To read the Round 6 stories, visit this LINK.

To read the Round 6 voting results, visit this LINK.


The Initial Read-through:

Every round, I seem to follow a different strategy for selecting my top 10. This round, I had a bit of a tough time even finding a top 5 that I REALLY liked. I don’t want to make it sound like the writers didn’t do a good job, because I know how hard it s to write under this sort of pressure and under the strict guidelines of the prompts. However, on the first read-through, as I marked each “yes,” “maybe,” and “no” based on my initial reaction, I only had three stories marked “yes”: 15 (“Second Thoughts”), 23 (“Little White Lies”), and 24 (“Something Borrowed”). At this point, I also had three stores marked “maybe/yes”: 14 (“Let’s Make a Deal”), 39 (“Afternoon in the Sun”), and 40 (“12 Years”). And finally, I had seventeen maybes, varying from “meh” to “pretty good.”

After the first read-through, I went back and re-read all of the stories, hacking my “maybe” list way down to four: 22 (“The Dustman Only Comes…”), 32 (“Black and white”), 36 (“The Game Changer”), and 43 (“Random Acts”).

I set the list aside for a few hours at this point and then came back to rank the stories based on a few particular criteria, in order to avoid bias as much as I could in this final stage.


Criteria:

Is the story truly erotic? 

Are the characters well-developed? Do I care about them?

Is there a plot/conflict to add tension?

Is it unique? Does it stand out? What makes it memorable?

Are there any negatives that might detract from the story?


I was actually a little surprised how the cards fell after doing this, because it did change the initial rough ranking I had considered.

The stories with the highest ranking given these criteria were 23, 38, and 43.

The next level: 14, 22, 36, and 40.

The last: 15 and 24.

BUT…15 and 24 were just better stories in my opinion, so I ended up giving them more points and ranking them higher.


Here’s how it all ended up:

“Liberation” and “Little White Lies” had the best twists. They stuck with me long after I read them. From the first reading, they had that little something that set them apart. They were well-written and unique, complete stories with interesting characters and memorable conflicts.

“Random Acts,” “Let’s Make a Deal,” and “Second Thoughts” followed close behind. They were sexy, different, and written well. While they weren’t quite as striking or memorable to me as the first two, they were still quite good.

I wanted to LOVE “Something Borrowed,” but it was less erotic than the others. It was a unique concept, though, and earned a rightful place in my top ten.

I also wanted to LOVE “The Game Changer,” but the end fell just a little flat for me. Maybe it was that last line.

And “The Dustman Only Comes…” earned a place at the bottom of my top 10 mainly because the sparse language, while poetic in places, was actually a little jarring in others. The fragments didn’t always feel intentional, but rather a quick and easy way to cut words. The content was original, even if it did seem a bit unrealistic that the Dustman would just show up and fuck the main character so quickly without a bit more lead up.

Sometimes I think the word count pushes us to rush our scenes and gloss over events to get to the meat of the story. And while I can accept that for the most part, occasionally it leaves me with too many questions.

I looked past those questions because the writing was good enough and the premise stood out enough.

This was the case with “12 Years,” too. I really wanted to know what “the very bad thing” was that happened. And not ever finding out kind of detracted from the story for me. The use of numbers created momentum and was a unique strategy for tying the events of the story together.

Most other stories that didn’t make the cut either had little or no conflict/plot (too much emphasis on creating a sexy scene and not enough emphasis on creating an interesting story for that scene to be a part of) or just weren’t unique or memorable in any way.

I don’t think any of these stories were particularly bad. But, it’s important to know that in a competition like this, the story has to 1) be erotic, 2) be well-written, 3) have interesting characters, 4) actually tell a story, 5) stand out in some way. If your piece misses even one of those elements, it’s not likely going to make it very far – at least with me.

As a competition writer, you have to imagine that readers are processing 44 stories. If yours doesn’t instantly draw them in, give them something to hang on to, and leave them with something unforgettable, it won’t be a story they come back to.

And you won’t make it to the next round.


Post-Result Commentary:

I’m always interested to see how differently the votes land between the readers and the jury…and then how differently the jury members vote.

Obviously, I agree with the public on a few. “12 Years” and “Little White Lies” were both high on the public vote. But for the public, “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” won. That story wasn’t even in my top ten. And “Husband and Wife” and “Group Shot” were both second runners up. Neither of these made my list, either.

“Something Borrowed, Something Blue” made first runner up for the jury, and “Group Shot” made second runner up.

So why didn’t I pick these stories?

From the very first reading, I felt that “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” had a different point of view, but it was more monologue than plot. I personally didn’t find it to stand out much. In fact, the part that was action and was intended to be erotic (the final paragraphs about the bride and groom consecrating their vows) just fell sort of flat for me. It felt a bit melodramatic, something I might read in a romance novel. And maybe that was the draw for other readers…that swell of emotion there right at the end. Many comments on this story praised it for having a unique point of view. I personally didn’t find it unique. This is a common exercise in creative writing classes and I find it rather tired and unnatural to write from the point of view of an object.

“Husband and Wife” smacked too similarly of Roald Dahl’s “The Landlady” for me to select it. If I’d never read that story, I might have found this story to be very original and creepy in all the right ways. Plus, it had great dialogue and set the scene perfectly with sensory details. As it stands, it felt like a knock-off. Knowing now who wrote it, it likely wasn’t. Probably just an unfortunate coincidence.

After I read “Group Shot,” I didn’t even know what to say. Usually I can look past the sexual activity and see a story for what it is. I don’t have to be “into” the type of activity to find a story good or sexy (case in point: “The Game Changer”). In the case of “Group Shot,” I found myself a little grossed out. Even though the idea was original, I let my own personal opinion sway me in this story. I couldn’t get past the content enough to look for any of the other criteria. That goes to show just how subjective this stuff can be.

Since we all pretty much first chose stories we “like” then dig deeper to see what is really good about them, the nature of voting is an inconsistent beast. No matter how subjective I try to be, running my choices through charts and selecting “unbiased” criteria by which to measure them, it still always starts with stories that initially catch my interest in a positive way. I think the only way to avoid that is to have a computer do the voting. When we remove the human element, the voting might be more “subjective” but would it really have as grand an impact?

After all, writing for an audience and reading what others write is an intimate transaction done only by humans. Unlike television and other sorts of entertainment, writers give their words to others knowing they will not be able to explain them and will not be able to answer questions. They have to hope their message is received as intended, the picture they paint – seen, the characters they build – loved or hated. And, as we all know, we have our favorite styles, genres, writers…for a reason. Because they speak to us. Because we like how they write. We like their content. But while one person is obsessed with Stephen King, another reviles him, preferring Marcel Proust or Neil Gaiman or David Guterson or…

There is nothing to change that. And nothing that should.


The next round:

It gets tough from this point on! And I am sooooo…looking forward to being a jury-member at this stage of the game. It’s hard to process as many stories as have been in the competition to this point. Sometimes, good writing gets lost in the seas, and I fear that personal bias, no matter how hard I try to train it, can push perfectly wonderful stories to the bottom of the pile because there are just so darn many to choose from.

When we began, there were over 100 contestants. This last round, there were 44. But, now, each round will be a “knock-out” round. It’s anybody’s game from here. And that means keeping bias in check is even more important. Of course, with writing, we choose what we like first. I’m not going to apologize for that. When a story grabs a reader, there are usually good reasons for that. Usually, the content is catching and the style is appealing. If you are a jury member, selecting a story can just be about that. As a jury member, that can be a start, be I feel I have to be able to justify my choices more specifically. Why are they my favorites and why are they better than others? If I can support a choice…if it’s just because I like it better…that might not be enough. But, I’m also not willing to choose a story simply because it is stylistically superior or follows the prompt the best. If I don’t connect with it and if it doesn’t grab in the gut, no matter how well-written it is, that’s not enough.

Going forward, I hope writers consider my criteria. Obviously, a writer should write for him or herself first, but after that, it’s not a bad idea to revise with the readers and judges in mind. I want to make my criteria plain and easy to follow, because sometimes it can feel so confusing to figure out just what our readers are looking for. I know I vote differently than others, and others are looking for different criteria. Look back through comments and such to find out just what other jury members’ criteria are.

First off, make sure to follow the prompt and instructions carefully!

Then…create an engaging story with solid characters that readers will find appealing. Try to do something (ANYTHING) that will make your story stand out against the others. Avoid the most obvious story ideas. Genre makes little difference, but you might want to look at the top selections from each stage of the game so far. What have readers and judges liked most overall?

Make sure to add tension/conflict to your plot. Often, I’ve noticed people writing great scenes that have no real exposition/rising action/climax/resolution. Unless the prompt specifically asks for a “scene,” AVOID IT. I know that is hard, but you should be getting more words to work with from here on out…so take advantage of that and, for goodness’ sake, please write a full story.

It can also be effective to do something in the end of the story that ties it to the title or the beginning in some way. A twist…a powerful final line…humor…something creepy…something that grabs the reader emotionally in some way or uncovers a mystery. Also, don’t forget…this is a SMUT marathon…so make it sexy! I’ve read some great stories that I’ve not chosen for lack of the erotic.

Last but not least…have fun! And good luck! I’m so looking forward to the next round!

3 Replies to “Smut Marathon Round 6 – My Vote, Thoughts, and Advice for the Next Round”

  1. Quite correct Beatrix. I read plenty of Roald Dahl to my children twenty five years ago but I’ve never read ‘The Landlady.’ Thanks for the complimentary comments though.

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