitted for a 9th grade English class. So perhaps this is fine if the audience is comprised of 14 year-olds, but seriously, the dialog needs help. Lots of it.

Also, A.L. had the tendency to dive into the use of flowery literary allusions far too much. These allusions also elicited snickers and laughter. I laughed not because these were funny, but at the sheer audacity of trying to pass them off as being tasteful and clever. The art of the literary allusion can be found in subtlety, not in being presented so garishly and being over-used. Here are some examples of what I mean about the overuse of tacky (pardon me) literary allusions:
-“Tomoe's Spirit drifted like the incense smoke that billowed behind and in front of the orange robed women”
-“As a woman she had turned out as a jewel among flowers, hard and brilliant, while her flower counterparts were soft and colorful. The facets of a jewel were to be wondered at, but a flower was a thing often picked and forgotten. Though no one had ever forgot Tomoe..”
-“She had an ethereal beauty that outshone even the brightest butterflies”
-“he felt the shuriken gaze of this bladed goddess look through him and see his most hidden soul secrets as he locked eyes with her”
-“Tomoe noticed his quaint dialect and her smile blossomed like a country bloom”
-“He remembered the glory of her, the explosion of their love making, like mating hawks, never certain who was taking who as they fell from the sky into the pleasure of a thousand ordinary hearts. He had never tamed her, but like a hawk, she chose to perch upon his fist.”


Get the picture? I think that is enough.

In summary, A.L. Mundell, while showing creativity, needs some help in constructively channeling it. If he is serious about developing and dramatically improving his writing skills, I recommend attending an actual writer’s workshop—the kind that are likely available at local colleges or offered through Saturday morning classes at community centers. I found his writing style, along with the careless grammar and punctuation to be too much of a distraction. Seriously, these faults detracted terribly from what could have maybe (and I stress the word ‘maybe’) been a decent story. To say anything further would be just unjustifiably cruel, so I’ll stop here.

So, you authors wanted feedback, and now I’ve given it—at least for the top three stories. I’m sorry I didn’t sugarcoat anything, but I felt honesty was most important here. I’ve said what I like and what I didn’t like and hopefully this will be taken constructively.

If one of the authors who finished below third place does want me to take a look at their story and give my opinion, let me know.
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Last edited by Obenjo Kusanosuke on Sat Dec 13, 2008 3:00 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 2:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Damned with faint praise - but faint praise is still praise! Thanks for your feedback, I cannot argue with anything you said, except I have no idea who that guy is, the one who says "yo" a lot.

I think the point of my story got lost somewhere between my head and my keyboard. I wanted to ask the question, what if they had met before Gojo Bridge? What if that meeting gave purpose to both their miserable lives - lives that would have ended prematurely, or lives that would have been meaningless without that spur to live on? And if there was no real opposition to taking the story so far away from the myths, then later on I could expand on it further. But I accept that my focus got lost in the predictability of the story, and that's something I can work on. I used to have a problem with writing the longest sentences known to man, but I guess I overdid the compensating for it. Points all taken and absorbed.

A month after the closing date I got down to writing about what happened to Oniwaka after he left Kurama, and I think it's a lot better. I also went back and added more and cleaned up the Stone Steps bit. I intend to continue on with it, hopefully improving as I learn. But it's hard to learn in a vacuum, it's the feedback that helps you see where you are doing okay, and where you have literally lost the plot!

Some of the sentences you picked out that Arthur wrote, I really liked them, and still maintain that he has his own distinct voice when writing, and that gives him an edge over those of us still struggling to find our own style. Please don't trash his potential. All the book-larnin' in the world can't give a writer a unique voice, and too many writers turn out stuff that anybody could have written. We are all still learning and polishing our craft, and know we need direction and constructive criticism. My own writing has improved a lot over the last year, and hopefully will continue to do so. I could have given up at the first sign of criticism, but I took it to be valid and not meant to hurt. That kind of criticism is invaluable, the stuff that hurts is no use to man nor beast.

Thanks for taking the time to read the stories and comment on them, I do appreciate it.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Obenjo Kusanosuke wrote:
Gozen,

I understand where you are coming from and realize the fact that there hasn’t been any feedback has generated a lot of angst among the authors. It probably isn’t helping that I have now waded into this thread, questioning the purpose of the SA fiction contest, at least in its current format.

Again, maybe it's me, but I just don't get it. The format of the contest forces the judges to award 1st, 2nd and 3rd place positions and awards for other stories that *maybe* don't deserve to be ranked. What if all the stories are bad? It doesn’t matter. Awards are still doled out. Again, I’m not saying this is the case with this year’s group of submissions or anything like that, but it begs the question---why give any recognition to a story if the judges really don’t like it? Are the awards given just to make the authors feel good?


Perhaps the contest just isn't your style of event. That's fine. However, as Kitsuno has pointed out, the number of entries has increased, not decreased. That means that samurai fiction writers find value in having a contest. It's not just that we writers want awards just to "make the authors feel good." It's the whole process of writing, revising, giving suggestions. And then giving feedback when it's over. So far, from what I've read, the feedback hasn't been just back-patting. There is praise, and yet at the same time, constructive criticism.
Quote:
The fact that nobody, except the writers themselves, has commented on the stories in public does make me wonder who the contest is for, in terms of who and what are the writers writing for. Officially sanctioned SA recognition? The entertainment of other forum members who represent the mainstream sample of the population that is likely to read samurai fiction? Again, the silence itself unfortunately says something. The brutal truth is that if a story can’t generate attention in terms of garnering positive public reviews, some posts about it, or a private recommendation from a judge or a trusted friend that a story is a “must read”, than the story is likely no more than what it is--just a submission for a samurai fiction contest that not too many people read or didn’t like very much, hence the silence.
I can't speak for other fiction writers. For myself, I don't write for "officially sanction SA recognition." This probably sounds kind of freaky for those who aren't writers. I write because my characters "speak" to me, tell me their stories for me to record in my writings. I'm not literally saying that I hear voices in my head -- I'm not quite ready for the "funny farm" quite yet. Just Kidding However, I think that most writers might understand what I mean -- and perhaps some readers as well.

I see the Samurai Fiction Contest as a medium for me to present my works. Sure it's nice to get an award. But also it's a place where others will read my scribblings. And where I can get feedback. And even if I don't get feedback, that's OK. I know that some people aren't interested in any kind of fiction. I emailed my story to my friend in Osaka. He said that it was "interesting," but he wasn't truly a fiction type; he prefers to study and read non-fictional works. Nothing at all wrong with that.
Quote:

I believe if a person wants to write samurai fiction, then write--contest or no contest. If you think you have an interesting tale to tell and can convey it in a well-written form, then go for it. There shouldn't have to be an SA fiction contest to motivate people. If the story is good, then submit it to the Shogun. If he and others think it has merit, perhaps it can be posted on the main SA page for download. Otherwise, submit your stories to publishers and see what they have to say. If they like your work, then all is well and you will be published. After all, isn’t that what the authors aspire towards?
There doesn't have to be a fiction contest. But I find it quite a bit fun. The SA Archives has been a rather unique place where unpublished and aspiring samurai fiction writers have been welcomed to submit fiction, receive feedback, and get encouragement from a contest that the SA Archives site runs. I appreciate the SA Forum for its activities in supporting and encouraging samurai fiction writers who are trying to develop their skills. So as a writer and an enthusiastic reader of samurai fiction, I do not believe that the SA Fiction Contest is worthless. I look forward to next year's contest. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 7:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
gozen wrote:
Please don't trash his potential.


He wasn't - he was trashing the current state. It could potentially get better.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 8:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Ah! OK! Smile
My post was a torpedo meant to explode on whoever felt like commenting. Sure you aim at the big ships Just Kidding but if it missed there are more in the tubes Very Happy

If you look at the history of awards and contests they grow in prestige over time. In my opinion, this sight will only grow in its value and importance concerning the subject matter. The "new" dynamic of the info age will see an addition in circulation that will increase annually the value of the contest.

As to your critiques. I can't argue with them. Accept this offering of salt but I won't surrender.
Meanwhile,I have to write even while I learn just to sweat out the poison. Wink
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 8:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Here is my second critique, this time for The Stone Steps.

Generally speaking, the sentence structure was less complex and polished than Dog in Winter. A major issue I found is that I didn't think there was enough description of the surrounding environment or characters - it was a little flat in that respect. It was hard to build a mental picture of the story, more description and depth would have added depth and color to the story. It is almost all dialogue, which can work with the right writing style, but in this case the lack of description of people and environs prevents a smooth flow.

The "reveal" at the end really killed it for me, but as you mentioned later on, that was accidental (speaking of which, if you tell me exactly what you want to change it to, I can take care of that). The judges felt that the reveal didn't work, and thought maybe a final paragraph of Benkei as an adult, revealed as thinking back on his childhood or something along those lines, or a less painfully obvious reveal, would have really made it work.

Minor quibble - "Flight of stairs" seems too modern, it doesn't seem to fit the feeling of a stone stairway. Maybe "set" of stairs?

All in all it is a cohesive story, but in my opinion lacked an entire dimension - the setting (description) of the environment and people - which I think is why it probably fell in behind "Dog in Winter" - that along with the ending. A reworking of the ending, and more development of setting the stage and description, would really clean this up.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 1:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Thanks for your comments, Kitsuno. Boy, I really screwed up on this story! The point of it was never meant to be that Oniwaka was Benkei, it was about deciding whether to accept the fate that everyone tells you is yours, or to decide your own. Yoshitsune's fate could never have been that of a monk, and yet fighting against it could have gotten him killed. What I wanted was to show that he was never going to conform in a society that demands conformity, but his fighting against it was futile - everyone told him so. Then he met Oniwaka, who showed him that non-conformity was sometimes thrust upon you by something like appearance, which he had no control over. Yet Oniwaka's strength and attitude was just what he needed to understand that he could decide his own fate.

As for descriptions, believe me, that version is better than the first draft! Because of the word limit, I wanted to get character development in, and keep the momentum moving, rather than get bogged down in too much description. That's purely a matter of personal taste: I hate too much description and tend to skim over it unless it's relevant to the story. I don't want to know every item of dress, every wrinkle, every ray of sunshine,especially when it goes on too long. Some people love lots of flowery prose, some don't and want to get to the meat of the story. Like I say, it's personal taste.

Flight of stairs, yes I agree, not the best term to use. Things like that usually stand out like the dog's proverbials for me, and I usually manage to avoid writing them. It's another thing I missed (and there is a word missing too. Dammit, a hundred read throughs and still that happens.)

I appreciate your comments, and understand better now that whatever my vision may be, whatever point I am trying to make, I have to work harder to ensure that the reader sees it the way I do, but not overdo it. A good learning experience for me. Thank you.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 1:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
gozen wrote:
Because of the word limit, I wanted to get character development in, and keep the momentum moving, rather than get bogged down in too much description. That's purely a matter of personal taste: I hate too much description and tend to skim over it unless it's relevant to the story. I don't want to know every item of dress, every wrinkle, every ray of sunshine,especially when it goes on too long. Some people love lots of flowery prose, some don't and want to get to the meat of the story. Like I say, it's personal taste.



There is a happy medium. Naked Talking Mannequins on an Empty Stage can be as bad as too much description. You want the reader to envision and enter the story, unless you are writing dialogue for a play. Hard to get sucked in when you don't know where the heck anyone is or what anyone looks like.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 2:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
What Kitsuno says about your story, Gozen, is interesting. I think I was able to visualize the action in terms of where it was taking place, only because I know the location. For those who haven't been to Kurama, then I think they'd struggle.

Kurama is an eerie place and I think you probably could insert a description of the surrounding landscape to help paint a better mental image for the reader. If it was my story, I'd really want to do everything possible to make the reader feel the fear that young Yoshitsune had as he made his way through the pre-dawn woods around the temple complex.

Here are two pictures that I snapped when at Kurama. Do me a favor. Look at them and list the words that these photos envoke and please share those with us.




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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 5:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
kitsuno wrote:
I'll probably only get to one or two a day, but here is my subjective thoughts on Dog in Winter to start. Basically it reflects my own biases and preferences.
<snip>
Complex sentences should be a tightly linked collection of thoughts that build on each other as one complete thought. A string of beads rather than a meandering string, if that makes any sense.
Examples, in my opinion:

Good: In the other direction, if one was so lucky to reach the crossroads, the quaint and quiet post town of Tsumago stood watch, its absent castle residing in a ghost world along the path that led countless travelers from Edo to Kyoto or vice-versa—the great Nakasendo. - The sentence is complex, yet one complete thought - although I did notice the word "Absent" - do you mean "Empty"? Otherwise it is a bit of an oxymoron - "the castle on the hill, which wasn't there..."

You've definitely pinpointed a problem that I have with conciseness. I had been way out of practice with structured writing when I decided to attempt to enter this contest, and I think my expository skills and the flow of logic in my prose is pretty rusty. As for the absent castle at Tsumago, I had read in a source (I can't remember exactly where now) that the stones of the castle had been taken away and re-used at other sites, thus a castle that is "absent," i.e., taken away. Having no visual cue, I assumed it was ruins and dismantled, sort of a ghost of its former glory, no longer a castle--not empty, but sort of "not there anymore," if this makes sense. I actually have no idea if this is correct or not but it fit the theme and atmosphere of my story, so I tried to suggest it in this way.
Quote:

Not good: An abandoned wooden house stood behind a cluster of thin conifers about a half mile beyond the gate into the passes of the Seinaiji Road towards Iida and the Ina Valley; the snow had drifted halfway up the side of the faded cedar walls. - there is a house, then you are taken away from the house to the scenery, and then suddenly jerked back to the house, sort of like, "There's a house, and passing the house is a road that leads to Rome, where the great emperor Caesar rules all the lands with an iron fist, but next to the house leaned a solitary broom-handle." See what I'm getting at? I'll point you at Wave Toss'd "Stray Dogs" to see a good treatment of complex sentences, as well as Nagaeyari's "Sakuradamongai no hen". I like use of complexity in my own story, but I'm biased Laughing - but I readily admit my third sentence was just plain too long and messy, and probably just confused the reader.
Wow, you're right, and I didn't even think of that. It makes me think that perhaps I would stand a chance in the Bulwer-Lytton bad fiction writing contest after all! http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/

Quote:
I find this sentence questionable: Their colors and bearing bespoke the Mito ronin who had passed through only weeks ago; they had been followed by the Shogun’s forces under Tanuma, who had condemned his predecessor to seppuku for allowing the ronin to pass through. It is, in fact, very similar to the third sentence of my own story that I've always hated but didn't really know how to fix: The blues and pinks of the kimono of the daughter of the man who had killed my father darkened as her blood soaked into the cloth. It's obvious in both cases that there is something wrong with them, but I can't pinpoint exactly what. Maybe someone else can.
Both you and Obenjo pointed out the confusion about the story of the Mito ronin being interwoven in my story, and perhaps that tortured sentence is emblematic of that problem. I just haven't gotten familiar enough with the subject matter or skilled enough with exposition to provide a clear picture of the events related to the march of the Tengu-to. As Obenjo put it, the goal is:
Quote:
I guess what I am trying to convey is that a good writer of historical fiction can capture the essence of the historical background and seamlessly
weave it into the tapestry against which a story is set.
This is a goal to seek as the ideal; I'm barely a few steps into the journey, but I begin to see how difficult a job this is to do well.

Quote:

I think sometimes complex words are good, but sometimes they just don't fit the tone. I'd replace words like "Ephemeral" and "Assayed" with something less likely to show up on an SAT exam, but again, just my own opinion.
Would you believe I use words like this in everyday speech? As I said, I'm a bit out of practice and probably out of touch with a regular audience. I know I had problems getting the story out of my head and into a semblance of shape on the page; as I've suggested to the other writers here, it is so difficult to look at one's story from a perspective different from one's own. I am most guilty of this!
Quote:
As for the story itself, I thought it was interesting and didn't have any major logical flaws or weak spots, and the ending was good and clean, it tied everything up well.

A little nagging thing that got me was, who in their right mind would have a shoji window to close off the winter? I don't know for a fact it wasn't done, but it seems odd.
That was probably one of the "visual effect" passages that didn't get enough fact-checking. Obenjo pointed out several problems with the little details of the story that point to my inexperience and unfamiliarity with everyday things in 1860's Japan:
Quote:
But I wasn't convinced that I felt like I was a witness to a story taking place at a barrier checkpoint. Did you research what these were like?
I've been to one-the most famous of them all-at Hakone, and that gave me an idea of what they must have been like, even if Hakone was a major one on the
Tokkaido and not a minor one on the Nakasendo. Also, kind of like I mentioned earlier about knowing about everyday life of the times, you wrote
that Naomichi had a straw pillow. I could be wrong, but I'd be willing to wager that he had a pillow filled with buckwheat kernels(soba balls), not
straw. Sorry if this does sound nitpicky, but I thrive on realism.
As I lamented to Obenjo, I probably should have consulted the book Everyday Things in Premodern Japan and perhaps done a little more work on re-creating the feel of an 1860's barrier station. He also thought I had been feeding the dog mochi, which would be a big mistake; this arose due to my misuse of the term "rice cake(mochi)" when I should have said "rice ball (onigiri)."

So, it does need some serious re-working, but I appreciate your both taking the time to critique it as closely as you have. It gives me more of an idea of my weak points and reminds me I need to practice "making sense" quite a lot more! Many thanks![/url]
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
gozen wrote:
Thanks for your comments, Kitsuno. Boy, I really screwed up on this story! The point of it was never meant to be that Oniwaka was Benkei, it was about deciding whether to accept the fate that everyone tells you is yours, or to decide your own.
Ooops, I thought that Oniwaka was Benkei. So perhaps there was a bit too much of Benkei (as I think of him) in your portrayal of Oniwaka. When you are dealing with real, historical figures, one has to remember that many people have their own ideas about them. So when I read about Oniwaka, I immediately thought, "Ah! That's Benkei in his youth!"
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Wave Tossed wrote:
Ooops, I thought that Oniwaka was Benkei.


He is - Gozen meant that this was not supposed to be the point of the story - but as it is written, that is exactly how it is. The "mysterious reveal" method is used to punctuate the main idea of a story.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 6:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
onnamusha wrote:
I actually have no idea if this is correct or not but it fit the theme and atmosphere of my story, so I tried to suggest it in this way.


I guess my point is that something that is "absent" can't "reside" there. Replace "absent" and "reside" with something more obvious, like "the remains of the castle", "castle remains", etc.


onnamusha wrote:
Would you believe I use words like this in everyday speech? As I said, I'm a bit out of practice and probably out of touch with a regular audience. I know I had problems getting the story out of my head and into a semblance of shape on the page; as I've suggested to the other writers here, it is so difficult to look at one's story from a perspective different from one's own. I am most guilty of this!


Mainly the problem is putting in "big" words when the prose has been average up to that point. They stick out, in a bad way. Big words are sort of an all or none proposition in writing. Peppering them in randomly makes them stand out as too obvious.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2008 8:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
When I wrote the story I had not yet been to Kurama. Now I have, I went there last month, and so have a much better idea of what it is like, and yes, it is a mystical, magical place. When I got there, it had just stopped raining, and the surrounding hills were bathed in mist, the autumn foliage was some of the most beautiful I saw in Japan, the peace and tranquility most certainly had undercurrents of kami lurking in the forest. And I could understand better the tengu myths. It really was that kind of place.
I was going to insert my own picture here, but for the life of me I cannot work out how to do it!

Overall, I'm completely nonplussed about the description criticism. Is it just the landscape that needs more? Is it the people? Bearing in mind that it's almost entirely from Shanao's POV, where should I have put more, yet maintained the momentum of the story? In a novel it's different, I can really go to town on building the atmosphere. In a short story with a word limit, I have to be careful. And I really thought there was plenty of description in there, certainly enough to give the reader a feel for the place and the people in it, without being florid or laboured.

As for the Oniwaka/Benkei thing, people who knew the story would immediately get that one was the other. People who didn't know would make the connection with the phrase "the boy who would become Benkei" - except that I left those all too important words out. But it really wasn't meant to be a surprise, it was a question: what if they had met as children, and would that have influenced their fates/destinies. Is this how Yoshitsune helped change the fate of Japan, when he decided his own fate?
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 14, 2008 6:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
kitsuno wrote:
Wave Tossed wrote:
Ooops, I thought that Oniwaka was Benkei.


He is - Gozen meant that this was not supposed to be the point of the story - but as it is written, that is exactly how it is. The "mysterious reveal" method is used to punctuate the main idea of a story.
That's what I thought; looks like I misunderstood Gozen's original explanation (but then I misunderstand a lot of things Just Kidding ). Oniwaka was Benkei in his younger days.

However, I also got the point that the story was about Shanao's (Yoshitsune's) over coming his obstacles during his younger days. Though the reference to Oniwaka/Benkei was important, I didn't see this as the main part of the story.

Gozen: after your visit to Kurama, I know that your writings about Shanao/Yoshitsune will be outstanding. Because now that you've seen the country, you know exactly what it looks like.
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