Writers of the Future Judge Robert J. Sawyer on “The Length of a Story to Submit to the Contest”
Robert J. Sawyer, is one of eight writers in history—and the only Canadian—to win all three of the science fiction field’s top awards for best novel of the year (the Hugo, the Nebula and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.) He also just received the 2017 Robert A. Heinlein Award for “outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space.” To cap it off, he was recently named a member of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the Canadian government.
He is also a past Writers’ Contest entrant, a friend and a mentor for our winners who lives by what seems to be a deep-seated proverb for the science fiction and fantasy community: “the best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm.”
Robert has found that helping hand and has been a judge for the Contest since 2008. He is also the author of a short story “Gator” in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 33—to be released in a few weeks. A mere 13 pages, it really is a short, and fascinating, story—about alligators in the sewers of New York that may be evidence of something much more dangerous … and much, much older.
As the Contest Director, I often get asked “How long should my short story really be to have a better chance at winning?” We asked Rob that same question and this is his answer:
“The Writers of the Future Contest is unusual in that it allows very long stories.
“I could give you a piece of advice for any writer who wants to enter—the longer you make the story, the harder your row is to hoe. When I see a shorter manuscript and it really knocks my socks off—you’ve got less chances to go wrong. That’s not to say that the longer stories don’t necessarily win, they often win. But I think very often I’ve been more impressed by somebody who’s done something tight and short.
“There’s this tendency to think, ‘okay this is the maximum word count, and I’ve got to go right up to it.’ And we’re judging quality, we are not judging quantity. If you write a short story, tight, well characterized, with a compelling theme and plot, you’re going to do very well.
“The other thing that I would look for is something that’s got an idea behind it, that’s actually about something. I look to see that there is a theme, or an issue or something where you’re using that special voice that science fiction or fantasy allows you to say something that couldn’t easily be said in another way.”
Thank you, Rob, for the advice and congratulations on your recent stellar accomplishments. We look forward to seeing you and Carolyn at our workshops and awards celebration for this year’s winners.
For more info about the annual awards event on the 2nd of April 2017 and to RSVP, click here.
Leave a ReplyWant to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!