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WotF XXIV trends

October 3, 2009

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been filling my commute with the sounds of the Writers of the Future vol. XXIV audiobook.  It’s my way of multitasking, catching up on reading as I drive.  Being the perpetual writer I am, I have been looking for patterns.  I was surprised by what I found.  (Keep in mind, I still have four stories left to go.)

A significant number of the stories have low-activity or even non-active protagonists.  A book (an intelligent talking compendium) is the protagonist of “Circuit”, lending its thoughts as it passes through the possession of apparently significant figures in future history.  Gina in “Hangar Queen” is a bomb that is not allowed to fly.  She has ideas, opinions, even seeks information, but she can only do so much.  The protagonist in “Snakes and Ladders” starts the story crippled by an explosion and proceeds to fade in and out of consciousness, a spectator of what occurs inside his body.  He does manage to move around a little, put out a fire, stuff like that.  “Cruciger” is a ship that ferries the last of humanity into space to build a Dyson Sphere or Ringworld.  She is more active than the others, interacting with jellyfish-like natives as she prepares to destroy their world for raw materials, but the story as a whole is very much a treatise on the pros and cons of religion and whether the ship is a better deity than God.  The teacher in “Crown of Thorns” makes reference to prior acts of futility, but mostly goes along with what she’s supposed to do (though I might have missed a bit of that one due to attention to traffic).

These stories are all, in different ways, passive.  They are all fine stories of their own right, so do not mistake me, but there’s a lot of watching and thinking that goes on.  Does KD Wentworth (WotF coordinating judge) particularly prefer stories with voyeuristic protagonists?  If she does, she’s not alone.  “Cruciger”, “Hangar Queen”, and “Circuit” were all first-place winners.  It is interesting to peek into a well-developed world, but is it not more interesting to live in that world? to interact with it?

There are plenty of active stories.  I was very fond of “A Man in the Moon”, the one finalist to round out the bake’s dozen tales.  It was by no means an action story, but the protagonist stood up for himself well.  “Epiphany” is a story chock-full of action — murder, magic, escape, sword-swallowing, and a hermaphrodite.  “Taking a Mile” was a good balance of discovery and action, the protag stepping up when necessity called.  And “Bitter Dreams” was one ugly zombie-slaying after another, perhaps a little too violent for my usual taste, but still filled with subtle character interaction and introspection.  So there is a balance.  Still, I generally consider the passive protagonist an exception, not a 50% possibility.

I agree that a good story is about characters.  That does not prohibit action from entering the equation.  Often characters are more interesting when they are acting than when they are observing.  Not always, but often.  A less-active story draws more attention to the ideas it represents.  Is that what WotF is looking for, the ideas?  Or is it just that beginning writers tend to create their finest early works when they focus on ideas without letting all that action get in the way.All these stories are quite good, and I do not intend these comments to detract from any of them.  I am just trying to analyze patterns.  These patterns may only run as deep as issue XXIV.  Further investigation is necessary before any statistical correlation is defined. I’m eager to hear other people’s opinions as well.


One Comment leave one →
  1. October 3, 2009 9:58 pm

    Great post, Scott. Can’t wait to see if you see the same trend in WotF 25.

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