FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016


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Post September 04, 2016, 05:55:22 PM

FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

"An Epistolary Tale" Challenge:



This month, we're shaking things up.

We're going to step away from our usual prose comfort zone and tell a science fiction story entirely through letters exchanged between two or more individuals. This is known as an epistolary story.

Epistolary stories are hardly new, and here are some examples I borrowed from Wikipedia: Steven King did it in the novel Carrie using letters, newspaper articles, and book excepts, etc. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding did it in the form of diary entries. C.S. Lewis did it in The Screwtape Letters.

Rarely, however, have I seen this in flash. Also, we're limiting ourselves to letters only. It should be a unique test of your mettle to progress a plot and build strong characters when they can't directly interact, all with a very limited word count.

If you'd like to see an example of this done within the word count, there just happens to be one this month in Aphelion's Flash Fiction section. It's called "Letters from Deimos" by Ryan D. Harris, and you can read it here if you like. The story was not written for this challenge, but reading it did inspire the desire to try the epistolary form.

Here's the deal: I challenge you to tell a science fiction flash story through the exchange of letters between two or more individuals. However, I'm looking for more than just letters. Something has to happen to progress some manner of plot throughout the letters, so that it tells a story.

I attempt each of these challenges right alongside you in the same timeframe, so let's see what we can make of it together.


C'mon, let's have some fun! Join in!



REQUIREMENTS: (1) Your science fiction story must be told in the form of letters exchanged between two or more individuals, progressing the plot of your story; (2) 1,000 words or less, not counting title, byline, or "The End"; (3) The characters and story must be fictional and not previously published, even in these challenges; (4) One entry per author; (5) Give your story a title and a byline; and (6) Keep it clean. Rated 'PG-13'. (Basically, think, "Could I see or say this on ABC network television, even late at night?" That allows a lot, really.)

CHARACTERS & SETTING: No copyrighted characters or settings, or references thereto. Famous, non-copyrighted, fictional characters like Santa Claus, or non-human religious figures such as the Devil, named angels such as Gabriel, or gods like Thor, etc. as minor supporting characters at best and at my discretion. The Wicked Witch and Dracula may be in the public domain, but don't expect me to allow them. No person that was ever a "real life" human being may be used as a character, but can be referred to, as in "President Kennedy had declared it would be so." Except as noted above under non-copyrighted fictional persons, character names may not be copied from fiction or real life, even if changed, i.e. Char-less Darween. For the purposes of these challenges, all human (or born of man) individuals who appear in Greek or Roman mythology, the Bible, Torah, Quran, Mahayana Sutras--basically any major religious text--are considered real people, and therefore may not appear. One of the objects here is to practice creating fictional characters.

All non-copyrighted settings are ok. Famous, unique sites like Stonehenge may be used over and again. No fan fiction or sequels, so don't bother putting your story in the Land of Oz or using that great character you thought up two challenges ago.

DISQUALIFICATIONS/REFUSALS: If, in my judgment, any requirement or rule is missed, I won't post the story for voting, but authors are free to resubmit with changes until the deadline. Should a story be initially accepted and posted in the challenge, but then later judged by me to be in violation, the story may be disqualified and removed from contention at any time before contest end. Authors who feel a story may be in violation should send me a PM and state their case.

HOW TO ENTER: Stories must be sent by PRIVATE MESSAGE, and NOT posted into a thread. Just click the 'PM' button at the bottom of this post and paste your story in the message. You are responsible for doing your own formatting, and leave an extra line between paragraphs, just like when you see them in the 'zine. I will allow different colors, but not changed fonts or sizes, artwork, or any other embedded or external links.

DO NOT send a regular email to me.

Stories will be posted "blind"--without the author's name on them. All tales are literally tossed into a pith helmet and chosen in random order. When the poll closes after the voting week, I'll post a list of the stories and who wrote them. All entries will then be reposted in the Flash Archive with the author's byline.

Entries from new authors are strongly encouraged. C'mon. Give it a try!

NOTE: ONLY REGISTERED MEMBERS who have posted at least one message may submit a story. Without that one post, the system will not let you send a PM.

DEADLINE: Stories should be in by 9 p.m. Central Standard Time (GMT-6), Sunday, September 18, 2016. The stories will then be posted for voting at approximately 10 p.m. Voting will close on Sunday, September 25th at approximately 9 p.m., GMT-6.

VOTING: Stories are rated on a scale of 0-10 in whole numbers in 6 different categories by filling in scores in a form that is posted by me immediately following the post containing the stories for this challenge. Voters copy and paste the form into a PM and send it to me for tallying. One vote per user (and/or per ip address). Authors may not vote for their own story, but must vote for all of the other stories in the contest. A challenge entrant who does not vote for the other stories will receive a 10% deduction in their own score at the time of contest close, and the other stories will be given marks equaling whatever their story's average is at the time of contest close.

IF YOU WISH TO SCORE A ZERO FOR A STORY, YOU MUST ENTER A ZERO IN THAT POSITION ON THE VOTING FORM.

If more than two stories are tied at the end of voting, there will be a succession of one-day runoff votes until a single winner is chosen or the number of winners is reduced to two.

WHAT YOU WIN: Writers get improved short fiction skills, increasing their chances in the marketplace, without the lengthy investment in time a longer story would take. That, as well as bragging rights and pride--there is stiff competition each month amongst some great stories.

LEGAL STUFF: I'll try to do my best lawyer impersonation: By entering this challenge you are technically granting Aphelion: The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy perpetual electronic rights only to post and archive your challenge entry. Aphelion would rather not lay any claim on them at all, but by posting them on a public site, they'd legally count as being published no matter what.

Ok. A real lawyer would have been less interesting. I tried.


All the things I do to get Aphelion out each month (find the artwork, design the covers, correspond with submitting authors, read & format the short stories, format Dan's editorial, upload all the sections, and create the forum folders) do not allow me time to write an example. I will, however, write one right alongside the rest of you. Whatever I come up with, even if unfinished, will be posted for voting with the rest of the entries.

Good luck to all of us.

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Post September 06, 2016, 07:02:18 AM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

Epistolary writing isn’t new. I believe that “Diary” is also a good method to tell a story. Dracula is a good example of a writer using a diary for telling one of the most famous horror stories ever written.

September’s challenge will stretch our creative abilities. Flash challenges do that and this one will stretch our imaginations to come up with a story, but also stretch our imaginations to come up with a story while standing on a different platform! Nice. I really like it.

Good challenge!!
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Post September 08, 2016, 09:43:07 PM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

I was wondering. Do E-mails count?
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Post September 08, 2016, 11:16:03 PM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

Yes. I would regard an email as a letter.
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Post September 08, 2016, 11:34:28 PM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

How about "all forms of digital communication" such as IPad, cellphone texting (as letters), Smart phones (if it doesn't catch fire first), Social media like Facebook, forum posts (again as letters) blogs etc.
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Post September 09, 2016, 12:08:31 AM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

Daniel Johnson wrote:How about "all forms of digital communication" such as IPad, cellphone texting (as letters), Smart phones (if it doesn't catch fire first), Social media like Facebook, forum posts (again as letters) blogs etc.

Texting, yes. I'd even go for a chat string among a small, closed group. The rest, no.

Hanging a notice on a bulletin board is not the same as a letter or message to someone. It doesn't carry the same connective nature as a letter would.
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Post September 09, 2016, 03:31:23 AM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

I'm back from vacation in Scotland where we also attended Scale Scotland Model Show in wonderful Edinburgh, and I will be sending today my entry, after having received the usual useful suggestions/reviews of course...eh,eh :D
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Post September 12, 2016, 01:34:51 AM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

My first draft is done. That was much harder than I thought it would be.

How is everyone else doing?
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Post September 13, 2016, 04:00:17 PM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

Is anyone else still trying?
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Post September 13, 2016, 08:32:25 PM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

Well, it kinda floats in and out of my consciousness once in a while. Really, though, just a few days ago I managed to restart work on the long-dormant tenth chapter of my novel, and it's looking like I'm going to skip writing a crit in Critique.org this week.

Unlikely, in other words, but I'll at least make time to vote.
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Post September 15, 2016, 07:44:46 AM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

I'm working on mine, and yes it is harder than I thought it would be. However, that difficulty is worth the effort!
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Post October 01, 2016, 04:58:56 AM

Re: FLASH CHALLENGE: September 2016

I'm psyched my story prompted the flash challenge for Sept. Thanks guys!
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