Submissions closed – the judges’ thoughts

Now we have selected the submissions that will grace the first issue of Incoming! we thought it would be a good idea to list the main thoughts that occurred to the judges during the selection process.

Please not in most cases the conclusions we came to regarding this list did not have an adverse effect on any of the submissions. No submissions were punished because they did or didn’t adhere to the reasons listed below, except for the final point.

Rather, during the judging process we were highly analytical over why we felt as we did and, in identifying these factors, made every effort to set them aside so that we could look at each submission as objectively as possible.

However, all of the points below will be influential in the judging process if and when we make a call for submissions for a second issue of Incoming!

Here are the judges’ thoughts:

People love sci-fi for similar reasons and standing out is difficult. The things that made the judges fall in love with sci-fi when they were younger – spaceships, robots and cybernetic implants (and questions of identity that follow from the latter), lost civilisations on other planets, AI, large-scale timelines and so on – are of course why other people love sci-fi, too.

Thus, many of the submissions concerned themselves with these concepts and mechanisms. This is no bad thing, and one idea everyone at Incoming! sticks to is that there is no such thing as a cliché or tired trope in expert hands – there are plenty of great books, comics, films and TV shows that harness old ideas and forge something fresh and original from them.

But it did mean that the submissions to Incoming! that stood out in doing something different did so sharply.

Detail isn’t everything. We will be implementing a word count next time. We read every word of every submission with care, but doing so meant that the judging process took a week longer than expected!

It’s difficult to show rather than tell. We received a number of submissions where the character motivations relied on lots of backstory and/or where plot revelations occurred through a character explaining something to another character.

In these situations, the judges were looking for these details to be shown through the actions of the principle characters in a way that makes the reader feel they are complicit in these discoveries rather than observing them.

Or, in the case of backstories, for the main story to drop hints and clues that allow the reader to piece important history together without being told what it is explicitly.

The juice is worth the squeeze. Many of the submissions presented a cast of characters with clear points of friction between them – whether an antagonist versus a protagonist or within the same group – and this friction sometimes played out as a secondary plot point.

The judges reported that, quite often, the missed opportunity in wringing out every possible drop of drama and emotion from these friction points prevented a submission from being the best that it could.

Endings are difficult. A lot of the submissions had compelling settings and marvellous characters. But where a lot of stories stumbled was in not having a satisfying ending. This doesn’t necessarily mean a sad ending, a happy ending or even a twist ending.

While ‘satisfying’ is an ethereal, ambiguous term that is impossible to pin down, the judges believe it is also something immediately recognisable when it happens – to both the writer and reader. Hunting down that magic can be torturous but is always worth it.

Please remember that we can only speak for our own tastes, and we are not experts.

Therefore, if you are submitting elsewhere that has a record of publishing stories with a different slant, trust your gut.

However, where Incoming! is concerned, we feel that taking notes of the above will serve you well.

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