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Jessepinwheel
12-24-2014, 10:27 PM
"If we shadows have offended,
Think but this and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear."

Your eyes snap open when you hear the bells.

What's happening?

You blink a few times until your eyes adjust to the darkness and realize that you're...in a bed. Your heart is pounding in your chest and you can feel cold sweat at the back of your neck. Maybe this is just another trick.

In the distance, the bell hits its twelfth chime and your eyes widen.

You sit up, throwing your covers off, and look around. You're back where you were when you slept. Safe.

You strain your mind to remember everything that happened, but it's already slipping away. Old friends, overwhelming fear, warped time… Was that all really just a dream?

You open your hand and see those little tokens, pure black and dusted with distant stars. They burn hot for a moment and flash brightly, temporarily blinding you. Your vision returns just soon enough to let you see them dissipate into white smoke, then nothing. It's as if they had never been there.

You can't help but stare at your empty palm for a while. A slow smile creeps its way across your face.

You did it.

You survived the Valley of Dreams.

Congratulations.
The Valley of Dreams has finally come to an end, and I am proud to present our conclusion. It's been a long time coming.

First off: Our final round results. If you missed it, you can check it out here. (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?88820-wRHG-Tournament-The-Final-Dream-Timed-Transgression)
BoomerangReturns (lost)
Tokens: 7
Round Score: 71
Cumulative Score: 282
Scores: 35/31/0/5/0

ErrorBlender (won)
Tokens: 6-2
Round Score: 76
Cumulative Score: 288
Scores: 40/26/0/10/0

And now, our final standings:

1. BoomerangReturns
Tokens: 7
Final Score: 282
Rounds Completed: 4
Deals with the Devil: 0

2. ErrorBlender
Tokens: 4
Final Score: 288
Rounds Completed: 4
Deals with the Devil: 2

3. WafflesMgee
Tokens: 1
Final Score: 199
Rounds Completed: 2
Deals with the Devil: 0

4. Nikx232
Tokens: 1
Final Score: 134
Rounds Completed: 2
Deals with the Devil: 1

5. Kyra
Tokens: 0
Final Score: 196
Rounds Completed: 2
Deals with the Devil: 0

6. Tremorfist
Tokens: 3
Final Score: 69
Rounds Completed: 1
Deals with the Devil: 0

7. Aquila
Tokens: 1
Final Score: 78
Rounds Completed: 1
Deals with the Devil: 0

8. The Strongest
Tokens: 1
Final Score: 77
Rounds Completed: 1
Deals with the Devil: 0

9. Xate
Tokens: 1
Final Score: 67
Rounds Completed: 1
Deals with the Devil: 0

10. Tantalum
Tokens: 1
Final Score: 0
Rounds Completed: 0
Deals with the Devil: 0

10. zoomxoom
Tokens: 2
Final Score: 0
Rounds Completed: 0
Deals with the Devil: 0

10. Shadowkirby
Tokens: 1
Final Score: 0
Rounds Completed: 0
Deals with the Devil: 0

Congratulations, BoomerangReturns! You win.

Notable mentions go to the following competitors:


ErrorBlender
Highest Cumulative Score (288)
Most Deals Taken (2)

Nikx232
Highest Mean Skill Score (36.5/45)

WafflesMgee
Highest Mean Round Score (99.5)
Highest Mean Number of Votes (3.5)

Many thanks to everyone who participated in the Valley of Dreams, whether it was in reading, writing, or voting. It's been a lot of fun working with all of these stories for the past six months. We wouldn't have been able to do it without you.

Tournament Prompts
The lists of prompts that I made for this tournament are linked below. You might notice that some numbers are missing. That's because my original list was in an excel spreadsheet where I worked with some friends to get a bunch of ideas and not all of those original ideas were very good.

Individual Prompts (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1viKN014uFGT0stm8diNlmRU86L07FMYaxd4YYw3yPI8/edit)
Narrative Challenges (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Kp3qaF0PhBtDNgzcfm07IcqsV251KOS2TloMGDcRejQ/edit?usp=sharing)
Deals with the Devil (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1B99NQY7N3on8a4xqyHIwjrgGQXJ-3UXWa2jJUv5Sj98/edit)

And stay tuned! There will be a summary of skill points and trends we saw over the course of this tournament down in the next post.

Tournament Links:
Rules and Guidelines (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?85710-wRHG-Tournament-The-Valley-of-Dreams-Rules-and-Guidelines)
General Tournament Information (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?85572-wRHG-Tournament-The-Valley-of-Dreams-General-Info)
The First Dream: Past Projection (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?85916-wRHG-Tournament-The-First-Dream-Past-Projection)
The Second Dream: Reviled Reflection (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?86759-wRHG-Tournament-The-Second-Dream-Reviled-Reflection-Place-Your-Wagers)
The Third Dream: Corrupt Connection (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?87771-wRHG-Tournament-The-Third-Dream-Corrupt-Connection-Betting-Phase)
The Final Dream: Timed Transgression (http://forums.stickpage.com/showthread.php?88820-wRHG-Tournament-The-Final-Dream-Timed-Transgression)

Jessepinwheel
12-24-2014, 10:28 PM
Happy holidays, everyone!

I crunched numbers for you lovely people.

In the six months since I started this tournament, we've kept the skill scores confidential to everyone except the actual writers. We're going to continue that, obviously, but I think it'd be informative to go through the skill scores and talk about the overall trends.

Throughout this entire tournament, we had 18 stories written by nine authors. Each story was judged by at least three people including myself. We did so by reading the story carefully out loud once. Once we read through the stories, we went through and graded them in eight different categories that I thought encompassed the main of short story writing: Proofreading, Characterization, Plot, Research, Clarity, Independence, Consistency, and Grammar/Style.

All of these categories were graded on a scale of 1 to 5. The only exception is Clarity, which was graded on a scale of 1 to 10.

When I go through the categories, keep in mind that this is how we assigned numbers:
5: No major errors found.
4: Noticeable minor errors, but not enough to affect the story as a whole.
3: Enough errors to detriment the story.
2: Major errors to the point where the story is suffering but still understandable.
1: Major errors to the point where they obscure the story.

All right. With that out of the way, let's start talking about the categories. Just as a note about the histograms, the score is the number on the left side of the bar. Google Sheets doesn't have super great options for making charts.

I've also included my tips based on what we saw. What I say may not necessarily be the best way to go about things, but at least consider what I'm saying.

Proofreading
Grading Criteria: We graded Proofreading based on "careless" errors that we found on a first pass through the story. We determined errors "careless" if they were errors that would be easily found on a read through or with mechanical assistance (e.g., spell checking, misspelled names, capitalization). For grammar proofreading, we only counted mistakes as "careless" if the rest of the writing indicated that the author did understand how the segment in question should have been written. That means that if someone consistently misused possessives, we would count them as Grammar and Style errors, not Proofreading.

Mean/Median Score: 4.1 (82%)/4.5

Histogram:
http://i.imgur.com/mV4RRP3.png

Trends and Common Errors:
It's hard to talk about trends when it comes to Proofreading, because the whole point is that they're just careless mistakes as opposed to actual mishandling of information. We mostly found spelling or minor language errors, except in the cases where we found a whole lot of language errors, which were just the few cases when the author hadn't proofread (or at least, that's what we assume).

Tips for the Future:
Read your story out loud, then give it to someone else to read. Then read your story out loud again. Repeat several times.

Characterization
Grading Criteria: We judged characterization on two major points: whether your characters were distinct from one another and whether they were consistent throughout the story. After that, we looked at whether or not the characters' personalities were intentionally written the way they were (especially when considering flatter, more caricature personalities). If we had difficulty answering the question "Who were these characters?" at the end of the story, we deducted points. Incredibly awkward and stiff dialogue also lost points in this category.

Mean/Median Score: 2.9 (58%)/3

Histogram:
http://i.imgur.com/8hDUBBq.png

Trends and Common Errors:
I've said it before, but it's hard to pin down exactly why characterization does or doesn't work, because it's very much something that you "feel" as opposed to "know". That being said, I can pretty safely say that the main issues with characterization fell into three categories. There were the characters that had no distinct personality, the characters that existed only to give exposition, then the characters that had absolutely no presence in the story (those first two are not mutually exclusive). There were also an extremely small number of characters who were over-the-top hammy melodramatic, but that wasn't a general problem. Character inconsistency wasn't an issue.

One of the major problems were characters who seemed to only be there because the plot needed them to be. Those are the characters who only exist to say what's necessary to get to the important topics, or just talk about those topics. This was usually a symptom of unnatural dialogue.

For the set of characters who did nothing except watch the action, I imagine that that was because people were forced to include both wRHG characters (that being said, those characters lost points in rubric points, not here).

Tips for the Future:
I think the one thing that killed characterization more thoroughly than anything else was stiff dialogue. If dialogue doesn't sound natural, the reader doesn't get any feel for the character who's saying it, because they're distracted by the fact that your cast is full of robots. The best I can say is that you should read your dialogue out loud and then ask yourself if anyone would ever talk like that, as well as make sure that your topics logically flow into one another.

After that was a lack of clear motivation. Good characterization comes from characters doing things, but that doesn't matter unless the reader can see why the characters are doing what they do. If the reader can see that the characters are driven by certain motivations, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to understand their personality. Otherwise, it's just people doing stuff.

As for characters with very little presence, that's usually because the characters weren't doing anything at all, or the things that they did weren't given significant weight on the plot.

Plot
Grading Criteria: When judging the plot, we asked ourselves what the conflict and resolution were, then asked if they matched up. Then we saw if the plot was driven by the characters' motivations. We deducted points if plot elements appeared out of nowhere or if nothing changed from the beginning to the end of the story. We also deducted points if major chunks of the story did not help to further the plot.

Mean/Median Score: 2.4 (48%)/2

Histogram:
http://i.imgur.com/4tHUW5n.png

Trends and Common Errors:
I'll spoil this for you right now: Plot got the worst average score out of all of the categories. That probably shouldn't be surprising, seeing the average Characterization score and the fact that Plot is dependent on that.

The problem was that very few of the stories actually had a definite plot. When I say that, I mean one of two things: the story either had no clear conflict or resolution (people do things, but without a purpose) or nothing happened at all. Characters talking to one another or doing things in of itself is not a story. Of the stories that had a definite conflict, they frequently didn't match up with the resolution (e.g., the conflict is dealing with a bad coworker, but the resolution is making amends with the estranged father).

Tips for the Future:
A story is not just stuff that happens. It's a progression of events, driven by characters' motivations, and the skeleton of those motivations is your plot. Everything in your story should contribute to furthering the plot in one way or the other. If something can be removed with no consequence because it has no bearing on the plot, then it should be.

Before you write your story, you should make sure you know what your conflict and resolution are so you can keep your story focused. When someone reads your story, they should be able to easily answer the question, "What was the story about?" without having to resort to describing individual events.

Make sure that your characters' motivations are clear. Work on characterization in general, because nobody cares about a plot if they don't care about the people involved. Make sure that your main character actually does something that affects the plot.

If you make sure your story is driven by clear character motivations, you'll also be one step closer to avoiding massive plot holes like "Why doesn't this guy just leave?"

Research
Grading Criteria: We deducted points here for wanton abuse of science, history, and language. If we saw something that straight-off sounded weird, we looked it up to see if it was used correctly.

Mean/Median Score: 4.1 (81%)/4

Histogram:
http://i.imgur.com/7SrWEpw.png

Trends and Common Errors:
Research was pretty good across the board. The main issues we got were malapropisms (using words incorrectly) or incorrect terminology. Some things were just stuff that didn't fit in with the setting.

Tips for the Future:
To avoid using the wrong word, ask yourself if you know that word. If the answer is no, then don't use it. If you're even a little unsure on how a word should be used, look it up. That's what the internet is for.

As for other research problems, just make sure you do some reading (Wikipedia, at the very least) so you don't look like an idiot by talking about how windy it is up in Seattle or how a wolf is four feet long. Remember: there's no such thing as too much research. Just don't go shoving your learnings in our faces, because as long as you're not messing it up, we don't care.

Clarity
Grading Criteria: We graded clarity based on how well we were able to understand the stories. Specifically, we asked ourselves if there were sections where we were confused about what was happening and if we understood why people were doing what they were doing. If we had to slow down or backtrack to parse sentences, we deducted points.

Mean/Median Score: 7.1 (71%)/7

Histogram:
http://i.imgur.com/QL4t8BF.png

Trends and Common Errors:
The issues with clarity fell into two groups: language and logic.

Most of the points we took off were for unclear or ambiguous language. This can mean anything from poor pronoun usage to fruity over-the-top prose to straight-up indecipherable sentences.

The other set of points we took off were because of faulty or absent threads of logic. This ties into the points I talked about earlier with plot, except this is more lenient because the things happening don't necessarily have to be leading towards one thing; they just have to flow.

Tips for the Future:
I believe that clarity is the most important thing in a story. After all, if you can't understand what's going on, it doesn't matter how good or bad the rest of everything else is. That's why I gave this double weight.

The only thing you can really do with this is first check to make sure that your thread of logic is intact and remove any non sequiturs. That way, the reader doesn't come out of the story asking, "Wait, how did we get here?"

After that, check your grammar or get someone who's good at that stuff to check your grammar. Ask people to read your story and ask if they have questions after the end or if they were confused at any parts. If they were confused about a part, check that to see if you can clear it up.

Because I know that fighting very frequently gets messy in writing, make sure that you remember your priority is the story. You can have action, but make sure that people understand the context. Don't get bogged down in people doing stuff, because after a while it all blurs together into "people punching each other".

Independence
Grading Criteria: Independence is the story's ability to stand on its own as a story. We deducted points if there was necessary context that was absent from the story.

Mean/Median Score: 4.1 (81%)/5

Histogram:
http://i.imgur.com/J0oM0J9.png

Trends and Common Errors:
Outside of a few instances, we really didn't have a problem here. The few times we had to deduct points were because of deus ex machina ass pulls or incomplete stories.

Tips for the Future:
A general tip is that if you make a big deal out of something in a story, you have to answer it at some point. Never pull your punches and only go halfway with a point, because nobody's happy with that. If something only gets mentioned once, though, and it's not essential to the plot, then don't elaborate and draw attention to it.

Consistency
Grading Criteria: When we judged consistency, we checked to make sure that elements stayed the same throughout the story. We took points off for careless inconsistencies (e.g., someone standing up, then is mentioned to be getting up again two paragraphs later) and logical inconsistencies (e.g., someone walking right after getting shot in the leg without at least paying lip service to how it hurts like hell).

Mean/Median Score: 4.5 (90%)/5

Histogram:
http://i.imgur.com/XXX57aE.png

Trends and Common Errors:
We were pretty good on this front. Like the proofreading problems, this seems to mostly be careless errors more than anything else.

Tips for the Future:
I mean, read your story and think about everything that's going on, then ask someone else to read your story. That's about all you can do for this.

Grammar and Style
Grading Criteria: We graded this based on, well, grammar and style errors. If the grammar and style made it difficult to understand what was going on, we deducted points. We looked for things like incorrect sentence structure or punctuation. If we tripped up frequently while reading out loud because of awkward language, we deducted points.

Mean/Median Score: 2.7 (54%)/3

Histogram:
http://i.imgur.com/RbUjKon.png

Trends and Common Errors:
I'll be honest. We were not lenient on this. This category was not just about mechanical skill, but communication skill.

For grammar problems, the most frequent were, in order: dialogue punctuation (http://litreactor.com/columns/talk-it-out-how-to-punctuate-dialogue-in-your-prose), run-on sentences (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/598/02/), punctuation (especially commas (http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp)), semicolons (http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/Semicolons.html), incorrect tenses (http://www.iup.edu/page.aspx?id=62009), sentence fragments (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/fragments.htm), pronoun ambiguity (hhttp://www.sparknotes.com/testprep/books/newsat/powertactics/writingmc/chapter2section6.rhtml), and dangling participles (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/dangling-participles).

For style the main problems were, in order: wordiness, vague language, redundancy, tell don't show, passive voice, and unclear point of view.

Tips for the Future:
For the mechanical stuff, check the links I posted or read a style guide. Strunk and White is nice and to the point.

Let's tackle style one by one.

Wordiness is using fourteen words to say what should be said in four. There are times when figurative language is good, but you never want your figurative language to swallow your actual content. There is no need to say things like "He gave a smile" when "He smiled" will suffice. Similarly, you very rarely need to write, "John saw the man pick up the book" when you can say "The man picked up the book", because the first instance only tells us that John has eyes. This also ties into explaining things at the wrong times and bogging down the pacing. You'll see soon that wordiness ties into a lot of the other problems.

Vague language is using phrases like "as if" or words like "very" or "a lot". The thing about writing is that it's about communication, and the most important part of communication is specific language. "Aaron hit Jack" is a mile away from "Aaron smashed Jack's face into the desk". If you just use generic terms and descriptors, you'll end up not putting all of the information you've got in your head down onto the paper. (But on the other hand, you don't want to slavishly describe everything going on. Pick a few important details so you can keep the pace up.)

Redundancy is saying something that we already know because you already told us. In minor cases, this is stuff like "a dark black shadow" or "He smiled. He was happy," but in more major cases can be telling us that Protagonist is scared, then taking the next sentence to say that he's terrified, then taking another sentence to say he can't even imagine what horrible thing will happen to him. Don't repeat yourself. If you have to repeat a point, make sure that you at least elaborate on it with new information.

Tell don't show is when you just tell us what the characters are feeling or doing. I had my spiel about this a round or two ago, but the big problem with telling and not showing is that telling has a very low information density and treats the reader like an idiot. It also has very little impact on our view of the character, especially if you go on to then show the complete opposite of what you said.

Passive voice and passive tone of voice is when you write in a passive way (go figure). Passive voice is specifically when you write things like "The book was bought by me" as opposed to "I bought the book". It puts the object into the foreground and minimizes the impact of the subject, which is generally bad because you want to keep focus on your subject (who is usually your protagonist or another major character). General passive tone of voice is using past tense to talk about events that are happening now in the story. This means past or present perfect (had or has) to indicate that the events you're talking about occurred before the "now" that the story is taking place in. Readers don't care about what happened before, so using past/present perfect can absolutely kill your suspense.

Unclear point of view is when you have a third person perspective and start dipping into different characters' thoughts or motivations. If you're third person limited, stay in third person limited. Otherwise, stick with third person omniscient and go all the way with it. If you stay in Jeff's point of view for 90% of the story, don't switch for three sentences so we can hear how Johanna feels.

As with everything else, read your story out loud. If it sounds weird, it might be wrong. If you're not very good with grammar, hand your story off to someone who is and do some reading to get better at it.

That should be everything. I guess that means that the tournament is now officially over. A mod can move these threads to another section whenever it seems appropriate.

As for last minute things, if you participated in the first round but not the second, I have the red pen copies of your stories with full comments. If you still want them, PM me and I'll send you the link.

Once again, thank you to everyone who participated in the tournament. I had a great time, and I hope to see some more writing in the future.

Boomerang
12-25-2014, 08:55 AM
I just want to say congratulations to Errorblender for a good fight, congratulations to everyone who hosted this, and thank you Jesse for hosting this. It was a lot of fun.

RichardLongflop
12-26-2014, 12:29 PM
Loving those devil deals, there. Damn good prompts.

"Do your research" Hyehehh.

ErrorBlender
12-28-2014, 05:42 PM
Thanks Jesse. :)

Thanks to Boomerang too. :D Wished we could finish, haha.