Desi Writers Lounge’s Short Story Contest
(Estimated Reading Time: ~ 30 minutes – If you don’t have time you can read the Background, Result and Conclusion)
I sincerely hope I don’t become a victim of an over simplification, when people categorize the act of someone raising questions, about the quality of judgment in a contest, as someone behaving like a sore loser (because the one, raising the questions, did not win the said contest). What I share is an opinion based on observations which could be wrong.
I wholeheartedly appreciate the work Desi Writers Lounge is doing and their Dastaan award initiative and I wish them the best of luck.
An organization by the name of Desi Writers Lounge held a short story contest. It probably started some time after July 16, 2013 and ended on September 15, 2013. It received some 200+ entries. I participated in it and I was super serious about it. The organizers were very helpful and happily answered questions that required detailed responses.
I followed some of the best practices mentioned on different sites and forums. I had multiple people look at my story which I updated in the light of their valuable suggestions.I also put it aside and let time pass. And I came back to it after a month. I revised it. In fact, I revised it nearly 200+ times. Paying attention to minute details. Fixing holes in the plot, the tenses, the voice and the flow of the story. Making sure it wasn’t weak anywhere. I’m content that I did my best.
I didn’t win the contest. I didn’t get 2nd or 3rd position or an honorable mention.
That is understandable as it was one solid possibility. I am not delusional and didn’t expect to win the very first contest I participated in. I’m 100% okay with it.
The winning story
More importantly, here is the story that won the contest, which I believe has flaws in it.
(Take some time to read it. I insist.)
Did you read the story? Please read the story because a major portion of this post revolves around it. Once you’ve read the story you realize it is very gripping.
In the last 6 lines, all that noise just goes out the window and leaves the reader in shock.
I feel that’s the desired effect that the author wanted and was successful.
Flaws in the winning story
But I noticed (and I would like your opinion on this) that there are parts in the story, I think, which are not written well, like:
1- Construction of the Crime in the story
A) 8th segment/part of the story, line 232, ‘Hoshang’ explains that the rape took place inside the house. The word ‘they’ suggests more than one man committed the crime.
We are to believe that the victim opened the door to her house to strangers? And she managed to run out of her house (overpowering, let’s say, two men) to ring the bell of people in the building?
So the woman opened her doors to strangers, overpowered them, ran outside her house and then she was dragged back to her house and raped by men she had overpowered?
B) While the victim was taking her time pressing everybody’s door bell on that particular floor (in one case, pressing it twice — and politely pausing before pressing the door bell a second time), are we to believe that the criminals were merely taking a stroll to reach the victim?
2- The victim of the crime
In the story, it is told that the rape took place the day before the interview (the interview took place at the very end of the story), but the victim was not showing any signs of mental trauma in the story during the interview, which is mysterious.
For example, in the story, while explaining the tragic event, the victim ‘smiles’.
She apologizes and jokes about breaking the door bell of the reporter’s apartment.
3- Biggest hole in the story
Now go to the last 6 lines of the story. The victim (in the story) says that: “They got to me before you did.” and the husband says: “Nobody answered the door bell”, implying, at minimum, that they knew the reporter was in her apartment. This was the shocking and most profound moment in the story. This was the foundation of the whole story.
— Now explain this to me: How did the victim know that the reporter was present in her house?
Let me help you with that: Put yourself in a person’s shoes who is ringing a door bell not once but twice with a polite pause in between. And no one answers the door.
After this exercise tell me what would you infer? Would you conclude that no one is answering the door because people are in the house? Does this sound logical? Was the victim sitting next to the author while this story was being written?
Also was the victim expecting the woman reporter to open her door to the rapists?
Judges’ note on the story – All praises
“Sucharita Dutta-Asane has written a remarkable story that deftly and delicately breaks down the awful spectre of big-city violence. On a technical level, the piece meets almost all the traditional criteria of a ‘good story’, but the writer’s real triumph lies in the way she controls her audience, gently manipulating and guiding the reader to an end that will change the way most of us think about the cities we inhabit.”
My apprehension before the contest
The contest, sort of raised a red flag, for me in the very beginning, when I went through the content of the website several times, (so that I didn’t end up violating any of the submission rules). There was a story that got 2nd place in the 2012 short story contest.
And in the reason-for-choosing, the judges said:
“… If the characters do not seem well developed or if they are lacking in their personalities, it is only because this story is part of a larger text. Upon a second read, everything suddenly seems to click into place, completing the puzzle….”
So, essentially, what they were saying was that, if a story forces one to read it a second time, because the characters don’t seem well developed OR they are lacking in their personalities, it can still win a 2nd prize. There is no stopping them once the judges have made up their minds.
No conspiracy here
Now I’m not cooking up a conspiracy or anything, by writing this. As I believe it would be very unfair if I were to say something like:
1) “It appears only women deserve the top two spots for the contest, judging from 2012 & 2013 results.”
2) “It appears that the guideline for 5,000 words limit is misleading, since only shorter stories have won.”
3) “It appears that only authors with shining profiles win because they have ‘potential’ and when their profiles are mentioned elsewhere in the future, this contest’s name will appear in them and will result in free promotion.”
4) “It appears that the authors are asked before hand (before the announcement of winners) to submit their shining profiles. This happened on the day of the announcement of winners of the 2013 contest. On September 15th, the names of winners were there on the website, along with their shining profiles. How very convenient.”
This was a great learning experience. I, now, appreciate literature and writers more and (sort of) understand the hard work that goes into making a story. My personal estimate is that a short story of about 5,000 words (or 10 legal pages) requires: scheduling 5 months, writing a draft, getting feedback from the right people, revising, asking lots of questions while doing lots of research, revising, leaving the work aside for a month (in the 4th month) to review it (in the 5th month) with a fresh perspective, revising again (overall 200+ revisions) and lots of dedication. No need to be surprised or demotivated if the plot of the story, the gender/name of the protagonist/villain and the locations change while the story develops and is revised over time. Participating in writer meetups or groups is very very beneficial.
I am a bit disappointed in the result of the contest. I would have appreciated if a better story had been picked as the winner. But I feel that thanks to this contest and the motivation of the Dastaan award, I am a better writer now (sort of). Thank you Desi Writers Lounge!