WRiTE CLUB 2018 - Bout #7


Reminder - You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE, and remember, the bouts stay open for one week and some of the first weeks are still live.

Today is the 7th of 15 bouts with a pair of contestants ready to climb into the ring.  Here's a refresher of what's going on, in case you forgot how things work here.

Weeks ago the submission window opened for this year's contest where we asked anybody wishing to participate to submit a 500-word writing sample – using a pen name. The sample can be from any genre, flash fiction or something from a larger piece of work, basically, anything goes except that it cannot have been previously published or posted on the internet. All of the rules regarding how to submit can be found here. After the submission period closed, we had fifteen judges (we call them our slush pile readers) read all 181 submissions from 132 writers and once all the ballots were total we narrowed the 181 down to the 30 that will be stepping into the ring over the course of the next three weeks. Today is the first of those bouts.

How this works – two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples step into the ring. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) read both entries and vote for the one that resonates the most with you. We ask that you leave a brief critique for both writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest – FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date it is posted to give as many people as possible to have a say. The voting for today’s bout will close on Monday, April 30th (noon central time).

It’s that simple. The piece that garnishes the most votes moves on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. Using a tournament style format, the 30 contestants will be whittled down to just 2, and the winner of that final bout will be announced at the DFW Writers Conference in Hurst TX June 9-10

In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

Oh yeah – for every bout that you vote in, your name (see rule #2 below) will be placed into a hat for a chance for a $40 Barnes and Noble Gift card that will be drawn after the contest concludes.

A few rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

3)Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will result in that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

That’s enough jibber-jabber…like the man say’s –




In the far corner, we have Birdie representing the Novel Excerpt genre.


With All His Heart


BEEP. BEEEP. BEEEEP. Sang the metal snitch on my chest.
I get three beeps to stop doing whatever I’m doing. If I don’t obey, it calls an ambulance.
I caught Coach’s eye and patted my chest. He blew his whistle and called a timeout.
A girl with curly pink hair and a hoodie yelled at me from across the field. “Little boy! Little boy!” She clapped at me with each word. “THERE. ARE. NO. TIME. OUTS. IN. SOCCER.”
I thought academic probation was the worst thing that could happen during my first varsity game. Mom thought that the worst thing that could happen would be me dropping dead on the field. We were both wrong. Everyone was looking at me, confused. This was the worst thing that could happen. The coach ran over and walked me a few steps away from the other players.
“You alright?”
“I’m okay. My monitor messed up.” I lied. The snitch was always right. It was supposed to let me play soccer. It was supposed to let me be normal. I reached under my shirt and I slipped my finger under the wire that grew out of my chest like a thick hair. It looked like I was scratching.
The timeout ended. We raced onto the field. I dug my shoes into the dirt.
I thought a raindrop hit my head. It was sweat. Pink-haired girl had the ball. I was the closest. I fought to close the distance and show Pink Hair what a “little boy” could do. I fought to keep my lunch from coming up. My steps rang out louder than the deep bass of my heartbeat. There was no beeping song to stop me this time. Freedom.
Pink Hair inched nearer the penalty area. Near me. Time for the “little boy” to force her off the field. Her shoulders turned toward the touch line. My heart vibrated. Excitement. Maybe.
The October air sucked the warmth out of me. Everyone was watching. Judging. Goosebumps popped up. Pink Hair almost drove the ball out of bounds. So close. We’d get the ball. Hero. Mom would regret telling me to play goalie.
The air thinned like had just sprinted up a mountain. Cold.
I slowed. Pink Hair crossed one foot around the ball. No air. Her shoe like a planet around the sun. Breathe in. The next foot orbited and kicked the ball behind me. Breathe out. A perfect crossover. My heart sank. Kept sinking. Fell into my stomach. Knotted into an angry little fist. Breathe in. Breathe in.
Foot, move. Lungs, work. My heart quiets. Buzzing. Heavy. Brick shoes. Bricks on my chest. Bricks in my chest. Pulling me down. Now there’s a mountain of bricks on top of me.
There goes the ball. Spinning crazily. Great. If my feet would-
Then the world started spinning.

Before everything went quiet and black the last thing I heard was Pink Hair’s voice, “give him the red card, he’s obviously faking it…”.
*********************************************************************************

And in the near corner, we have Wordmonger representing the Sci-Fi genre.


Most of the trailer was taken up by a large topographic map on the command table. Black and white pictures of the destroyed town were tacked up on boards along the walls. Samira stood in front of the largest panel, searching the photos carefully. There had to be something she was missing, a clue waiting to be uncovered.
"How does an entire town just disappear?" she said.

"Well, looks to me like the tornado took it," Larry said.

Samira groaned. That wasn't the answer she was looking for but Larry was just messing with her as usual. She turned away from the pictures and began to pace. It was an annoying habit, but one that helped her brain get unstuck whenever she was faced with a puzzle. And the fate of Jensen, Missouri was a pretty big puzzle.

Larry cleared his throat and began to read from his notepad. "As of Friday afternoon the town of Jensen, population 1,179, was still present and accounted for according to state officials. A tornado passed through the town at approximately 9:08 pm that evening and lasted for 11 minutes. Everything in the town has been destroyed. No survivors, human or animal, have been located and no bodies have been found."

"Not yet, anyway," Samira said. "Have we checked above ground?"

Tornado winds were known to whip debris far from the original location and deposit it several miles away. Although Jensen and the surrounding area was as flat as a pancake, there could be a survivor marooned in a tree somewhere. Samira had to check.

"Let’s go up. I want to see the town from above." Samira grabbed her jacket and strode out of the trailer.

"Ah, the good old bird's eye view. Just like crop circles," Larry said, hurrying after his boss.

A wry smile tickled Samira's full lips. Larry was as smart as a whip, but he was a sucker for conspiracy theories. He even dressed up as Fox Mulder every Halloween. But Samira trusted his instincts and he was loyal. She considered him a friend and in this job, friendship was hard to find and harder still to keep.

The helicopter rose rapidly and the remains of the town came into view. Crumpled cars, torn siding, and dismembered furniture littered the ground and twisted branches blocked the roads. The usual tornado side effects, Samira thought. Just then an image popped into her peripheral vision.

"What's that?" she said, pointing to the southern edge of the town.

The pilot nosed the chopper down. Shredded planks of what had been a red barn once lay in a heap next to an oddly shaped metallic object. It was as big as a tractor, with smooth sides that gleamed wetly in the morning sun. As Samira watched, it shifted suddenly to the right and the top end bulged outward, almost like something was moving inside. Something big.


“Get me down there,” Samira said. “Now.” 
*********************************************************************************

Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point positives as well as detractions.


We’ll be back tomorrow with another bout.  See you then.


68 comments

  1. Birdie, wearing soccer shorts and cleats, and Wordmonger, with the caricatural FBI agent suit and shades, march into the centre of the ring.

    *DING*!

    Birdie opens with a puzzling series of attacks that leave his opponent trying to guess what fighting style he is facing — but nothing connects. We are left guessing why the main character has this “snitch”, what condition would require such an invasive procedure, and yet one that can be cheated on so easily. He also stumbles a little right off the bell, Jim, with mistaken punctuation right on the first line (“BEEEEP. Sang the metal snitch etc.”) — and that never leaves a good first impression.

    Wordmonger takes advantage of these initial slips from Birdie to set up a solid routine: a missing town, and two strong characters. We do, however, soon hit a large patch of infodump that doesn’t feel like a natural part of the fighting routine — why would Larry suddenly start re-reading a mission briefing they must both have read a thousand times already, especially out loud? Nothing in what happens just before justifies that, other than as pure exposition. And the reliance on “says” in dialogue attribution is a bit extreme — there’s a question mark at the end there the first time Samira speaks, so it’s okay to use “asked”, if nothing else.

    Birdie does a good job, in the middle of the round, of putting us inside the main character’s head, and we get a decent bit of actual soccer action tied in with his experience of his unidentified condition. But again, the general confusion concerning what is going on stops the punches from having any real impact, and the technical issues remain (“My monitor messed up.” I lied. instead of “My monitor messed up,” I lied).

    Meanwhile, Wordmonger progresses their own routine well, landing a few solid punches with talk of potential survivors to save, X-Files references and good character development. The central action of the passage is revealed, a helicopter survey of the area that lets Wordmonger land some more hits, with excellent descriptions of the devastation. Very thematic, but it does break suspension of disbelief for this commentator quite severely: if they have a helicopter sitting outside, then surely, they arrived in it. If not, then how did the helicopter just appear there? If they arrived in it, then how did they not look over the area from the sky before landing and setting up topographic maps? It feels a bit similar to the infodump earlier: imposed for story purposes, and not organic to the world that is being crafted.

    By the end of the bout, Birdie’s character is knocked out, and we still don’t have any clue as to what could have put the main character in this position. Wordmonger finishes with a solid right hook, leaving us wanting to know what the thing in the metallic object is, if thing there truly is, and how it is linked to the devastated and empty town.

    One point for Wordmonger!

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  2. Very equal entries. Both held my attention. It was hard to choose.

    Both had things that bugged me, too. Wordmonger's piece didn't ground me into the scene (more description might have helped there) right away. But it was the "snitch" in Birdie's piece that really blew it. I assume the narrator removed it. In which case, why wouldn't it BEEP? And if he hadn't removed it, why wasn't it BEEPING at the end? So because of that technicality, my vote goes to Wordmonger.

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  3. Woo-hoo! Two more talented contestants made it to the top 30! Congratulations to both of you!

    Birdie did a fantastic job of getting me inside the unnamed MC's head, though I have to admit that, lacking the context which must be provided earlier in the book, I was confused by the beeping snitch. I caught on that the MC was playing some sport, he was on his back, and there was a thing called a snitch on his chest. For the first third of the excerpt, I thought I was reading Harry Potter fanfic. Once I realized this character has a medical issue and needs the monitor / snitch to live as normal a life as possible, I was left wondering how old he is. Why is Pink Hair calling him "little boy"? Is he small for his age? Does he look much younger than the other teens on the field? Again, I think this is an issue that wouldn't even come up if I had the context from the first part of the story. Slight stumbles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this excerpt.

    Wordmonger pulled me in with an interesting premise, clear setting, and a solid portrayal of characters. I agree that some of the prose felt a bit info-dumpy, and I had logistical questions about the helicopter, but overall, I understood the scene and wanted to find out what happens next.

    It was a tough decision, but my vote goes to Wordmonger.

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  4. These are both strong contenders. Birdie's narrator has a clear conflict between the desire to play soccer and be seen as a normal, strong kid and the unnamed medical condition that led to the monitor that alerts him to danger. I had no trouble understanding right away what the "snitch" was and why he wore it. The experience of his collapse when he disabled the monitor to play hard was well drawn. I had issues with a few things. I can't buy a lifesaving device that could be disabled just by tugging on a wire. If it's not picking up a solid heartbeat, it should be sending up alarms. Why would another youth player refer to him as "little boy"? Unless he's particularly small for his age, which isn't indicated anywhere, that seems out of place. Wordmonger's story also has a very clear conflict and goal in trying to untangle the mystery of the destroyed town. What I couldn't buy there is that they've set up a whole command center, with the map and all, just because a town was destroyed by a tornado. Sorry, but this happens a lot. What makes this one different is that there are no survivors and no bodies. Okay, but if they already know that, then the town and the surrounding area have already been thoroughly searched, on foot and by helicopter and with dogs and all. This makes it harder to accept that the main characters are just now seeing the town and that nobody else saw the mysterious metal thing. The infodumps, especially reading aloud from the mission briefing, also intruded on my immersion in the story.

    Difficult choice indeed. Both stories draw me in and make me want to know what happens next, and both have logistical flaws in the action and missteps in the prose. My personal reading interest skews more toward SF/F than YA, which pulls me toward Wordmonger, so I will cast my vote there.

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  5. Both great entries, but the voice in Birdie's entry kept me engaged, so it gets my vote.

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  6. Today, for the first time, I am truly having a hard time deciding... and not because neither deserves a vote. Both of these could’ve beat other stories, in my opinion. Sure they both have issues, but not near as many as previous contestants.

    Birdie’s story confused me for a bit with the sex of the main character. My daughter plays club soccer... and I’ve never seen a boy on the field with girls or vice versa.... school soccer is the same. I had to go back and re-read to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Grammar issues are always a bit of a pet peeve. But we all make them. That’s why we have critique groups, to help us catch mistakes we overlooked. This line pulled me out of the story: The October air sucked the warmth out of me.
    What’s a touch line? I’ve never heard that term in soccer. Maybe it’s different parts of the country, but in Dallas, everyone says “a” red card, not “the” red card. Also, why would anyone even suggest a red card for someone having a heart attack? And of course there are time outs, but I’m taking that line as pink hair being a jerk. I want to punch pink hair! So yay for you, pulling a motion from your reader.
    I hate that any kid would risk their life over a game. :(
    And what’s his name?! I need to know. The coach had the perfect opportunity to say it.
    And calling his heart monitor a snitch... cute. That little tattler!
    It pulled at my heart strings. And I did feel like I was in the characters head. Good job.

    Wordmongers story was also good but seemed a bit info dumpy at points. The opening dialogue feels forced: “How does an entire town just disappear?" she said( should be she asked).
    "Well, looks to me like the tornado took it," Larry said.
    Not her line as much as Larry’s... for the forced comment. They know this. He’s saying it for the readers benefit, but when we can tell, it needs to be reworked.
    Though I’m intrigued already... I just want to be in the story and not told the story.
    Then with the reading aloud of the report... we know it’s so you can share the info, but either start with her walking in the room saying, “Larry, give me the report.” Something like that… Otherwise it’s forced dialogue to tell the reader info that your characters should already have memorized.
    Checking “above ground” typically means on the ground, meaning: not in a basement, not buried beneath the earth. My first thought was, why on earth would they not check above ground first. Isn’t that where everyone would be? Then after continuing to read, I saw that you meant “in the trees.” Maybe use different terminology than “above ground.”
    Crumpled cars, torn siding, furniture debris... that is showing me… Makes me happy to be shown the story. Then you “tell” me: this is typical tornado aftermath. It’s redundant and it’s telling. Seems to be a bit of telling, specifically about Larry. It’s mentioned that he is a friend, that he does these things, etc.… If this is your first 10 pages, you can wait and show us that later.
    Overall, it intrigued me. I loved the spaceship ending. You didn’t tell me it was a spaceship, you showed me the metallic smooth surface. That was great. Excellent! Loved it. And I want to know more.


    In the end, it was a very tough choice for me, but my vote is for Birdie and that tattling snitch. I was in the characters head. That’s tough to do. I didn’t feel like I was being told a story, but I was in it. Nice job.

    Meetup.com is a good place to find local writing groups to help critique your work.

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  7. My vote goes to Birdie.
    Birdie was able to make me feel for them and root for them! The simple, nickname of the snitch made me know exactly how I was supposed to feel about it.

    Where wordmonger had a good story, I felt like I was being told everything, and while I believe telling is fine sometimes, this time it kept me from experiencing the action.

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  8. Both entries are fantastic. My vote goes to Birdie based on the solid tension build. I don't think the second "little boy" was needed, but the scene was easy to visualize and the cliffhanger ending made me want to read on. There's hint at multiple internal struggles with enough levity to project an enjoyable MS.
    Wordmonger's sci-fi entry builds mystery. It felt a little been-there, done that, but the writing is polished. The opener didn't grab me and I'd like a little more voice to connect with the characters; however, this one would have won for me on several other days. Just a bad luck of the draw today.

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  9. For the first time for me, both stories were good to read. Both held my attention. "Birdie" was descriptive and nicely written. I felt as if I was present in that moment.

    "Wordmonger" made sense and I could follow along. I wanted to know what happened next out of pure curiosity.

    But my vote goes to "Birdie" because I definitely want to read that novel.

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  10. Birdie's entry definitely held my attention a lot more, so they get my vote for today!

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  11. I was a bit confused by the age of the characters in Birdie - is the pink haired girl older than the protagonist? Do girls and boys play against each other in soccer? That might weaken the story a bit. Maybe make the protagonist a girl or change the gender of the pink haired girl? If they are the same age (I imagined the characters to be middle school aged) I think for one character to call another character "Little Boy" just doesn't hold the same weight. Overall it was a very good piece.

    Wordmonger sucked me in and kept me hanging. I'm curious about what made the town disappear! Nice reference to the X-Files too. My vote goes to Wordmonger

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  12. Wow, "Birdie" is heart wrenching. "Wordmonger" is mysterious and suspenseful. I'm voting for "Wordmonger" even as I don't usually read Sci-Fi, but I feel it's written in a way that I could read more. I worry that "Birdie" just pulls the heart strings, over and over. I hope in the novel that there's more deeper realizations and discoveries.

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  13. Birdie makes me emotional regarding "little boy". I add my own narrative, how hard it is to be a kid these days and even harder when the kid has a physical condition. I am left wondering if he passed out or died. Then there is Wordmonger. Devastating weather even with a sci-fi twist. Is it a UFO? I have to keep reading to find out. And for this reason, my votes goes to Wordmonger. I want to know even if UFOs are not my usual cup of tea.

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  14. Both are great entries and definitely earned their spot in the top 30.

    I'm a sucker for a good sci-fi, but Birdie grabbed me sooner and made me care more about the protagonist. There was immediate connection to the character's wants and needs. Wordmonger didn't do a bad job of that, but I needed to know why Samira doesn't believe the tornado destroyed the town. She talks about trusting Larry instincts, but we don't get a feel for her own--the puzzle she's solving. I think that would have tipped the scales back to her story.

    Vote: Birdie

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  15. Hats off to both participants this bout. I know seemingly everyone says every bout that both participants were strong. For me this time it was true. Birdie wrote my new favorite entry for the 2018 edition. Good luck contending with it!

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  16. Both stories engaged me and I wanted to continue reading to find out what happens, which is always a good thing.

    I understood right off that Birdie's MC had a heart condition and thought it clever he (she?) had named it a snitch. I'm not familiar with soccer, but didn't think that boys and girls played together, so I thought maybe that Pink Hair used Little Boy as an insult. This pulled me out of the story as I kept debating whether the MC was in fact a small boy or a girl. The punctuation problems, using "alright" instead of the proper "all right," and a missed word bothered me, but being inside the MC's head as everything fell apart slammed at my heart and put me right there.

    For Wordmonger: Although interesting (and a similar premise to a Dean Koontz novel where all the people disappear in a given town), too much telling and a "As you know, Bob," reporting took me out of the story. Also unclear was the reference to checking above ground, which made me think they were below ground in a bunker. Lastly, "flat as a pancake" and "smart as a whip" cliches in the narrative in 500 words? Please try harder to avoid this.

    My vote goes to Birdie.

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  17. I have to say Birdie has me confused about the genre. I'm assuming it's sci-fi, but their playing soccer. Also, being unfortunately familiar with heart conditions and the various implants, the description of the heart's activity falls flat for me. I'm more interested in what's going on with the pink haired girl and the why she's taunting our MC so relentlessly.

    Wordmonger may be driving a little to hard to the basket with the X-files reference. The story is X-file-ish without the reference to Mulder. A disappearing town is classic but I'm hoping the explanation is original.

    Both stories could benefit from good editing and revisions, but my vote has got to go to Wordmonger for style and story.

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    Replies
    1. *they're* *too*

      I should take my own advice, slow down, re-read, and then change the settings on my autocorrect!

      Delete
  18. Had a technical glitch while posting, so hope this isn't a "second" entry. I don't see what I wrote, anyway, so I'm typing again.

    My vote goes for Wordmonger. There are some logical flaws, but it's a sci fi story, and I allow for that. Even though there were only 500 words here, I feel I already know the MC.

    Birdie kept me interested, but the logic issues glared to me. I didn't get to know the MC. That, along with the logic issues made me favor Wordmonger. That being said, I'm thinking if there were more words, I might like the MC.

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  19. Birdie- You did it! You pulled me in and had MY HEART beating worried sick about what would happen to the MC. My only criticism is that I wasn't sure how old he was in the story. The description of the game made me thing 9-13 but the written inner and external dialogue read like someone 18-25. At any rate, I was engaged and crushed when he went down. I also wanted to kick the little pink haired girl so great job making her a villain with just a few words.


    Wordmonger- Great story, there just wasn't enough of it! I think you probably needed to use either a different scene that was more action packed or perhaps begin the story at the point where we see what is in the metal object. I had the sense I would love to read the larger story but thus far all I really got to experience was the promise of what would eventually be an action type story (when it finally gets rolling).

    To both writers, despite any critique you both made it so Rock On!

    My vote is for Birdie as I felt like I had consumed a full story and the piece made me cheer for the MC and want to kick the mean little girl. Awesome Job!

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  20. Wow, each competition is so difficult to judge. Both are so good. Birdie gets my vote, though

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  21. These are both really good, and have my attention. But for me, the winner is still very clear: I vote for Birdie.

    I do think Wordmonger gave us the wrong section - basically what we got is the teaser from the back cover (well, too long for that, maybe it's the excerpt you find at the end of the previous novel in the series?). It's more like something hooking us to be interested in the rest of the story rather than something that's very interesting in itself. Both stories are cliffhangers, but Birdie's story has more going on before the cliffhanger, while Wordmonger is almost entirely the cliffhanger itself.

    It is very well written though, just got put up against the wrong opponent!

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  22. These are two awesome stories; the writers should be proud. Birdie’s excerpt was a very powerful and I was genuinely concerned for the protagonist. Wordmonger was equally as good with a really nice cliffhanger.

    My vote goes to Wordmonger because I genuinely want to know what the heck it is out there!

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  23. My vote is for Birdie. Both entries are going somewhere interesting, but I felt like there was too much setup/backstory in Wordmongers. The short sentences in Birdie's made it a little choppy, but I knew what the MC was feeling.
    -Jennifer Kinzler

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  24. There were some inconsistencies in both stories but Birdie reeled me in. I was with him on the field. I figured he was labeled Little Boy because he wasn't as developed as the other kids because of his heart problem. I did like thr mystery of the disappeared town but it didn't reach out and grab me like Birdie's story.
    Birdie for the win.

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  25. The premise for Birdie's story, although sad, was more original than the premise for Wordmonger's story. Birdie did a better job of showing versus tellling, using the active voice to keep the story exciting. Wordmonger's overuse of the passive voice slowed the story down, but I thought even with that his/her writing was very smooth and easy to read.

    Both stories need fine tuning which I can recognized because of my own tendencies to make some of the same errors.

    In the end, I had to go with Birdie for originality.

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  26. My vote goes to Birdie! This has been my favorite piece thus far in the competition!

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  27. Both excellent entries - congrats for making the top 30. Another tough choice.

    In Birdie's piece, I assumed the MC was male from the 'little boy' epithet, not knowing that boys don't normally play soccer (according to a previous commenter). I'm so confused nowadays, with girls in Boy Scouts and girls playing Little League. If it is true that soccer is traditionally a unisex sport, then the author either was not clear, or made an error. Having the coach saying the player's name would have cleared that up, while also helping us to identify with the character. Being nameless and of unclear gender, the reader hasn't much to go on. While I found the teen angst to be compelling, but the pace was a bit choppy with all the one- and two-word sentences, which weren't really sentences - whatever happened to subject-verb-object? I wasn't always sure of what the message was supposed to be because of that. Short sentences are great for building tension, though, and the tension was certainly there. I echo a previous commenter's thoughts on the sports lingo - I never heard of a touch line, and it would be "a" red card, not the definite article "the".

    Wordmonger's story sets up a good sc-fi punch, but failed to deliver. Several instances of passive voice and the author intrusion of the info dumps slowed the pace. I couldn't figure out why the MC would refer to her own lips as full - seemed odd to me. Larry's monologue info dump had a lot of numerals in it - I've always been told that numbers in dialogue should be spelled out, e.g., eleven-seventy-nine, nine-oh-eight, eleven, etc.

    My vote goes to Birdie for good showing, building tension, and evoking emotion.

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  28. Congrats to both for awesome entries! I’m going to vote for Birdie, the suspense and tension were palpable, I became very invested in the MC very quickly, and as someone who typically takes a very long time to really get into a story, that was quite an accomplishment.

    Thank you both for sharing!!

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  29. Birdie...loved the thematic feeling in the voice. Very edgy even though something as simple as a soccer game was going on. Loved the phrasing in that bit about "sucking the warmth out of me..." that just stops you cold. I love it when a writer can do that. And you can tell that something drastic is about to happen; the tension is strong even though there is no action other than an ordinary children's game... Great ending.

    Wordmonger: Also nice language, but feels slightly more oridinary than the contender. Funny how even though something far more dramatic seems to be going on in this piece, the tension isn't as distinct as in the previous. It ends extremely strongly, though, at a point where it makes you want to turn the page and see the answer to the mystery.

    Close call, but I vote for Birdie.

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  30. Hands down, the winner today is Wordmonger. Better execution and better concept. In Birdie's story, I was really thrown by calling the monitor a "snitch". I was instantly transported to Hogwarts, and I had a hard time coming back.

    JoAnne Turner
    joannerturnerwrites@gmail.com

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  31. Good work to both!

    I am currently querying a contemporary YA soccer story, so Birdie immediately caught my attention. The pacing, the voice, the tension - all served to hold my attention. As has been mentioned, the piece presents several areas of concern. There were a few technical issues, like how to punctuate and capitalize dialogue tags, but the bigger problems were:

    1. Not knowing the sex of the protagonist. Is this a boy playing girls soccer or is Pink Hair a girl playing boys soccer? In either case, why? Co-ed soccer isn't standard at this age, so if you're going to have it, you'd better have an explanation. It also occurred to me that the protagonist might be a late-blooming girl with short hair - maybe somehow linked to her medical condition - who is often teased for her boyish appearance. With more of the story, this might be clear, but when you're writing for this contest, you need to read your except as if you don't know the rest of the story - because readers are liable not to vote for something they can't make sense of. Which brings me to...

    2. The monitor/snitch. It didn't take long for me to place "the snitch" as a heart monitor, but as has been mentioned, it should be set up to send an alarm if it becomes disconnected. This is a major plot hole. You can work around it, of course, by having the protagonist race against the alarm, rather than disconnect it (which wouldn't realistically work).

    3. Also, why is Pink Hair wearing a hoodie? Shouldn't she be wearing a jersey?

    Having said all that, you did a great job of creating a clear, if sexually ambiguous, character and establishing several levels of conflict (character vs. Pink Hair, vs. soccer, vs. Mom, vs. his/her own body). Those plot holes need to be filled in, but this was an enjoyable piece, and I would love to read more.

    Wordmonger, the writing was technically sound, but I didn't feel connected to the characters or invested in the story. Maybe it was because Birdie grabbed me right away, for personal reasons, but this piece felt like a lot of backstory setting the stage for... nothing particularly surprising. Work on going deeper into the protagonist's mind, seeing the world through her eyes, feeling what she feels... In short, take the reader on a journey with her, rather than narrating the story to the reader, if that makes sense.

    Today's vote goes to Birdie.

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  32. Birdie omg, all the feels for that kid!!! You have my vote and plea for more.

    Wordmonger, I feel like it was about to go somewhere, but it just didn't get there for me.

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  33. Birdie: I found this piece inconsistent at times, with details that didn't quite fit (is this co-ed soccer? age of MC versus voice of MC?, parental involvement if the monitor goes off, why is the kid not benched instead of a time-out for the whole team? A heart monitor going off would likely panic a coach, regardless of what the kid said) Perhaps in the context of a broader novel, those details would be placed in context.

    Wordmonger: The characters, setting, and plot are more well-developed. I liked the writing style better. There are some rough spots (like the sudden appearance of a helicopter) that would hopefully be smoothed over with a less restrictive word count.

    My vote goes to Wordmonger.

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  34. This is the first time I've really like both segments. For that reason I really hope the "losing" story gets back in during save week LOL.

    I was really pulled in by the MC in Birdie's tale. I love first person and I could feel what was happening (tho the story loses points because of course he was going to faint/die you told me in the first paragraph so why did you go back out?).... But I still want to read anyway so that is a huge plus in my book.

    My not so deep or dark secret is I love natural disaster movies so Wordmonger threw in a tornado with a mystery, a missing town. How can I not want to know more? So even though it is third person....

    My vote goes for Wordmonger!

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  35. Woah. Both great reads! Birdie, holy cow the tension in this scene was intense! You can feel the MC's desperation, and I was seriously rooting for them. And Wordmonger, I would read your book in a heartbeat. The writing style and where the story is right up my alley.

    Unfortunately, I can only pick one, and just going off of these words alone, I'm going to have to side with Birdie. But wow, Wordmonger, great job.

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  36. My vote is for Wordmonger. I liked the worldbuilding better.

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  37. Both have great suspense! But the more unique plot line of the two belongs to Birdie's story. So my vote goes to Birdie.

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  38. Born excellent pieces. Very cool ideas and presented well. I want to continue reading both. Birdie's kept my interest hard. It was all show and and the writing style fit well. BUT, what was the dang wire?!

    Wordmonger almost lost me with the info dumps and too much telling. I want to see the character traits, not read them in a paragraph. I also found a few cliche statements. Brought me interest cracking back at the end though.

    Birdie gets my vote for all the well done showing.

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  39. I vote for Birdie.

    Birdie's had an immediacy that Wordmonger's lacked for me. Wordmonger's felt slow and I didn't get a sense of stakes. WHY are they looking for this town? What's so special about it? Why does it matter SO much to Samira? On the other hand, I understood right away what was at stake for Birdie's narrator: reputation, opportunities to be normal, etc.

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  40. Huh, this is a hard decision. Both are interesting pieces.

    Though Birdie has a great voice, there were just enough little details left out that threw me out of the story and had me rereading for clarity. It never said she ran off the field. (I thought the coach went to her.) Didn't make it clear she detached the monitor. (I assumed she was simply readjusting.) And for those small reasons, I didn't choose that piece.

    My vote today goes to Wordmonger. Though the writing could be tighter, I felt more engaged in the story. And the end ... kicker! Leaves me wanting more.

    Once again, a great bout.

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  41. Tough call on this bout! I really liked how Birdie’s writing reflected the character’s physical state, with the shorter fragments toward the end as he begins to pass out. I definitely felt for him in the moment of humiliation and trying to push through, to be “normal.” The emotional connection was definitely there for me. However, the suspense building in Wordmonger’s piece really hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I liked the rapport between the two characters too, it felt very natural. Hard to choose, but I’m going to go with Birdie on this one.

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  42. Birdie-There is co-ed varsity soccer? Missing word: “the air thinned like *I* had just...” Would a heart monitor in this day and age have a random wire that sticks out? Pacemakers are implanted w/o wires sticking out. Is this different? Also with technology (and depending on how old MC is) I assume the beeping would send a text or alert to his mom with an app on her phone, especially if he manages to disconnect the monitor (because then there would be NO heartbeat and he would be flat-lining). She would know something is going on and make the coach/ref stop the game. I liked the rising tension and thr struggle to appear as a normal kid but I feel like the struggle would be a bit different. Like if he dies on the field he doesn’t get to play soccer anymore. Doesn’t he take his heart condition a little seriously—I feel like death would be a pretty strong motivator to not do what he just did???

    Wordmonger-Larry’s recital of the facts seems like info-dumping. Both of them would already know that info if they are on-scene to investigate the disappearances after the tornado. “Have we checked above ground?” And “let’s go up” Were confusing and made it seem like their trailer was underground (especially since it’s scifi and I’m just getting a sense of the world). Maybe change to “off the ground”? It felt like a very abrupt jump to being in a trailer to in a helicopter, need to add some sort of transition there. Love the weird metallic object/alien thing! I feel like seeing something that weird would require a little more assessment before she went down in person (fly in closer for another look or something) since she doesn’t know what it is and an entire town has disappeared.

    Both excellent entries! My vote today goes to Wordmonger.

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  43. Birdie
    I liked this, it was fast-paced, had an interesting premise, and was very intimate. It made me want him to be able to play and not have a heart attack or something. I liked the antagonist, brief description was quite nice but a little more info soon would be good. Great hook at the end.

    I felt that when the first beeps go I’d like to see some internalised feelings from the body to show the emotional reaction. Loved the word choice of ‘snitch’, I realised immediately what kind of thing it was, and loved how the word gave insight into his feelings. I'm assuming it's some new kind of pacemaker, designed for this story, as a Sci Fi rather than a standard story about someone with a normal medical pacemaker?

    I felt the planet/sun simile was a bit forced and didn’t really work. There were also technical issues with, e.g. dialogue tags.

    It’s not clear from the extract where this story will go next and if it’s an opening scene then it would be good to mention or hint at the greater story stakes - does he want to be picked for the national team, or something else that drives him through and makes him take that risk?

    Wordmonger
    For me this was nice, but it didn’t sparkle enough. It was weighed down by all the dialogue tags, when a beat would work better, and also all the info dump. It was all very “as you know…”.
    “She turned away from the pictures and began to paced” is a bit clunky, I’m sure it can be expressed more smoothly, or with dialogue between the turning and pacing.

    Mentioning the features of the MC always jars me - she wouldn’t be noticing her own full lips, unless putting make up on and looking at the mirror, even then it would be unusual to actually think it. It reminds me a bit of the current tweets of male writers writing women as running out to save a child, whilst noticing that their full breasts straining against the silky fabric of their bra...

    “Smart as a whip” etc - try to avoid cliches, they don’t do your writing any favours. Check out Blackadder videos to see how inventive you can be with new similes!

    The story and plot sound fun and definitely have potential, and the writing’s not bad, it just needs some polish and self-editing. I would be interested to see where it went next, and with some polish would definitely read on.

    Overall: Birdie

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  44. Kudos to both writers for making it into the Write Club!

    I'm honestly torn on this one, as neither really appealed to me on first read-throughs (that's a matter of individual taste, though). Birdie's writing really felt cleaner and crisper, though I was left shaking my head and getting frustrated with the character. I know he's a kid, I know he's going to make stupid decisions trying to compensate for his heart condition, but... oy. Also, the pink haired girl cat-calling her 'little boy' did throw me--I get that the POV character is female, but in the vacuum of the chapter it was hard to tell.

    As for Wordmonger, the writing wasn't as crisp, and the dialogue veered towards the cliche several times, but he did sprinkle just enough information through it to keep me at least reading along--right up to that killer hook at the end which had me immediately invested and wanting more.

    It's a tough call, but I do think I'm gonna give my vote to Birdie as the better-written piece (even though, preference-wise, I'd be more likely to keep reading Wordmonger of the two).

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  45. Reading some of the above reviews, Celia Reaves above said pretty much exactly what I wanted to, only the vote went to Wordmonger. MY vote is going to Birdie simply because the story isn't as forced and it was action-packed, despite the inconsistencies. (I'm copying and pasting Celia's review for reference below).

    These are both strong contenders. Birdie's narrator has a clear conflict between the desire to play soccer and be seen as a normal, strong kid and the unnamed medical condition that led to the monitor that alerts him to danger. I had no trouble understanding right away what the "snitch" was and why he wore it. The experience of his collapse when he disabled the monitor to play hard was well drawn. I had issues with a few things. I can't buy a lifesaving device that could be disabled just by tugging on a wire. If it's not picking up a solid heartbeat, it should be sending up alarms. Why would another youth player refer to him as "little boy"? Unless he's particularly small for his age, which isn't indicated anywhere, that seems out of place. Wordmonger's story also has a very clear conflict and goal in trying to untangle the mystery of the destroyed town. What I couldn't buy there is that they've set up a whole command center, with the map and all, just because a town was destroyed by a tornado. Sorry, but this happens a lot. What makes this one different is that there are no survivors and no bodies. Okay, but if they already know that, then the town and the surrounding area have already been thoroughly searched, on foot and by helicopter and with dogs and all. This makes it harder to accept that the main characters are just now seeing the town and that nobody else saw the mysterious metal thing. The infodumps, especially reading aloud from the mission briefing, also intruded on my immersion in the story.

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  46. Wow, can I vote for a tie? Congratulations to both of you for making the bouts and for your good work.

    Both stories kept my interest all the way through. Both had that element of suspense I love. Both were well-written and unique. Birdie's tale had some typos and a bit of repetition. Also, I don't think Novel Excerpt is a genre -- what kind of novel is the question. Wordmonger was well-crafted with no mistakes that I saw, although I would like a clue why Samira wouldn't assume that the tornado made the town disappear. We do get some of that, but it's after we see her wonder and I'd prefer it to be before.

    Truthfully, both stories are great and get right into the story straightaway. But since I have to pick one, I'll go with Birdie because it pulled my heartstrings more without getting overly sentimental about it. Good job to both of you though!

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  47. My vote goes to Birdie. This is mainly because of the greater emotional investment of a life or death event happening to a single person. Wordmonger's piece was well-written, and has potential, but I'd have liked to see the emotional consequences to the main character. Spreading the consequences over a whole population actually dilutes the effect.

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  48. I vote for Wordmonger. The only advice I would give to that submission would be to use fewer dialogue tags by incorporating them into an action. Since there are only 2 people speaking throughout the piece, we really should only need to have 2 or 3 uses of the word "said" at most.
    I liked Birdie's piece as well - it was more of a self-contained story - but I felt like the writing could've held more tension given the tense situation.

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  49. Birdie - Having to wear a medical device to monitor health and anomalies is immediately obvious to me and I really feel for this kid who just wants to be normal, hides it from others, has the strange, bossy, clueless kid trying to bully/ micro-manage him. My favorite part is when he’s pushed it too much and his body is malfunctioning. I felt every little piece of that and the fragmented format is perfect for this. I didn’t read him removing the device as other readers did since I imagined it to be permanently implanted and read it as he was just messing with it and touching it unconsciously like one does a scab.

    Wordmonger - The premise of an entire town of people, cats, dogs, and even hamsters? missing is most definitely intriguing. Based on this alone, I would read more. However, why are these two people the only ones here? Are they the only people(police?detective?solo strange event detectives?) in the area? Unless this is a post apocalyptic world where the entire world/country etc are too busy to be dealing with this, where is the rest of the interested parties(mainly the media)? Without having any indication of this, this seems way to convenient that only these two are sticking around.

    My vote is for Birdie.

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  50. Couple thoughts for Birdie, feel free to ignore any of them. Also, maybe you've already addressed these in the ms since this is a novel excerpt. I would have liked to know your main character's name. And while "pink hair" works for a character, maybe you want her to be from a rival school, so the main character would know her name. That might increase the tension even more, and might serve as another reason for the snitch to start beeping because a rival would get the heartbeat ticking faster, sooner. You do a great job translating soccer even for those who might not have a good understanding of the sport.

    Wordmonger, a thought to consider. Read your piece aloud. You might hear the info dumping more clearly if you do that. And in a piece where you're doing a good job setting up a mystery, there's even more reason not to dump so much info. One problem with the info, in my mind, is that your characters have come to conclusions as if this investigation has been going for a while, yet they are in a process that seems like it has just begun. Nice cliff hanger at the end, thanks for that. 500 words is super tough, so you might be able to blame me for some misunderstandings.

    Even as they come, but I have to vote for one, so I'll narrowly side with Birdie.

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  51. My vote goes to Birdie. I loved getting inside the MC's head, and honestly I didn't need a name. I could see this kid, out there on the field, just wanting to do whatever they needed to in order to be like everyone else.

    I liked Wordmonger's, but I really didn't get much from the story. A little too much telling and not enough happening. However against a different contestant, I could have easily seen Wordmonger's entry winning. The writing was nice and clean.

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  52. Birdie: I was right there with your character on the field. Good job showing motivation, stakes, and a little bit of attraction / rivalry (?) in this excerpt. The youthful voice came through clearly, though the piece needs one more polish for typos.

    Wordmonger: Although this was an interesting premise--a tornado plus aliens, maybe?--the voice read weighed down with info-dumping and cliches. I couldn't get a feel for the characters or stakes. There's potential, but needs tightening up. A different excerpt of the story may have performed better here.

    Today's vote to Birdie.

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  53. My vote goes to: Birdie

    Birdie: Wow. So, I love love loved certain parts of your writing. The way you worked some of those metaphors in was seamless. However, I ran into issues with the logical flow in some of your sentences. More specifically, I found a few portions of the sentence missing that made me stop, think, and have to supply an answer. With the part where your character is passing out, this choppy and jumpy sentence structure works, but I don't know how I would feel about it in a longer piece. I'll be clear, I'm nitpicking because I really liked your piece.

    Wordmonger: You left me with all the right questions. Seriously, your submission really grabbed me. It's something I'd want to pick off a shelf and continue to read through. In terms of edits though, I've got to say that some portions deserved a little more unpacking. While you give us simple scenes that clearly evoke the setting for me, I didn't necesarily feel drawn in. Maybe that's just because I'm used to really close third or first person, but if you unpack your scenes a little more I would have loved yours.

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  54. Awesome submissions!
    Birdie: I was right there with him until his world went dark. I did feel like I started in the middle of the story and was a little lost for a moment.

    Wordmonger: I liked the idea of a tornado/alien monster. You included a great deal of detail in your story (Fox Moulder costume) and made me giggle a bit. Howev er, I didn’t really feel much of a connection to the characters.

    My vote is for Birdie.

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  55. Birdie really connected me to the character and evoked emotion. Both are interesting submissions, but I'm voting for Birdie.

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  56. Loved these two stories. So different, but well written and gripping in their own way. I thought that Birdie lost me near the end, but Wordmonger hooked me with intrigue. My vote this round goes to Wordmonger.

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  57. My vote definitely goes to Wordmonger. Birdie's entry was confusing, and while I think I understood what was going on (the MC has something to keep his heart working right?), there was nothing to really connect me to the MC and I felt like it moved too quickly for me to catch up with what was going on.
    Wordmonger's piece had much more engaging characters, which tends to the be the clincher for me on a story. We also get to know what's going on (although I agree with previous comments that that information is perhaps not conveyed in an organic way), and I was interested to see what had happened to the city.

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  58. Wow, now this one was hard. I enjoyed Birdie's first line so much - the snitch that was on my chest. Good writing, however, led to a predictable conclusion. In the case of Wordmonger, the tornado led to something unexpected. Hmmmm. Wordmonger that sounds like a good t.v. series, but I am going to go with Birdie's little boy - Birdie gets the vote today!

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  59. Birdie... I feel so much for this character! I know kids like him. Were you aiming for my heart? Because, gees, that's some good aim. I surrender my vote to you.

    Wordmonger... Perhaps just a few less of these words and a couple more of whatever your next words might be could have swayed me.

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  60. Birdie: Good characterization.

    Wordmonger: Intriguing excerpt.

    Vote for Wordmonger

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  61. Birdie's sentence structures were a little distracting. I'm guessing that was a device to represent the staccato nature of the action, but it was a bit overdone in my opinion. Still, it was an interesting piece.

    Wordmonger was the setup for an interesting premise and I want to read more. I think Birdie held me a little tighter with more immediate stakes. Pressed for a decision, I would vote Birdie this time.

    Both good stories.

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  62. My vote goes to Wordmonger.
    Birdie: Good concept with good imagery. Not being a sports person, it dragged a bit for me in the description. Would vote to bring back in the Save round since I only have one vote today.
    Wordmonger: Interesting plot. I though the report reading recap was actually a good way to put that info out there in a quick and concise manner. Ending felt a bit rushed, but that’s what happens when you only have 500 words.
    Tough choice today, congratulations to both for making it in.

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  63. My vote goes to Birdie.
    With Wordmonger's story, I felt a lack of context for the world we were in, and the consequences of this rogue tornado disappeared town. The strengths lie in character quirks, and tension.
    In Birdie's story, something doesn't quite sit right with me about the ending. I'm not sure if it's because I want to know what happened, or if something felt out of place, but it pulls me out of the story. However, altogether Birdie's story feels complete and has good character voice through the main character. Plus, it tugs heavily on the emotions and for this round, that was the tipping point.

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  64. My vote goes to Birdie this round.

    While Wordmonger had a solid technical skill and an intriguing premise, the serious infodumping made me start scanning the entry about 1/4 to 1/2 way through. I need more show, more tension.

    Birdie delivered the tension and made me ask questions, in a good way. Regardless of the occasional puncuation error, I was given just enough context clues to not only understand what was happening without having the info dumped on my head, but also to allow me a little insight into the other character's personality (pink-haired girl).

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  65. Wordmonger's story had too much telling for my liking. Stuff like "But Samira trusted his instincts and he was loyal. She considered him a friend and in this job, friendship was hard to find and harder still to keep" - if that's the case, show us, make us feel those things. Samira scans for survivors - why though? Is it just her job? Is there an emotional motivation? Hook us with the character, not the situation.

    Birdie's entry was confusing, and the formatting of it being so chopped-up really detracted, but I got a better sense of the character, the situation, and the stakes involved. I think I'd also like more sensory flavor, like what does it smell like when he's down in the dirt? What's the weather like? It also felt a bit rushed near the end - "foot,move. Lungs, work," is a little lazy.

    My vote goes to Birdie

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