From a Cabin in the Wood’s is a column featuring authors from the Bethlehem Writers Group. Writing for us this month is Dianna Sinovic.
Born and raised in the Midwest, Dianna Sinovic has also lived in three other quadrants of the U.S. She writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.
The Bethlehem Writers Group, one of the writers groups I’m in, sponsors an annual short story contest for all non-members, and the members do much of the judging—the first cuts, the semifinalist round, and the finalists. Once the finalists are selected, a guest judge (an author outside the organization) makes the final call on the rankings of first, second, and third.
Each story is judged by three people, using a templated rubric, with the two highest scores determining whether the story makes it to the semifinalist category. Sometimes the same story can accrue widely divergent scores. How could three readers have such different reactions? That difference of opinion explains why sometimes the debates the group has on which stories come out on top are quite heated.
I’m often amazed at the creativity of some of the entrants, but also always disappointed in others. I think—if only the author had done X, Y or Z, the results would have been much more satisfying or made more sense.
It’s also instructive to see how often an entry lacks a story arc. Even if a story is short and basically just one scene, it still needs a beginning, middle and end, with a goal in mind for the main character. Author Juliet Marillier said that stories with no proper ending also don’t make the cut when she judges.
It’s also interesting to see that some authors submit pieces that are mostly likely memoir. This can work if the personal account contains the essence of a good story, with that needed arc and depth of character/emotion, but many often don’t.
How the theme is approached is also eye opening. We choose a new contest theme every other year. This year’s topic was animals; it didn’t matter what kind of animal or how many, but an animal had to play an important part in the story. I read tales that featured insects, cats, horses, dogs, sea animals, and reptiles, some good, some not so good. With research only a browser click away, I was discouraged at how often writers didn’t do their homework when trying to depict animal behavior.
Of course, it’s much easier for me to see the flaws in other people’s works than in mine.
Each year’s judging process serves as a reminder to always ask others to read my work and offer their feedback, to let me know where my stories fall short so I can further revise.
Sally Paradysz wrote from a book-lined cabin in the woods beside the home she built from scratch. She was an ordained minister of the Assembly of the Word, founded in 1975. For two decades, she provided spiritual counseling and ministerial assistance. Sal completed undergraduate and graduate courses in business and journalism. She took courses at NOVA, and served as a hotline, hospital, and police interview volunteer in Bucks County, PA. She was definitely owned by her two Maine Coon cats, Kiva and Kodi.
Sal is missed by all who knew her.
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