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March 6, 2002

The Wharfinger Prize for Creative Writing is pleased to honor Shapeshifter Story by TenMinJoe. We always did like science fiction, and we also like stories that are fun to read, and tell us a story. You may notice that it's got some features in common with John W. Campbell, Jr.'s "Who Goes There?" (movified at least once as The Thing), but the two points it hinges on are original as far as we know.

Honorable mentions to NatchLucid for Cheap Regrets, Great Wine, and to karmaflux for the far fields come spinning back into play (which broke the "no goddamn breakups for Christ's sake" rule but got away with it).

Read all three stories. NOW. You know what? Read A Flight Over the Atlantic, too. That one's pretty neat.

Thanks to everybody who submitted work. You rule.

2001 was a great year on E2 (with some painful exceptions). We made enormous strides in improving the quality and quantity of factual writeups, and in moving personal stuff to daylogs. We gained the Content Rescue Team, just about the best thing that ever happened here. We gained a lot of new users who bring joy to our hearts. A lot of old users rose to the occasion, and they bring us joy as well. The only place where we made very little progress was in "creative" writing. When I look at what I've been spending my C!s on, they're almost invariably factual. I love good factual writeups, but they're not our whole mission here.

The reason for the lag in creative writing quality is simple: Here on E2, we have policies. There are certain harsh limits on the latitude we can exercise in deleting your "creative" writing. The fact that it sucks isn't necessarily enough. This is because we in management don't have a clear consensus about what defines "good creative writing".

What, then, can I do to improve the quality of "creative" writing around here in a meaningful way? I've been asking myself this question for many months, and I keep getting the same answer:

I can bribe you. By God, I will.

Thus, the Wharfinger Prize for Creative Writing. This is a sort of permanent Everything Quest. At most once a week, I will pick a winning writeup and anoint it with a C!. I'll award the author 100 XP and some choice advertising real estate on my homenode until I pick another winner. Consider my infamy: This is real exposure you're looking at. You and your winner will also be listed permanently in this node. If a week goes by and I don't see anything that deserves to win, nothing will win that week.

Here are the rules:

  1. Write something genuinely good. I define "good" as follows:

    1. Concreteness. No vague babble. If there's an image, the reader should be able to visualize what you're talking about.

    2. If what you're talking about is your emotions, tell your shrink instead. No navel-gazing, sorry.

    3. "Show, don't tell": Don't tell us "his heart crashed in a thousand thundering jagged shattered fragments to the cold stone floor of her brutal uncaring feminine indifference while her sensuous crystalline lips chewed the bejesus out of his inchoate and unspeakable dreams of the vast and undefined future". That's gibberish. Don't do that. Instead, put us in the character's shoes. Make us see what he's seeing and remember what he remembers, and we'll feel what he's feeling in spite of ourselves.

    4. Write gracefully. Don't try too hard. Don't try to be "poetic" (if it happens, it happens, but don't force it and don't sacrifice meaning for glitzy fluff). The prose should rarely, if ever, call attention to itself. It should never call attention to the author at all, unless the author is the subject of the piece. Tell the story. Anything else is an annoyance.

    5. Make sense. Disjunct fragments are rarely interesting. I'm not patient with people who try to market laziness as "experimentation".

    6. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation count. UK spelling will be tolerated, and I promise I won't even make fun of you.

    7. I'm not fond of pornography and I see no need to encourage it.

    8. You can break any rule you like if and only if you're a hell of a writer and you make the piece work anyway. That's my call, I'm afraid.

    9. I reserve the right to add more constraints later on. Writeups submitted before a constraint is added will not be subject to that constraint.

    If your piece doesn't meet these criteria, I'll explain why in as much detail as you're willing to tolerate. I'll work with you on improving it if you're interested.

  2. The writeup must be new work, submitted since the Prize was initiated.

  3. Send me a link to your writeup. I may just happen to stumble over it, but don't count on that. Give the laws of probability a boost and drop me a line. You can nominate somebody else's writeup, too.

  4. If I catch you plagiarizing, I'll clobber you even worse than I normally would.

  5. Users whose writing I already admire are disqualified, because they don't need bribes. They're doing everything right already. Besides, they don't need the exposure. I'd much rather support and encourage new users who haven't made a name for themselves yet. My "disqualified list" includes but is not limited to Halspal, junkpile, dannye, donfreenut, rischi, riverrun, Igloowhite, and Demeter. I'm sure there are others who don't spring to mind at the moment. If you submit a writeup and I shamelessly kiss your ass but reject the submission, you're on the list. If you win often enough, you'll be added to the list.

  6. Friends of mine are discouraged from participating, because of the conflict of interest. If they do enter, they'll be held to higher standards than anybody else. "It is a far, far better thing..." I'm sure you'll understand.

  7. If any of these rules turns out to be counterproductive, I reserve the right to change it, with benefit of grandfather clause for submissions made prior to the change.

  8. If this Prize is used as an excuse for submitting crap, we will be very, very displeased.

Why am I calling it the Wharfinger Prize rather than the E2 Prize? Because E2's not judging it. I am. I don't pretend to represent anybody but myself here. That's the whole point. This is not an election.

Since people seem to care, here's a link to my homenode.