WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Playoff Bout #3



Reminder - Playoff Bouts 1-2 are still taking your votes. Please make those your next stop if you've not voted there yet.

We are now down to just six contestants and it's time to see how they match up with ALL NEW MATERIAL.

This is the 3rd of three playoff bouts and you need to pay special attention to when voting ends because a staggered timeline will be used again. Speaking of voting, it has a special significance during the playoffs because in addition to three winners advancing to the semi-finals, a fourth Wildcard winner will also be selected. How is the WC chosen? It will be the loser that had garnered the most votes among all three losers. So every vote counts - win or lose.



We do ask that you leave a brief critique for all of our contestants because that is one of the real values of this contest – FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

The voting for today’s bout will close on Wednesday, June 12th (noon central time).

The piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the semi-final round where they’ll face a different opponent with another NEW WRITING SAMPLE

As always, in case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote.

Here are the voting guidelines –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Anyone can vote (even the contestants themselves), but 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 cause 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!

4) Although more of a suggestion than a rule - cast your vote before you read other comments. Do not let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others.

Like the man say's



Please welcome back into the ring, with all new material - 

Organized Confusion



I sweep and sweep, but pale ashes remain, marking the asphalt. They get into the tiniest cracks and refuse to be removed. My memories are the same; I can't cry enough to wash them away.

Each time I fall asleep, I relive the accident: the glare of headlights, the screech of twisting metal, fragments of safety glass raining down on me like malevolent diamonds.  My brother's screams call to me each night.

“Kari! Help me!”

“I'm hurt!”

“I need you, Kari!”

I'm always stuck, just like that night, pinned in place by the seat belt across my chest and the shaft of the steering wheel in my right thigh. I twist as far as I can and reach behind me—whether to comfort him or myself, I'm still not sure.

His screams fade to cries … whimpers … silence.

I clutch at his hand. “Wake up, Teddy!” I stretch one more inch out of my already strained shoulder and shake him.

I keep my arm wrenched behind me, fingers wrapped around his limp hand despite the cramps in my shoulder blade, until help arrives. Paramedics pry us apart to whisk me away in an ambulance. They intentionally block my view of the tiny body in the back seat.

My parents pretend they're not angry, but I hear them talking late into the night. In a hushed, grief-thickened voice, my father asks, “Do you think she was on her phone? Texting, maybe?”

My mother takes a second too long to say, “I'm sure she wasn't.”

I never looked at my phone with Teddy in the car. They don't ask me—they wouldn't believe me if they did—but it's true.

Teddy's ashes sit in their plain black box on our mantle for weeks. The stark white label pasted to the front announces his name, his birthday, and the date of the accident, but says nothing about the sparkle of his laughter or the annoying way he chewed carrots with his mouth open.

Mom and Dad finally decide how they want to release his ashes.

“Balloons—red and blue ones,” Mom says. “Friends and family can come to the house, share a memory before we let him go. He always wanted to explore the world.” She chokes on the end of her sentence. Dad puts his arm around her and blinks back tears. I press a thumb down on my wounded thigh until it's all I feel.

A cold wind blows the day of his memorial. The wind and the old oak trees lining the drive conspire against Mom's plan. Brightly colored orbs snag in the branches one-by-one, bursting. Ash rains down on us.

The gunshot sounds of each memory's aborted journey fold my mother into a crumpled version of herself. Dad takes her inside and puts her to bed. Those who gathered to pay their respects disperse, fleeing in the face of so much unfathomable pain.

I find a broom and fail to save my brother once again.
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Our second contestant is Sydney Slayer


It is our turn to tend to the dragon.
We live at the top of the dragon-wrapped mountain and on this day we tend to the dragon that gives us his magic. Being so close to him does something; it changes us. We can’t ever walk away from it. It’s in our blood, our lungs; our eyes.
Our eyes.
Sameera watches me unpack my kit and re-pack it; it’s a tradition, the morning of dragon day, to make sure we have everything. I like the ritual. I like touching the bottle of oil, feeling its weight; checking the tools. The other girls do it quickly and most of them are done repacking their kits while I’m still touching all my things.
“Do you wish to delay the inevitable, Ryu?” Sameera asks, her eyes glittering sapphire. That’s the thing about jewelled eyes; it’s harder to tell what we’re thinking. Sameera can pretend all she wants but we both know she isn’t being kind.
“I just like to make sure everything is perfectly ready, Sameera. Some of us don’t like to push things before their time,” I reply, my eyes glittering back at her. I smile and tilt my head and her face flushes; she does not like to be reminded of how she pressed Grandmother last year to let her vision-travel, after Grandmother told us we weren’t to try it yet. Sameera doesn’t like to get in trouble; she just wants to be the best. The first at everything.
“When you get tired of fondling your kit, maybe the dragon will let you fondle him,” she says crudely, and the other girls gasp, looking from one to the other.
I turn my back on her; she shames herself with her words, not me.
Not me.
Grandmother is waiting in the teaching square for us as we file out of our room, packs slung over our backs, silent and solemn as is proper for such a sacred duty. She stands under the shoyu tree and her black diamond eyes do not shine as she watches us walk, single file, Sameera in front as always, me bringing up the rear, the other two girls an ineffectual buffer between us.
Grandmother hands us tea mixed with honey and sings to us, a chant, a melody, something soothing that makes everything fall away until our minds are clear as a mountain lake, a dark pool that holds everything and nothing in complete stillness. My annoyance with Sameera drowns in that pool along with all my thoughts of leaving the mountain. She croons to us and the stillness brings peace; a necessary peace, so that our wild girlish notions and loud emotions will not disturb the dragon’s rest.
It is very, very important not to disturb the dragon.

Wrapped in song and stillness we leave our home and take the winding path up the mountain, snow drifting like blossoms around us, our footsteps silent in the hush of the misty path.
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Please leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detractions.

We’ll be back next week with our two semi-final bouts. 

Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encourage them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!




62 comments

  1. Yet again, two very different pieces, both beautifully written, and intense in their approach. I just don't know where Sydney Slayer's is going, and I feel all the pain of sister, mother, and anyone else involved in the first one.
    So my vote goes to Organised Confusion.

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  2. Both entries today are full of imagery, beautifully written, and very different. I want to read more about the dragon - why is it so important to not wake it? Organized Confusion gets my vote simply because the story is complete, while I felt Sidney Slayer's was not quite finished. Great work, both of you! These are getting much harder as we get closer to the winner!

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  3. These two passages are absolutely gorgeous--the writing in both is fluid, poetic and evocative. Organized Confusion's piece conveys the protagonist's grief in stark and beautiful language, and Sydney Slayer's piece evokes the feel of a fantasy world where nothing is what it seems. This is such a hard choice, but in the end I'm voting for Sydney Slayer by a nose--I'm not a fantasy reader, but the world building and characterizations are so well done I want to read more!!! Congrats to both of you!!!!

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  4. My vote goes to Organized Confusion.

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  5. This one is TOUGH!! Organized Confusion's piece is really well done and solid but leaned a little too heavy on the heartstrings for me. Again, it was VERY good, it just felt a little over the top on the emotions (almost a little pandering?) but that is a very small critique!

    I had to read both a few times but, in the end,. my vote goes to Sydney Slayer, I am really enjoying this world-building and the prose. I want to see where it's going!

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  6. Organized: this is an emotional, painful piece. It feels very raw and authentic. Does the whole piece take place on the day of the memorial? I’m confused why the MC is sweeping at the beginning and finding a broom at the end. Also a little hung up on the logistics of inserting ashes into all those balloons.

    Sydney: once again, beautiful imagery and a clear voice. The opening leads me to expect a dragon encounter, but all that happens here is a conversation and a walk. The last line is intriguing and would make me want to read on.

    I vote for Organized Confusion. Congrats both!

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  7. Sydney Slayer’s piece is clearly part of a larger work and everything about this selection makes me want to read more. My vote goes to Sydney Slayer!

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  8. Both of these pieces are very good! This might be the toughest match-up in the entire contest for me!

    I think that Organized Confusion did a great job of capturing the emotions the character is feeling and conveying them to the reader. The pain the MC feels is clear; definitely pulls on the heartstrings.

    Sydney Slayer gave us another piece of beautiful writing, with great voice. I really enjoy the subtle jab the MC gives to the other girl. I also want to know more about the dragon and this world.

    This was a close one, but my vote goes to Sydney Slayer.

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  9. Congratulations for making the playoffs, Contestants! I'm so stinking proud of you!

    Organized Confusion: Once again, you yanked tears right out of my eyes without my permission. Your piece was evocative and beautifully written. One thing I stumbled over a touch was the confusion about whether or not she was texting at the time of the accident. Wouldn't the police have checked her phone for evidence of use at the time of the accident? Maybe not, but that question popped me out of the story for a moment.

    Sydney Slayer: Here, we have another excerpt from the first story. Like the first one, it's gorgeously written. I'm glad to have had a little dialogue in this excerpt, too. I did think it odd that everyone eyes are described as glittering jewels. On my first read, I took that as merely a metaphor, but on my second read I questioned if everyone's eyes are actually jewels, and that brought up a whole host of questions. When Ryu responds to Sameera, she says her eyes glitter back. Since this is a first person piece, I was confused how Ryu knew her eyes were glittering. Does glittering have a distinct feeling to it? Does it hurt? Sting like tears? I get that the dragon magic has done something to their eyes, but I'm just not sure spending so much space describing eyes is the most effective use of 500 words. One final thought, and this one is purely subjective and personal: Grandmother sings their wild girlish notions and loud emotions away. This just sat wrong with me. Girls and women have a whole host of notions and emotions, so it felt vaguely sexist to point out that girls are silly and don't have control of their emotions. Is it possible that on Dragon Mountain this is true? Sure. But we've not seen any evidence of this so far. In fact, both pieces give me the feeling that a lot of responsibility is placed on girls from a young age. If the culture dictates girls go out and tend the dragon, which is a huge deal for everyone, wouldn't those girls be more stoic? I could understand Grandmother singing their fear or anxiety away, but if these girls are old enough to be tending the dragon, they're surely old enough not to be wild and immature around it.

    Again, congrats to both contestants. My vote goes to Organized Confusion. OC made me cry, again, and they told a complete story that didn't distract me or pull me away.

    Sydney, I'm sure the book you've pulled from is delightful, and I hope to read it one day. It's just, for me, these stories don't work as excerpts.

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  10. This is a really close bout- both pieces are beautifully written and really evocative. I'm going to go with Sydney Slayer by a nose, because the characterization of each sister is really well done within a short space.

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  11. My vote goes for Organized Confusion. Once again I feel as if the story was from my own life by touching the raw emotions of tragedy that happens in everyone's life. Sydney Slayer has a very interesting glimpse of a tale but I feel as though I only caught a glimpse of a mural and am left frustrated at not seeing more.

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  12. Sydney Slayer gets my vote. Organized Confusion, your writing is lovely, but depression, along with the physical lethargy and/or repetitive behavior that can accompany it, is simply tough to portray. Dreams and backstory also weigh things down.

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  13. My vote today goes to Sydney Slayer. I would read more. It feels like an interesting set-up to an original concept, and it pulled me in.

    Organized Confusion, thank you for your piece. You really captured a lot of emotion in your short passage. I know what it is to be a handmaid of parents' grief, and I felt that keenly in your writing.

    Thanks to both of you, and good luck!

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  14. Both of these pieces are gorgeous and I don’t have much of a critique for either writer. I’m voting for Organized Confusion simply because their story drew me in more.

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  15. my vote goes to Sydney Slayer

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  16. Both stories are well written and compelling in their own way, however, Organized Confusion reached in, grabbed my heart and twisted it. My vote is for Organized Confusion.

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  17. This is the toughest choice by far. Both nit-picky crits, as there's very little in either of these to improve upon. Well done, both!

    OrgCon: You really know how to tug at the heartstrings. Pure, simple portrayal of grief and all it entails. But the idea of putting ashes into helium balloons yanked me out of the story. Jarring, a comically morbid image in an otherwise poignant, stricken mood. (mantEL=shELf, mantle=cape)

    Sydney: Thanks for more of the Shoyu story. I really enjoyed the imagery of the jeweled eyes and "fondling her kit" and the way the characters revealed their personalities through dialogue. The triple iteration of "Sameera" in the early paragraphs gave me pause, as did the phrase "other girls." I was thinking there was a crowd of them. If only two, I'm left to wonder why Ryu thinks of this pair as nameless "others"? Are they somehow inferior to Ryu and Sameera?


    Today's very close vote to Sydney Slayer because I want to read more.

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  18. These two stories seem to be continuations of related subject matters. Organized Confusion's is again about the relationship between a brother and sister in sad circumstances. Sydney Slayers is again involves a dragon and extraordinary people with mystical qualities. Both are well written, and so I must admit, for the first time in this contest, I am having a hard time choosing.

    I am giving my vote to Sydney Slayer for more imagery and better prose over all.

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  19. Organized Confusion gets my vote, for another punch in the gut. This one hits harder than the first one! I love the way it comes around from beginning to end, with disordered time... almost organized confusion, you could say.

    Sydney Slayer was also really good (though I preferred her first piece by a wide margin). It's well written but it's just so "dragon dragon dragon" (that word does appear too many times in the beginning!), it doesn't feel as grounded as the earlier excerpt.

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  20. Excellent writing from both contestants today. In the slush round, you were both in my top fifteen, one of you twice, and I really hate to have to choose between you.

    Organized Confusion: You've done an excellent job portraying grief and guilt and the awkwardness of living together as a family altered by tragedy. I love the description of the white box whose label says so much and so little, and that the sister remembers not just the good, but also the annoying. Ultimately, it's your decision, but if you make it into the next round, I'd like to see something that doesn't have to do with grief. You have more than proven you can depict grief and loss with art, eloquence, and honesty. I absolutely love what you've done so far, but I'm curious to see what you can do with other emotions.

    Sydney Slayer: You've delivered another glimpse into a rich, magical world. I love your style, and expect you have a full manuscript hiding behind these entries. The pieces you've submitted so far are full of world-building, and a fantastic world it is, but I have questions. Why aren't the other girls named? Right now, they seem like vague entities rather than fully developed characters. Is Grandmother a blood relation or is that simply her title as dragon-tender trainer? As with Organized Confusion, the choice of what to submit in the next round, if you make it through is entirely up to you, but I personally would like to see a piece that relies a little less on setting and magic systems and delves more deeply into character and plot.

    Again, you two are amazing. Of all the bouts, this is by far the hardest. I'm going with Organized Confusion, but I wish you both the very best in all your writing endeavors!

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  21. Organized Confusion
    What worked:
    This piece digs into the raw emotion around loss and guilt. The language is stark and immediate, which suits the topic.
    I particularly like the detail of Teddy chewing carrots with his mouth open and how the label on the box of ashes doesn't show that.

    What didn't:
    Maybe it's a little too stark? There's no hope or reprieve from the sadness at all.

    Sydney Slayer
    What worked:
    This continues to be a beautiful, compelling story.
    I really enjoyed the description of how Ryu feels about the ritual of repacking her kit.

    What didn't:
    Although I like that interacting with the dragon causes permanent changes to the girls, the mention of the eyes came across as repetitive. It felt like you weren't trusting the readers to pick up on that detail, so you mentioned it several times.
    "Wild girlish notions" feels very counter to everything that has been established in both pieces so far. In the world you've written, "girlish" would not be used in this way. Girls in this world are the protectors and the descriptor "girlish" wouldn't be used in such a dismissive, denigrating way. That's the unfortunately misogyny of this world bleeding into that one.

    My vote goes to Organized Confusion.

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  22. I really don't know what to make of Organized Confusion's entry. It seems to be going for a heartfelt, tragic story but the ash filled helium balloons at the end evokes a really dark humor that is very jarring to what leads up to it.

    Sydney Slayer's entry is following up the first round submission. My only quibble was the early reference to 'other girls'. When I read it, I got the impression this was referring to what others did previously and not that there were additional individuals in the story. Also gave the impression of there being a number larger than two. But it is minor and my vote goes to Sydney Slayer.

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  23. Dragons certainly caught my attention but Organized Confusion's had a much higher emotional impact and gets my vote.

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  24. I vote for Organized Confusion by a hair.

    OC's narrative drew me along in a way that Sydney Slayer couldn't quite top.

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  25. PLAYOFF BOUT 3: And two more great pieces from contenders that deserve another ovation.

    Organized Confusion - that last line gutted me. Such a tragic piece. You melded memories, dialogue, thoughts, action and description in a tale that swept me along. The juxtoposition of dark and light worked for me. I'm not going to spoil my initial reaction by looking for holes - if there even are any. Will anyone ever know why this tragedy happened? A complete piece, yet this sets up more.

    Sydney Slayer - dragons always get me reading. The interaction brings out the opposing characters - and some clever details are slipped in. I like your word weaving but expected more with the ending. More to come? Some repeated/echoed words and phrases work but others don't. By cutting some excess words, including adverbs, you could make that dragon clearer. Or have I missed something?

    I voted for both contenders in previous rounds so this is tough. But there can be only one - Organised Confusion.

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  26. My vote goes to Organized Confusion.

    Organized confusion: This is such a raw and painful piece, yet beautifully depicted. Excellent job of depicting so much with so few words.

    Sydney Slayer--I felt that this was too much telling without showing. Not much actually happens here and I'm not exactly sure what's about to happen. It's a bit confusing for me. I want to like this story; it has so many unique ideas and good writing, but it just didn't draw me in today.

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  27. Both of these pieces are really well done, but my vote goes for Organized Confusion simply for the raw emotion I felt while reading. To pull that much emotion via a small sample of writing is really difficult to do. Very well done.

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  28. My vote goes to Organized Confusion. The pain and grief and guilt in the piece felt raw and real. Quietly devastating.

    Sydney Slayer -- Nice lyrical writing and interesting plot, but it didn't quite grab my interest. I liked it better than Slayer's first piece, though.

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  29. Yet another difficult choice! My vote goes to Organized Confusion though. I'm not big on family drama or child death - it often feels emotionally manipulative, but the grief here comes through crisply. The horror of the memorial is stark, and the last lines about sweeping up the ashes are powerful.

    Sydney Slayer's imagery and prose was beautiful, but it didn't feel either complete or enticing enough to lead me into a larger story.

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  30. Organized Confusion - This is a stronger entry than the first piece. It plays on some of the same emotions, but the imagery was stronger and the balloons at the end made a nice personal tragedy. Starting and ending with the ashes was nice, bringing the reader around full-circle.

    Sydney Slayer - The writing is strong, though the imagery doesn't pop out as much as in the first entry. Also revisits themes from the first piece, but in this case I don't know if that was a good idea, since that story lost to a story that wasn't nearly as well written. It may have been better to come up with something with a little more plot and bolster it with the beautiful language, instead of relying solely on the writing itself. Also, those semicolons are a problem. Eight is plenty for a 75,000 word book. It's overkill for a 500 word story.

    My vote goes to Organized Confusion

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  31. Organized Confusion for making me feel the emotion.

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  32. This one's tough! Voting for Sydney Slayer.

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  33. Congratulations to both writers.

    Organized Confusion’s piece was heartbreaking- the sense of pain and guilt was palpable.

    Sydney Slayer’s piece felt like the buildup of something bigger - and I want to know more. A lot of little details fill the story and round it out.

    My vote goes to Sydney Slayer.

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  34. Sydney Slayer: lots of imagery of tradition and custom along with jealousy and selfishness amongst the chosen few, well written with a nice flow.

    Organised Confusion: made me cry and stayed with me for a few hours after reading it. A powerful piece showing guilt, confusion, love, tragedy and loss, blame whether misplaced or not (we don't actually know).

    My vote is for Organised Confusion.

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  35. Organised Confusion: A heartwarming piece which touched me, and a dramatic setting.

    Sydney Slayer: The first line caught me and I was drawn in from the get go. Also, dragons.

    My vote goes to Sydney Slayer.

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  36. Both pieces are excellent however, Sydney slayers piece, while we'll written, comes across as static. I can see what she is describing but I want to see action as opposed to description.

    Organized Confusion - I could see clearly all you described and liked that you peppered action into piece. The feelings of pain were felt rather than read and I felt it deep within me. The last line was brilliant and gut wrenching all at the same time.

    My vote goes to Organized Confusion.

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  37. This one is so tough.
    I think I have to go with organized confusion. Their piece broke my heart at least three times.
    I'd love to read more of Sydney Slayer's piece. I want to know if they'll disturb the dragon.
    Good luck to you both!

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  38. These were both wonderful! Organized Confusion broke my heart, and I'm certain this one will stick with me for the next few days. Wow.

    Sydney Slayer produced another piece full of solid world building and imagery.

    Both are worthy of continuing on, but I have to vote for Organized Confusion on this one. The emotional impact of the piece is what clinched it for me.

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  39. WOW. Two great stories each very different from one another. Tough choice. Sydney Slayer's story is intriguing. I want to know more about the girl and her relationship with the dragon. The story hints of some great world building to come. Organized Confusion painted a picture so real my chest tightened and I felt like I was going to cry. This was a tough one but my vote goes to Organized Confusion for making me feel the sister's pain and hopelessness.

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  40. I voted for both of these entrants originally, so my excitement piqued when I saw them pitted against each other.

    Organized Confusion: Heartbreak and tears. You put me in that girl's shoes and we swept ashes together with our hearts in pieces. That's the difference between telling and immersing your reader in the story. Your segues between past and present keep us immersed and in the emotion of grief and death. You handle it perfectly in first person POV and did very well in third with your original entry. If you make it to the next round, I'd love to see how you immerse your reader in a different set of emotions.

    Sydney Slayer: Your original entry so blew me away, I couldn't wait to read this one. Unfortunately, too much telling, especially in the opening, proved disappointing. I would rather have been dropped into scene with her packing, then we learn the why. And rather than "wild girlish notions"--what are these, anyway?--it would have been more effective to carry out the powerful theme of leaving any pettiness behind, as you alluded to with Ryu's annoyance. One glaring inconsistency: the story begins "... We live at the top of the dragon-wrapped mountain." Yet at the end, "...we leave our home and take the winding path up the mountain." How can they go up if they're already at the top? I feel this has so much potential as a larger story, but doesn't quite work for me this time in the 500 words allotted.

    My vote: Organized Confusion

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  41. My vote is for Organized Confusion. I started the piece wondering why she'd be sweeping up the driveway after the car wreck. A fatality wreck in their driveway? I never saw it coming. Outstanding.

    Sydney has a beautiful style and this is a great excerpt, but I don't think it's the right excerot for the competition. The conflict is muted, the ending too vague, and we really don't have much of an arc to follow in this short piece.

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  43. Congratulations to the last duo of Write-Club semi-finalists!

    This is another bout that highlights the strong contenders seen in this contest. It’s also great seeing two new entries.

    Organized Confusion gives another emotionally-rich piece dealing with the death of a sibling. Where I found their last entry compelling and written very well, I felt it lacked enough of a story arc to be a complete piece of flash fiction, which is what it was labelled as. Here, however, there is more of an arc, and the ending returns neatly to the beginning, but with a deeper understanding in the reader of what is exactly happening in the MC’s sweeping.

    The emotional content in the story and the anguish of the MC is clear. The writing is very clean, and many phrases are impactful and rich -- “malevolent diamonds,” “but says nothing about the sparkle of his laughter or the annoying way he chewed carrots with his mouth open,” “Brightly colored orbs snag in the branches one-by-one, bursting.”

    I found the idea of spreading the boy’s ashes by balloon a little odd since I’d never heard of it, but a quick google search shows that yes, this really is a thing. It may have been poor planning to release them around so many trees on a windy day, but I also fully understand how grief can cloud one’s judgement.

    I get Kari beating herself up, and I actually like how the story leaves it ambiguous about how the accident actually happened, but getting phone records would clearly prove whether or not she was texting at the time of the crash, so she could offer that to her parents to clear the air. But again -- maybe she feels at fault in some other way and wants to avoid any and all discussion about how the accident happened.

    Sydney Slayer returns with another scene of Ryu. I really liked the lyrical language in their previous entry, but also felt it suffered by being too vague and confusing as to what was actually happening in the story.

    Here, further information from putting both entries together really helps me understand what’s
    happening in the story, but that’s both a plus and a minus. As a reader, it’s very good to get a fuller picture of the story, but it also might be a little unfair to consider two separate entries to judge an individual bout.

    Still, the writing is still very lyrical and evocative, and the story concept is rich and creative. The use of direct character-to-character interaction and dialogue in this entry helps immerse the reader in the scene and helps build the characterization of Ryu.

    It now seems very likely that Ryu is female and that the “other girls” refers to her and the other dragon-tenders. I might even assume that Ryu not wanting to follow and instead wanting to lead from Slayer’s last entry relates to the order the girls form as they walk single-file, with Sameera in the front and Ryu at the rear.

    I enjoy the concept of these young dream-visioners tending to a dragon, and I would keep reading, certain that the admission to not disturb the dragon is like Chekov’s gun in the mentioning, so Ryu and the girls are very much likely to disturb the dragon in upcoming scenes.

    So I applaud the writers for two more solid entries, and while I feel much more connected to Sidney Slayer’s imaginative dragon world, I am casting my vote to Organized Confusion in this round.

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    Replies
    1. Wow -- struggling with formatting and auto-correct today ("Admission" to not disturb the dragon above was originally a misspelled "admonition"). Posted twice to try and clean it up, but still still see issues. Oh well, lol....

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  44. I thought both pieces were great! The Sydney Slayer is interesting and very well done. I would very much like to read the completed work. My vote goes to Organized Confusion because this piece was more complete and impactful in itself.

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  45. Organized Confusion gets my vote tonight. I would like to read more of the dragon story just felt that organized confusion was more complete.

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  46. Both pieces though great had issues with inconsistencies (Confusion's piece with the broom usage at the start then at the end, Slayer's one with the mountain).

    I also felt the dialogue in the car in the first piece felt somewhat unauthentic. Likewise, the questioning of the cell phone use—this would have been determined one way or another almost immediately.

    Slayer's had punctuation issues, but the writing was really beautiful and the writer managed to achieve something with their piece that surprised me... and that was to keep me interested in reading a piece of fantasy fiction, which is a genre I normally neither read nor enjoy. Well done, though not sure I am a convert yet to fantasy!

    For this reason, and for the simple fact that tonight I enjoyed reading something more uplifting than something sad, my vote goes to Sydney Slayer.

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  47. These are both excellent. But today, my vote goes to Organized Confusion for pulling me into the story so well.

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  48. This is one of those times where the word count limit really hampers what could very well be an amazing story. I feel like shorter, complete short stories have a better chance in an arena such as this because the reader gets to experience a beginning, middle and end all at once, rather than only getting a small portion. For this reason my vote goes to Organized Confusion because so much raw emotion was packed into so few words. Bravo.

    Sydney Slayer I feel like you also have an amazingly beautiful story, but the nature of this type of contest makes it difficult when we can only read short excerpts.

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  49. Both of these stories are well written and organized.
    Sydney Slayer gets my vote, because Organized Confusion just made me too sad.

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  50. Two wildly different pieces and formats, both effective in their own right.

    OC, you certainly have a talent for tugging at our hearts with your short stories. THIS. BROKE. ME. The small details made this for me--the thumb on the wound, the memory of Teddy eating carrots. IMO, the phrase "brightly colored orbs" distracted from the plot a bit. I had to reread it to confirm what actually happened, and that's definitely a point in the story where you want your reader to be completely present. Also, I think some others pointed out the story progression--if you bookend with the sweeping scene, should the middle be in past tense? Small critiques of an otherwise strong piece.

    Sydney, I just love the mood of this novel. There's so much quiet beauty. It's difficult to get a sense of the stakes in an excerpt, but I would have loved to hear more of what Sameera is thinking about this task. Is she afraid? Is the dragon dangerous? What happens if they don't "tend" it? Small hints around these points might make the reader more invested.

    I'm going with Organized Confusion this round, but it's a painful choice!

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  51. One of the toughest bouts yet. Both authors painted vivid stories and gave me characters I empathized with. In the end, my vote goes to Organized Confusion because of the complete store.

    Sydney, I need to read this novel. Finish it soon.

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  52. So difficult to choose! Both of these are excellent IMHO.

    Organized Confusion - beautiful, heartrending. I felt the pain and sorrow and grief - you're a talented writer.

    Sydney Slayer - I was sad at the end because I was already really invested in the story! I like the characters and anything with dragons is a plus in my book.

    It was very hard to choose, but my vote goes to Sydney Slayer.

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  53. Both writers did an incredible job. My hat is off to the skill involved in bring these two stories into the world. My vote goes to Organized Confusion because they absolutely flayed my heart. Holy cow.

    Lesley Handel (lesleyhandel@gmail.com)

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  54. Organized Confusion -- Right in the feels. Guess you really put the boxing gloves on here.

    Sydney Slayer -- I love how real this felt, even though it's fantasy.

    They're both great. Sydney Slayer is the one I'd be more likely to buy, if these were books. Which is usually how I decide when it's close for me. But Organized Confusion... man, the emotions there, I just can't get over that.

    Organized Confusion gets my vote this time. Honestly loved both though!

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  55. Breaking my feedback into 2 comments (1 for each entry):

    Organized Confusion
    Another scene of a sister and brother where one ends up dying. It's cool seeing how you can take the same theme and apply it in another way! Bravo. I, like others, however, would like to see something different for the next round if you make it through.

    Strong opening and it's fantastically stomach-dropping how the context of sweeping ashes completely flips on its head by the end. Very clever way to draw the reader in and then force us to re-examine our original interpretation.

    "...fragments of safety glass raining down on me like malevolent diamonds." This line doesn't work for me. Safety glass is designed precisely so that you don't end up with lots of small fragments (certainly not enough to fit with the amount I imagine with "raining down"). Diamonds are tiny. There's something really wrong with your windshield if you get in a wreck and it shards like this description is implying. It's a nice similie, but doesn't match reality. Maybe if it's just a few malevolent diamonds, that would work, but it's also not as strong. I'd re-think this part and come up with some other evocative detail for an element of the accident. Maybe go with one appealing to sound. Wrecks are loud. And you can contrast that noise with the brother's scream. His scream can either cut through the other noise, or else get lost in the cacophony.

    Why is her little brother in the backseat and not the front? The way he cries for help, I'm assuming he has to at least be middle-school age. But most kids like to sit up front. With the "tiny body" description, I thought, "Well, maybe he's still small enough to require a car seat?" But a kid that young wouldn't say, "I need you, Kari!" Need is a more grown up concept. So I'm having a heck of a time figuring out just how old Teddy is and why he would be in the backseat and not up front with his sister.

    I'm also having a hard time figuring out what kind of injury he may have sustained that allowed him to be initially aware and conscious, but die quickly. From the headlights mention, I'm assuming a head-on collision, or maybe Kari swerved and hit something else? If so, I don't understand how the back of the car was damaged so much as to result in Teddy's death. Maybe the headlights came from the side and they were t-boned? That might explain it. But this is another detail that seems really vague and an explanation is necessary due to Teddy's positioning in the car. If Kari just imagined she heard her brother crying for help, that may work better with the present setup and make the story all the more dramatic. Then she would be caught up in trying to see hope when in reality there was none.

    Great details about Teddy's laughter and carrot chewing! I would love to see more of him as an individual brought in elsewhere. Rather than Kari just reaching for his body, for example, maybe she tries to grab onto the hoodie his grandfather made him. Maybe she sees his light up shoes he insists on always wearing going off. If his body is tiny, maybe its because he genuinely is tiny for his age, but wants to be a basketball player someday anyway. You can get more details in on who he is woven throughout the tragedy, which will just make the heart-break more felt.

    Love the mother's mention of Teddy wanting to explore! Another good detail.

    "She chokes on the end of her sentence. Dad puts his arm around her and blinks back tears." I wish the parents' grief were approached in a less expected, more nuanced form. Right now, it conforms to the overtly emotional, almost wreck of a mother, and the stoic, keeping it in dad. We've seen these behaviors time and again. Let the dad be the one choking on his words. Let the mom try to put on a stoic face.

    A horrifying ending! The final line is a genuine gut-punch.

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  56. Sydney Slayer
    Lots of repetition of "dragon" at the top. Maybe use a description other than "the dragon-wrapped mountain" to break that up.

    Three Sameera's back-to-back feels a bit clunky.

    I would drop the " most of them" in "...most of them are done repacking their kits..." There are only 4 girls total, so going with the full contrast of them all being done helps distinguish Ryu even more and does not contribute to the idea that this is a much larger group of girls, which I also thought was the case (especially with "other girls"). I'm also curious, if there are only 4, why Ryu seems so distant and disdainful of the other 2. They don't even get names. Seems odd if they all live together.

    I'm a bit torn on how I feel about the girls having literal jewel eyes. It's a neat, unique feature. But I also thought it was purely metaphorical in the last piece and felt it was a really great description. If it's literal, it weakens that a bit.

    I would love to know more about the consequence of Sameera's vision-travel. Or did she not get to attempt it at all and just got rebuffed by grandmother? That's a bit unclear, which makes Ryu's burn less understood and biting by readers. It's interesting, too, in that Ryu is supposed to be the one who's challenging the system, but if Sameera is asking to do things before she knows she should, she's also trying to challenge the system. It's not necessarily disjoint---Sameera can challenge in ways different from Ryu, but if that's a theme that is important, that she is also held back by the present culture but excuses it, or still gives in to it, I think that foil needs to really be highlighted. I'm sure that will come out in a longer piece. Here, we could get more of a sense of that if we better understand why she felt she would even have any success at asking to vision-travel so early. It does also make Ryu seem a bit of hypocrite to diss Sameera for wanting to lead/ break from tradition when the setup is implying that's all Ryu wants to do (at least, as expressed in the previous sample. You don't get that sense at all in this one. In fact, here Ryu seems totally content with the system and way things are. Curious).

    The way this scene is approached, it feels like there is only one dragon. Yet, we know from the opening description of "dragon-wrapped mountain" that there are a lot more. So why the importance placed upon the one? And why do the girls and grandmother all act like there only is one? Or does "dragon-wrapped" really only refer to one? Need more clarity here on the setup. And if only one, a different description.

    So I'm getting the sense that this all might be a super clever feminist tale using the dragon and strict ritual as metaphors for an oppressive male culture. Hence the "wild girlish notions" being an intentional mismatch that readers are supposed to balk at as ridiculous, out of place, and offensive (and I am hoping a later twist shows that the women/girls don't need the dragon to be powerful). If that's so, then I am definitely intrigued! The fantasy backdrop is a witty and fresh way to approach that subject, especially given how the traditional fantasy genre on the whole is pretty misogynistic. Flipping the dragon tale on its head in a more nuanced, subtle way that doesn't follow the same story beats as old dragon slaying stories, but just with obvious female leads/empowerment is genuinely progressive. Sold! However, that's not 100% clear if that's the case with these short pieces. And if it's not, then I totally agree with other comments that the line is a poor one that is out of place.

    Tough call, but I'm going with Sydney as I think the characters here have more dimension, the writing is still really enjoyable to read, and because I dearly hope that feminist metaphor suspicion may bear out (it would be brilliant if so!).

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  57. Sydney slayer gets my vote this round!

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  58. Organized Confusion
    Sara
    Saraspersonalemail@gmail.com

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