Spontaneous Writing Contest

Basic Duties: The contest organizer must publicize the contest, recruit judges, supply the contestants with their story kernels, distribute the submissions to the judges, collect their ratings, and announce the results.

For 2015: Richard S. Russell

  • Con – 6 weeks: recruit judges
  • Con – 3 weeks:
    • write story kernel
    • load story kernel onto flash drives
    • provide story kernel to webmaster
  • Con – 2 weeks: announce contest to pre-registrants
  • Con – 1 week: prepare prize envelopes
  • Con – 3 days: print out score sheets
  • Con Fri.: bring flash drives, printer, prizes, etc. to con
  • Con Sat.:
    • determine contestants, record them, give them story kernel
    • collect submissions
    • prepare submissions for judges
    • print submissions for posting
    • collect judges’ score sheets
    • tabulate results, determine rankings
    • announce winners, award prizes
    • host post-mortem panel
  • Con + 2 weeks: provide final report to webmaster

Sample Solicitation Letter to Prospective Judge

Hello, JUDGENAME. Joe tells me that you'd be willing to sacrifice a piece of your Saturday Odyssey Con experience to serve as 1 of the 3 judges for our spontaneous writing contest. I am writing to confirm that I would be delighted to have you in that role.

The deal is pretty simple. At 8:30 AM on Saturday, each of the 8 contestants gets a flash drive with a snippet of skiffy dialog on it, and they have an hour to build a story around it. They turn in their flash drives by 9:30, and I either print out or gin up an electronic copy (your choice) of each story to provide to the judges by 10:30. The judges have basically the rest of the day to read the stories, rate them from 1 to 8 based on any old criteria that seem relevant to them, and hand me back the rating sheet by 8 PM for the award presentation following the GoH speeches.

In return for this, you get a shout-out to the assembled multitudes, a copy of each story, my undying gratitude, and all the snow you can eat.

To get a feel for what you'll be looking at, here are the results of last year's SWC at WisCon, which are fairly typical of the length and talent level you'll be dealing with:

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Thanks again. [insert signature]

Sample Welcome Letter to Confirmed Judge

JUDGENAME, JUDGENAME, and JUDGENAME, thanks for agreeing to be the judges for the Odyssey Con XX Spontaneous Writing Contest. This message is to give you some more information about the contest and an idea of what you've signed up for.

The contestants will all show up at 8:30 AM Saturday, and various degrees of futzing will take up about 10 minutes. That means they get started writing by 8:40, and I expect everything back by 9:40. I can either print your copies off for you or e-mail them to you. Tell me your preference now if you wish, or wait till the con. Either way, however, I need to get you your score sheet, so let me suggest meeting at the Odyssey Con registration desk at 10:30 and see if that’ll work for you. If not, we’ll figure out something else.

You've basically got all day to read the stories and rank them from 1 (best) to 8 (worst). It’s possible that you may have 2 stories that you think of as pretty much equal. In that case, please give preference to the one that comported with the following instruction: “You must incorporate everything below BREAKLINE into your story exactly as you find it (not necessarily at the beginning) ...”.

Get your score sheet back to me whenever you can. I’m on panels all thru the day, so I’m usually a fixed target. However, you can return it as late as 8:00 PM at the GoH speeches. The SWC winners will be announced after the speeches, and it'll take me all of 60 seconds to figure out who they are after getting all 3 score sheets back.

There are some attachments below FYI:
• Outgoing message to contestants
• Sample of the kind of RTF document they'll be getting
• The score sheet that will accompany your packet

Thanks again. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. [insert signature and attachments]

Contest Rules

Odyssey Con XX Spontaneous Writing Contest

1. This contest is open to all members of Odyssey Con XX. You must provide your own computer, tablet, etc. There are no additional requirements. There are no age limits. There is no entrance fee.

2. To sign up, e-mail RichardSRussell@tds.net using the subject line "Odyssey Con SWC". Names will be placed on a list in the order they are received. The top 8 registrants who are physically present at the Odyssey Con registration desk at 8:30 AM Saturday will be the contestants.

3. Each contestant will get a copy of a single RTF (rich-text format) document comprising a few lines of dialog. Your task is to transfer the document to your device, construct a story that incorporates the supplied dialog, save it as an RTF document, and turn it in within 60 minutes.

4. This year you will have 2 options for receiving your story kernel, either (a) on a USB flash drive, as in the past, or (b) as a link to a downloadable file. Similarly, they may be returned either on the original flash drive or via e-mail to Richard.

5. A panel of judges will read each story and rank them from #1 to #8. The best average score wins 1st prize (fame, honor, and $50). Next best wins 2nd prize (nod of appreciation and 30 bucks). A crisp Andy Jackson to #3. The other 5 get their stories posted on a wall.

6. By entering the contest, you grant Odyssey Con non-exclusive permission to publish your story on our website. You retain all other rights to it.

Application-Received Notice to Registrants

Odyssey Con XX Spontaneous Writing Contest

I have received your registration for the Odyssey Con XX Spontaneous Writing Contest. You are Registrant #X.

If you are physically present at the Odyssey Con reg desk (not the hotel registration desk) at 8:30 AM on Saturday, you will be one of the contestants.
If you are physically present at the Odyssey Con reg desk (not the hotel registration desk) at 8:30 AM on Saturday, you may be one of the contestants if any of the 1st 8 registrants fails to materialize.

You should look for me, Richard S. Russell: [insert picture]

You need not bring your hardware with you at that time. I’ll give each contestant a copy of the story kernel identified only by letter. Do not tell anyone what your letter is in order to preserve strict anonymity for the judges.

I am attaching to this message a sample RTF file that’s in the same format as what you’ll be getting at the con. Try it out on your preferred device to make sure it works OK with your software and that you can save it again in RTF format. If it gives you a hard time, please let me know now, as there won’t be anything I can do about it at the con itself.

You have your choice of how you will receive your story kernel, either (a) on a USB flash drive or (b) via download from the Internet. I’ll be prepared to handle either preference at the con, so you don’t have to decide now. If you choose the flash drive, use that same drive to return your story; if you get it via download, e-mail the finished story to me at RichardSRussell@tds.net.

I’ll be at the reg desk to receive returned stories at 9:30 but will leave promptly at 9:40. If your story isn’t back by then, I’ll feel sad for you, but you’re SOL as far as the contest goes.

If you have any questions, give me a holler. For your records, here are the complete rules: [insert rules]

Generic Story Seed
(sent out as sample every year)

Do not put your name on your story! The author will be identified solely by letter until the judges have rendered their opinions.

Do not change the file name.

Do not change the header, margins, or columnation.

By all means, do give it a title.

Feel free to use boldface, italic, underlining, etc. but do your best to stick with the same font (Times) and point size (13) if possible.

Remember to save your work frequently when writing. When you’re done, save the document as a rich-text format (RTF) file using the same name it had to begin with. If you got it on a flash drive, save over the original.

You must incorporate everything below BREAKLINE into your story (not necessarily at the beginning), except for supplying your own title. Judges have been instructed to break ties in favor of stories that use the supplied text exactly as is, without rearranging, rewriting, or separating it.

Permissions: By entering this contest, you give the con non-exclusive rights to publish your story on our website. You retain all other rights to it.

Delete BREAKLINE and everything above it before you start writing.

= = = = = BREAKLINE = = = = =

Story X

“You ever wonder if these things have a family life?”

“Not while they’re trying to eat my face off, no. Why do you ask?”

“Look here.”

“Oh, jeez! What are there, 3 of them? God, even the little ones are ugly!”

“But now we know why the big one was putting up such a fight. And these little guys didn’t make a peep, right thru the entire brawl.”

“Yeah, well, let’s see how long that lasts when they’re directly involved in the action.”

Tips on Composing Story Seed
  • nothing but quotations (IE, use quotation marks)
  • no names, genders, species, or other identifiers for speakers (contestant will supply these if needed)
  • blank line between paragraphs
  • incorporate some SF or fantasy trope, like time travel or werewolves
  • provide a basis for excitement or conflict

Preparing Prizes
  • Each of the 3 prizes goes into its own envelope, labelled "Odyssey Con XX / Spontaneous Writing Contest / #xx Prize".
  • Get nice, crisp new $10 bills from the bank.
  • 3rd prize: white ribbon and $20
  • 2nd prize: red ribbon and $30
  • 1st prize: blue ribbon and $50
  • Seal the envelopes and keep them in a safe place.
  • Keep a spare of each color ribbon to pin on the wall-posted stories after the results are announced.

Contestant Roster

Judge's Score Sheet

Master Score Sheet

Downloading Instructions for Contestants

Odyssey Con XX Spontaneous Writing Contest
Instructions for Downloading Your Story Seed

You are Contestant ____
  1. Open a blank document in your favorite word processor.
  2. Set the default settings to font = Times, size = 13 point.
  3. Save it as an RTF (rich-text format) document with the title “Story _.rtf”; fill in the blank with the letter above.
  4. Go to the website [insert website], copy the text you see there, and “paste and match style” or “paste text only” into your blank document. (Consult your program’s “Edit” menu to find this option.)
  5. Save the document again.
  6. Follow the instructions within the document.
  7. When you’re done, but no later than 9:40 AM, e-mail your final saved document as an attachment to RichardSRussell@tds.net.

Big-Type Poster for Wall Postings

SF Stories

The stories posted along this wall were each written in 1 hour this morning by participants in the Odyssey Con XX Spontaneous Writing Contest.

Winners will be announced after the GoH speeches Saturday night.

Announcing Winners
  • Begin by profusely thanking the judges by name for having given up some of their con to judge the entries. Have them stand and be acknowledged.
  • Briefly explain what the contest entailed.
  • Depending on what you've arranged with the toastmaster, announce whether the winners should come forward at this time to accept their prizes or wait until the post-mortem session afterward, when the judges will be present to discuss the stories submitted and offer advice.
  • Announce the winners, starting at #3 and working up to #1.

Ribbon Graphics for Final Report

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