Sunday, July 18, 2010

So How Do I Win a Clarity of Night Contest?

How Do I Win a Clarity of Night Contest?

Clarity of Night contests focus on technical skills writing first. If you earn your place in the Forties Club with a score of at least 40 out of 45 points, I believe you've "won." (See HERE for scoring information.) HOWEVER, there are those of you who say the Forties Club is nice and all, but I want to WIN, damn it!! Okay I hear you. We're talking about the second level judging here. The much more subjective part. So I'll give you some guidance.


During this contest, I expect to have read more than 1,000 entries over the course of my contests. Yeah, that's a lot. I can't help but get excited when I read something original and wilt a bit when I read the opposite. I definitely see patterns in certain common themes. Based on past experience, be wary of the following story concepts:

  • The police have cordoned off the crime scene and the detective has just arrived.

  • The abused wife is finally leaving (or killing) her husband

  • A body is being picked by scavengers.

  • The Earth is being invaded.

  • The knowing detective is guiding/mentoring the less talented sidekick or pretty girl.

  • A passing-to-the-other-side death scene.

If you chose one of these storylines (or something else done many times), that's okay, but make sure you're bringing something fresh to the concept.


Make sure the story has a reason for being told in 250 words. What was is it's point? Is it memorable? Did it leave an impression?

Here are some things that don't have a huge impact:

  • An introduction to a character or a situation which never really goes anywhere, especially if it feels like the beginning of a much longer work.

  • Regurgitating something already famous. Yes, you can recreate the destruction of the Death Star, Rambo's rampage, or Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, but we're much more interested in something that can only come from you.

  • Stock scenes, such as The Interrogation, The Discovery of the Body, the Final Defeat of the Bad Guy. If you're doing a stock scene, make sure it's fresh and unique.


If you are writing something that's outside of normal reality, you have to sell it to us. It has to live. So, if you're putting us on a spaceship orbiting planet Popcorn, we need to totally buy it. It can't just be one of those scenes-you-always-get-on-the-bridge-of-a-spaceship. If the scene is something that happens in real life, make us believe that too. It's just a little easier to get there, because you've lived a lot more normal life than you've visited planet Popcorn. (Hopefully.)


I do try to have a mix of stories in the winners circle. I believe it would be a drag if one or two genres dominated. Therefore, a contestant who wrote a unique story has a better chance that each of the ten people who wrote generally equivalent murderer/stalker stories.


The story doesn't have to be a serious portrayal. Many offbeat and humorous pieces have won. Just make sure it's a story and not an essay.


Aniket Thakkar said...

Thank you for this post. I finally understand how I got placed so high the last time. It was a mystery to me too, honestly. ;) Now, I am content with my effort.

Oh and we've had the lover turns out to be a vampire a lot too. (Even I've written a couple of those, but not for the contest. :P) In Vino Veritas had a HUGE body count. Blood all over the place. This time I predict a lot of theft stories.

I haven't gotten anywhere with my piece yet. But I still have time.

PS: Speaking of memorable pieces. I still remember Vesper's piece and 'Up Is Fine' from ascension. 'Up Is Fine' is the most remarkable flash fiction piece I've read till date. Complete. Strong. Brilliant story and very, very memorable.

Aniket Thakkar said...

Just gave it another read:

Hailing frequencies open.

Anonymous said...

Aniket, I think you mean Victor, not Vesper. ;) (Peace, Vesper.)

And as for your achievement, believe in yourself, man! :)

Aniket Thakkar said...

Erm. I did mean Vesper. I know Victor wrote 'Up Is Fine'. But I liked Vesper's piece a lot too. She wrote a piece about a convict running from the cops and stumbles into the prettiest lady he has ever seen and gets caught. I loved the narration there. But I don't recall the name of the piece.

Your contests have given me a lot of confidence and have always inspired me to experiment and branch out. For that I'm eternally grateful. The reason I love these contests so much is because of the people. Always supportive and a great source for constructive criticism. They make learners feel safe to participate too. Guess we all know how many of them can translate to become such awesome friends too. :)

Anonymous said...

Ah, I see. Vesper's piece was #27 called Ascension.

Thanks for the kind words about the contests and the people who participated. I completely agree. I'm still amazed how many friendships sprout from them and carry on.

Laurel said...

Yay! YaY!

Oddyoddyo13 said...

You really get into these contests. LoL

Precie said...

@oddy--I think that's one of the keys to the contests. Jason takes every entry seriously, and we writers can tell. I don't think there would be so many participants if we didn't feel he took our efforts seriously. Well, that and the fact that so many of his winners have gone on to get published...

BernardL said...

As a counterpoint there is a reason many themes repeatedly find their way into fiction - people can't get enough of them. If the writing excels, originality of theme should be only one small point to be considered. Illustration of this perception in your contest is the fact the reader's choice award has always been different from the official winner. Your inclusion of the reader's choice award makes the Clarity of Night contest unique. Thank you for hosting it. :)

phatichar said...

Now I know why my entry didn't make it. :-(

*sigh, the next one then.

Fantastic display of talent here, though.. great stuff, Jason - keep 'em coming.