This was my first time to compete in one of the NYC Midnight competitions. Spending money to write in a competition is not something I would normally do, but for $20 (after a $5 coupon for sharing on social media) I figured I would give it a try.
I made it to the second round after a really great first round. However, I didn’t not even make it as an honorable mention this time. All I can say is, “oh well.” It really is a level field, all “luck of the draw”. I got a set of words to work with that I just wan’t able to be any more creative with and ended up using a lot of “cliche” phrases just to get done. While I like the main character and in my mind had more of a vision of the events, that is the whole challenge: you only get 250 words. After getting the feedback from this round I really wasn’t surprised at anything. With both entries, it seemed I got one judge that didn’t “get” the story. I’m wondering if that is my lack of ability, or if they just imagined something else?
Second Round Reviews
One of the biggest selling points to the NYC Midnight competitions are getting valuable feedback from the judges for each submission. Honestly, I didn’t share my first round feedback because it was crap–if you’re going to point out something you didn’t like, you need to offer a reason and/or a solution. This round’s feedback had much more substance to it and offers some great suggestions to go with the critique. To preserve anonymity judges are given numbers–you will never know them and they will never know you. My purpose of sharing is to show the quality of feedback in case anyone else is thinking about participating in the future.
I will note, the email uses the terms ” WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY” and ” WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK”. For the sake of space, I’m calling it what it is. Another thing is the feedback is obviously done via webform and arrives rather sloppily. I’ve separated the text much neater, but I did not change any wording.
Pros: There are many thrilling and suspenseful moments in this story that riveted me as a reader. For example, the line “He was alone aboard the USS Titania 6000 as it plummeted into a spiraling black hole” and “He ran his fingers over the control panel knowing that nothing would change his course.” The ending is beautifully rendered and satisfying.
Cons: One optional avenue in revision you might choose to take is to freshen up the language a little bit, as it is a vivid story and you might create some language to match that. For example, smell “dancing” in nostrils is something I’ve read many times before, perhaps pick another word. Similarly, the metaphor “like lenses of truth” is abstract and somewhat generic. You could potentially clear up some space by focusing on the strongest language so that, for example, if you cut the first line, it might read, “Captain Kasian was alone aboard the USS Titania 6000 as it plummeted into a spiraling black hole. Climbing aboard the bridge, Kasian peered into…”and from here, add details description of what he does see.
Pros: You do a great job of sustaining the suspense even as the captain is hurtling towards his inevitable death.
Cons: I think there’s opportunity for a twist or new development at the end. Perhaps the captain finds some way to enact a little revenge against his wife.
Pros: I like this vivid description of Kasian as he waited for death: “Kasian peered into the vortex of his reality through massive windows like lenses of truth.” The final words of Kasian’s faithless wife create an ironic ending. Kasian’s sangfroid despite his ship’s plummeting into a spiraling black hole makes him an appealing protagonist.
Cons: I think you might consider a title with more subtlety that blends better with Captain Kasian’s voice and personality. Perhaps remove any suggestion that he caused the ship’s plummeting. I think it would make him a more admirable character.
My Judgement of the Judges
I am very grateful for the thoughts and suggestions. My take-away, however, is that you simply cannot please everyone. You’ll notice what one judge complimented, another critiqued in the case of “like lenses of truth”. Additionally, judge 1504 did not like my title and wasn’t a fan of any implication that my character committed suicide. When writing this story I had in mind exactly what happened but intentionally did not specify. You can read the story for yourself and see what you think. Personally, I find the ambiguity to be an interesting aspect and often (as with this story) intentionally leave stories open for interpretation, knowing that readers of many backgrounds will add themselves to the story and form their own conclusions. At the bottom of this post I’ll share what really happened in my mind that I did not include in the original 250 entry.
Treachery of the Stars
Captain Kasian’s end wasn’t as dramatic or loud as one may think: no sirens, no bright red lights, no screaming. He was alone aboard the USS Titania 6000 as it plummeted into a spiraling black hole.
Climbing aboard the bridge, Kasian peered into the vortex of his reality through massive windows like lenses of truth. He ran his fingers over the control panel knowing that nothing would change his course.
“That ship has sailed,” He chuckled to himself.
Sinking back into his broad captain’s chair, he drew a crumpled envelope from his pocket. The smell of lavender and vanilla danced in his nostrils as Kasian opened the letter for one last time; the sweet scent only sickened him as he read the words, reliving his last day at the colony.
He had just returned from a mission, still garbed in a greasy uniform and the smell of mechanical fluids. Swinging open the door with eagerness, he expected to be greeted with open arms and a kiss on the neck. Instead, Kasian found only an empty home and a note. Written in over accentuated script, just like her handwriting always had been, was her sanctimonious reason. Evidently, being the wife of the captain of the finest Starfleet wasn’t good enough if he was never home.
In his final voyage, Kasian shed no tears for his faithless wife. He didn’t call her name. He only muttered the last words of her letter as his world crashed in,
“This time, don’t come back.”
When Captain Kasian found his wife’s note he was PISSED, to say the least. Who knows what would have ensued if he had confronted her in person, but he turned to the only thing he felt he had left: his ship. Kasian set off with no intended destination. He didn’t have a plan, but he wasn’t intending anything further than speeding through space and blowing off some steam. An experienced captain doesn’t just happen across a black hole that he didn’t know about and accidentally get sucked in unless he was doing something there.
As Kasian joy rides away from his home planet, a distress signal comes through his receiver. He isn’t one to ignore a call for help, so he sets off to assist.
When Kasian arrives it is too late. Whatever sent the signal is already gone and debri is all that remain at the edge of the force pulling into the black hole. The mistake was made by answering the call at all–his ship begins to be pulled into the massive pit of darkness as well. Kasian chooses not send a distress signal, knowing the next person will end up in the exact same situation.
As the inevitable ensues, Kasian accepts his fate too easily because he was already crushed. His intentions were to return home and potentially move on, but his final words repeating the message on the note represent a curse as if his wife caused his ultimate demise by wishing this event upon him.