Category Archives: Feedback and Rejections

Exactly what the title implies.

NYC Short Story Feedback

I didn’t make it past the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story writing challenge. It is not too unexpected. I had a hard time getting into the theme. I knew it was disjointed and even though I sent it off I didn’t really like it. So, although it was a slight disappointment I wasn’t surprised.

A great thing about doing the NYC Writing challenge is that even if you do not get passed on to the next rounds they still will give you feedback on your writing. I find that the feedback is very helpful. Some of the stuff I am aware of other notes are new- it is all helpful.

Below is the feedback they sent.


”The Lost Mission” by Adrienna Ogin – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – ……Interesting ideas. I was most interested in the main character’s history, including his teenage belief that he had come to the stars…….The mystery is presented up front, which pulls the reader in.//The tone has a distance to it which helps the reader identify with the protagonist’s predicament……………………………….I really like the inter-dimensional aspect to this story – it brings a real sci-fi flavor, but it feels fresh. The story has a nice arc and feels complete by the time we reach the end. The shift in perspective for the final paragraph is handled well, giving us just enough information to leave a ghostly after-image, without over-explaining……………………….   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – ……The scenes of this story feel structurally disconnected, and I wasn’t able to put it all together at the end…….There’s a switch of POV at the end — and those last lines are chilling and leave a strong impression. However, those lines would work much more seamlessly if there were some anchor at the beginning so that it’s an echo, rather than an out-of-the-blue POV switch.//When a story is rendered in the past tense, it’s important that anything which happened before the time of the story is rendered in the pluperfect…………………………….…Some of the descriptions were a little bland or too general. For example, “Life had felt relatively normal before his trip…” Normal by whose standard? Why “relatively”? And: “He had always felt somewhat different…” You can cut “somewhat” and double the strength of the statement. But even then, it might be better just to lean on the examples of his feeling different (hearing voices, needing therapy & medication) and trust the reader to know this means he felt different from other people. And: “…after some years and some medication…” How  many years? What medication? Getting more specific will help lift this story to the next level…………………….

Feedback from the Judges

I received some feedback on my first flash fiction from the NYC Flash Fiction contest. This is a pretty nice thing since you don’t always get the judges feedback on contests.

My story placed in the top 15. I had originally thought I had placed in the top five which was really exciting to me, but looking closer at their judging and scores I realized that it wasn’t 5 as in fifth place, but it was 5 as in 5 points. So if you got 14th “place,” well… you know.

I have to wait another month before finding if I made the next round. I’m going to guess that I probably will not make the cut on the next one. The second challenge just didn’t come to me and I just never felt that good about the story. And, now that I know my last story didn’t do as well as I had originally thought, I’m pretty certain my most recent entry is going to probably bomb. Hell, at least I’m writing. It’s hilarious that the only way I can now get myself to write is to pay someone else to challenge me to write. Seems to work. I grow broke, but I grow broke anyway.

So here’s the positive:

WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – ………………I enjoyed the fact you included action from the opening sentence, instead of building up to it. I think it created a stronger sense of suspense and engagement. This was an excellent premise, too!…Good suspense in this story — great pacing. The first person narrative works well, and I like the writing. ……………This is a very interesting take on biological warfare and some of the various things that could happen. There is a real sense of suspense. I like how you drop the reader into the action after it has already started. I always knew where I was and what was going on, which is a real achievement.

I think that’s some nice positives. I have to say the whole including the action from the opening sentence is proof that those writing classes I took in college paid off. So many times teachers told me I took to much time to get to the meat of the story. I really thought about that when writing this piece.

Now the negative or better put- the “still needs” work.

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – ………………I would have liked to know more about “the Doctor”, and how he had formed a relationship with Max, Steve and Clair – just a little bit of background here could really round out the narrative….Watch some of your descriptions and try to make them carry more weight. Here, for example: where they left Clair’s stiff, but living body… Why is it stiff, but still living? Be more specific with your descriptions. ……………This story needs another edit for spelling and grammar. In some cases you have used the wrong word, e.g., effect instead of affect. Pay attention to these details and it will make your writing stronger. ………………………………

Oh my god, so much of this is the bane of my writing existence. The reasons I often don’t bother sharing my work.
I’ll begin with the non bane part. I’d like to know more about the doctor too. In all honesty the story wasn’t fleshed out at all. I was in China at the time I wrote it and got completely confused about the time difference and at how much time I actually had. I ended up writing the story and sending it in within eight hours of getting the assignment. There wasn’t any real editing or back story- na-da. It wasn’t until after I hit the submit button that I realized I had a whole 24 hours left to work on it. I was bummed, but I still got some points so I’m doing something half right.
The descriptions carry more weight comment is so important. I know this. I get this. But, I have trouble with this. I’ve always dreamt of being a poet and poets are the masters of using the less words to have the most impact. Hemingway was amazing at this. It’s because I am not a master of my own language. I’m not even an apprentice. I’m behind. And speaking of behind, let me get to the bane part.
Oh my spelling and grammar. Will I ever improve? I’m not lazy about it I’m really not. I try to improve, but obviously something is wrong with me. The affect vs effect- I’ve seen the aardvark example so many times- but the skull is thick with this one. I could say, in my defense I wrote and sent the story in with only eight hours worth of work time, but why bother. I’m not a strong writer. If I had done at least one slow edit maybe it would have been a little better, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, I’m glad to get the feedback. I think it’s helpful. Unfortunately, I sent in my second story before seeing my weaknesses so I’m sure I repeated some of them.

If you want to read the draft you can read it here.

Back to the Short Story Board

It has been awhile since I have touched any of my short stories or worked on anything related to this blog.

I recently pulled out some old work, Gunter McWilliams and Ishi two short stories that I had felt had reached completion and both of which have been rejected. I didn’t send them out to too many places so I’m not heart broken.

I had my friend check them out. She is a great reader and had some interesting feedback.

Gunther is science fiction and was a timed writing for the Short Story writing contest. I came in fifth place which I think is pretty good, but the pages were limited. Now that I have no page limit, my roommate has suggested that I expand on the story. She brought up something I hadn’t noticed, and that was that the character is a bit lecherous, and pathetic, and that I should explore that part of his development more. Of course, I wouldn’ say those traits are actually developments.

The second story Ishi is based in truth, but I have desperately tried to make it a fiction piece. She said it was too broken up that the vignettes worked in the sci fi but not Ishi. I have to tell the truth with this story, as uncomfortable as it is to tell.

I probably wont touch them until my novel’s final draft (I think final) is completed. I have 121 more pages to go.

My Antheneum is coming to an end and what I have learned through this experience is that I write a lot more than I give myself credit. I had no idea that I had managed to write as much as I do, only I want to write more.

You ask and you shall receive

Just as I was thinking of leaving the Zoetrope community I was given three really great reviews, all with workable feedback. I have now worked on the third revision since I originally posted The Rules of the Game, three or four days ago. I am finding that I literally could write all day long. One story alone is taking me weeks to write well.

I’ve added a few elements to the story in regard to the portion about the Native American tribe that once lived in the area per advice of my roommate and I re ordered the events and changed the ending. This has been a challenging process. I find that I can whip a story out pretty fast but there is so much more development involved. I am amazed that people write novels. I am working on a novel and it is taking me forever and I haven’t even reached the part in the novel where I am in the short story process. I mean it i could do this all day.  I envy the working writer, and those that get to be paid for what they love to do.

Speaking of getting paid to do what they love. I read another great story out of American Short Fiction by Patrick Somerville. It is titled The Universe in Miniature in Miniature. I was such a great read. I have only been delighted with what I have read in American Short Fiction and if I ever found myself published in their journal it would be an honor to share the pages with these  great writers, Patrick Somerville, Christie Hodgen, Karen Gentry just to name a few.

As a last note in regard to my most recent short story, I think the title needs to be changed, I feel like it is close in my head but not quite there.

Review and Rejection

I received a great review from one of the readers on Zoetrope, revising my faith in the online writing site. She didn’t say it was a great story. She said it was a good start but it needs a lot of work. She did write specific places where I needed to work on the story which is really what I wanted to get as far as feedback goes. So based on some of her criticism here is the new opening sentence to my story, The Rules of the Game:

When I was eight most of my childhood emotions had been stored away into tiny Tupperware containers and then stored in a basement in my belly, and in dark shelving behind my ribcage. I’d keep these feelings locked away until they started wanting to live and breath on their own, but it would be a long time before that, for now it was just quick recordings and storage. It wasn’t often that I would formulate a feeling, attach a name to it then reflect on it again. If I did it was lost somewhere in my body, but the day I stood in the kitchen as my mother was preparing pork chops for dinner, and I told her that I had to come home early because Gary got in trouble, I had made a decision, one of a few decisions that I had come up with on my own, and the emotion, the feeling, didn’t get stored away, but sat in my belly like a bad meal, gurgling and pinching my gut making me nauseous. I decided I wasn’t going to tell her why he got in trouble, what it was that he did that made his mom hit him.

In other news, I got my rejection e-mail from Caketrain.

Dear Adrienna,

Thank you for the opportunity to read your submission. After careful consideration, we have concluded that we are unable to publish your work at this time. The opportunity to assess the unpublished creations of writers from around the world is a great privilege and responsibility, and with that in mind, we want you to know how honored we are that you have trusted us to consider your work. We invite your further submission and correspondence and remain grateful for your continued support of the ongoing Caketrain project.

Of course it is a bummer to not get published,but I don’t think the story was good enough anyway. I think it is good that I attempt to be published even if they are not of the best quality yet because I just want to at least go through the motions of a least trying to get published. In fact, maybe I will feel like I really deserve it once I finally do get published. They only downside in the rejection is that they don’t tell you what you need to work on. I don’t expect it, there are so many submissions no one has time to give the writer feedback. I’m glad to be able to work on the story again and revise it and send it out.

Getting constructive criticism

No one has read my story that I posted up on Zoetrope as of yet, and honestly I’m not too surprised. One problem is that it is 4,000 words, and I think that puts it down on the list of choices to read when you can read and review a 1,000 word story instead. I’m just impatient because I want some feedback because I want to send the story out, but I know it needs more work. My new roommate read it, and said that it was beautiful, but that she felt I should expand more on the Native American part, she said, as it is that it sounds cliche. I agree with her, so that will be my next step in the process. The great thing about having people read your stuff is that they can give you insight into your story, they can help you discover things that you may not see because you are too attached to your work as it already is on the page.

I prefer face to face contact, and conversation about writing over doing it on the internet. Too much gets lost in translation between e-mails and online groups. For instance I had written a review for this one woman, never once saying I hated her work, but I pointed out where I would like to have seen more or where I found it to be confusing. I make a conscience effort to highlight what I like and the reason I add any criticism is because I think a story deserves to be the best it can be. This particular woman wrote me back, and she was angry that I criticised her work at all and then she accused me of saying her work was crap, a word I never used. I was really surprised to be chastised for applying criticism on a site where I thought that was what people wanted. I didn’t realize that people wanted gold stars and to be told it was wonderful even if it wasn’t finished. I mean I expect to get criticism. That’s why I post it. I put it out when I need help, when I can’t see where the story needs to go, and I hope that someone can help me drive the story in the right direction. Again, this is why I prefer face to face discussion about the work, maybe the woman would have understood that I wasn’t saying her work was crap, in fact there was a lot I really liked, I just thought that it needed a different structure to better tell the story. You take it or you throw it away but don’t get mad. She later apologized, but for me it put a distaste in my mouth as too whether or not the site was going to give me what I need.

Back to talking with my roommate as we discussed my story we both came to the understanding that The Rules of the Game is a story about power. This was something I didn’t know while writing it, but now I can see it, and now that I understand the theme I can better tell the story.

I think that I will keep “The Rules” up for another day on Zoetrope, but if no one reads it than I think I will take it down and look for a new way of finding feedback and a writing community.

I’m beginning to think of starting my own writing group here in Portland. I know there are already several, but what’s one more? In this group I would like the intention to be to publish. I think there are plenty of groups and workshops created for expression and idea or just to write, which are so important but I want something that is more emphasized in getting your work out into the world. The end game isn’t to actually be published, if that happens great, but it’s more about the process, in fact it is all about the process.

More on Gunther

I finished my latest short story, and plan to post it onto Zoetrope to see what the “people” think before I send it off to see if anyone would like to publish it. This story will be my first real attempt to reach out into the publishing world to see if they bite. I need a title though, so hopefully the Zoetrope folks can help me out. Speaking of short stories, I posted some annotated notes from people on Zoetrope, and the things they thought were strong and weak in regard to the story Gunther McWilliams. I’ve had a funny reaction to Gunther: I’m over it. The story was created out of a short story challenge contest, so, it isn’t the theme I generally feel driven to write (yes, I plugged my third placement in the first round). It was great practice in writing in a different genre and voice but when it came down to all the extra work to make the story shine, I just didn’t have it in my heart to go deeper. But maybe some other time.

Here are the notes:

The good: non-traditional story–this semi-science fiction story is satirical and funny. Swiftesque feeling. The story flows well. The dialogue captures the nature of the character, authentic in tone. Never once gets in the way of the story you’re telling, and the pace you keep is perfect for a narrative of this sort. The story itself feels familiar interesting twist here a fascinating twist I really like the premise.


Some places for improvement would be more imagery . Not totally original but enjoyable nonetheless. A very few minor typos.  I’ve seen it before.

Finding substance

You’ve got a lovely bit of detail here, but not much in the way of substance. You may want to extend this a little bit, just long enough for her to discover something or change in some way. She discovered the letter, but she didn’t learn anything from it.

Uninvoked posted the above comment in regard to the first draft or impulse draft ( you can read the first draft here for reference) of my latest S.Stry idea. This type of advice is great to get on a first draft, first of all, it tells you that they like it; that there is something in the piece that interests them, for Uninvoked it is the detail, but they are right the piece does lack substance.

In the practice of stream of consciousness this piece, to some, would be considered fine as it is. You just let the muse pour through you and the reader will add their own interpretation. I’m not making a commentary on that writing practice just that it exists, and as it is, I do enjoy just letting a piece remain in its purity, But I agree with Uninvoked, it needs substance in order to reach out to a broader audience.

The last post was about the inspiration or the exercise that birthed the ideas behind this story, but now that it has been outlined on the page, the original inspiration can be forgotten (at least for this piece other pieces may need to hold to the muse).

One thing or feeling I got after I reread this piece is that I would like to change the relationship between the character Marguerite and the man, whose name we do not know. Right now, as it is written, my impression is that they were perhaps lovers, partners, romantic in some way. I don’t think this works. This is a feeling. As I was writing it on the blog, I kept having this feeling that they should be siblings, but to stick with the idea behind the blog I decided to leave it in its original form, but my gut tells me this is a story about siblings.

This discovery or intuition alone will change will help to add to the need for substance. As a writer, I find that asking questions is the best approach I can find for building a story. I know that this is a relationship piece, I do tend to be a relationship writer, but there is also more, like what is Marguerite’s feeling to her (now) brother’s death, is it apathy? Is apathy interesting? It can be if written well, but do you need a motivation behind the apathy?

Questions I have for myself are as follows:

What are their ages? Who is the younger sibling? What was their family life? Why did he kill himself? (these don’t have to be answered in the story but it is good for me to know) Was he depressed? Did he suffer from a depression or bi-polar disorder? Had he always been a recluse? What caused this? What was their relationship? Did she take care of him? Did she have to take care of everything?

Uninvoked did not say anything about my grammar or punctuation, and this is so valuable to me as a writer. In the beginning stages so many reader’s critic the writer of the grammatical mistakes, and this does nothing to help with the substance or truth of the story. I can fix every run on sentence, every misspelling, and it would still lack substance. Never ever worry about the editing till the very end, the story is the most important, its like presenting a plate of frosting, it may look beautiful and elegant in design, but where’s the cake? I would much rather eat a nice fluffy layered cake spongy in texture and exploding in flavor than lick a plate of sugar.

If other questions arise in regard to the first draft please feel free to post them as comments.

Gunther McWilliams- more feedback

NYC Short Story Challenge judges sent me some feedback on my story. It’s great that they do this, it is my understanding that it is not often you will ever get feedback when you submit to contests or publications. If you do get this opportunity be sure to soak it up. Here are their views:

The Good:

”Gunther McWilliams”- WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT – …………The plot of this piece is amazing. I think the writer does an excellent job making this scenario seem that much more realistic. Given the story, the title of the piece does a nice job of alluding to what’s to come. I like that once the story is over, the title takes on a new meaning, a darker one. Additionally, I enjoy the pace of the piece: The writer nails each scene. …………………………The piece is propelled by a well-staged sense of mystery.  Gunther’s panic is effective and disturbing………….Interesting, creative premise.  Well-drawn main character.  Lively, realistic dialogue………………….

With the bad (or what needs work):

…………I think more about this world could be made slightly different or off. I wonder if you could allude to the people this man knows and how old they are. Additionally, do people value youth? It seems this is the case. Thus, I wonder if you could bring this into the story early on: an obsession with youth or maybe just hints or mention of how few have aged around this man. …………………………The last section of your piece is awkward in the desire to “unveil” the master plan.  The “Logan’s Run” arguments are interesting, but the exposition stalls the piece and sets it in a less interesting convention.  It might be more effective to have Gunther’s inquisitiveness lead him to answers in a more active fashion.  Avoid the desire to explain everything.   …………Many grammatical errors.  One complaint in the logic department – the missing cat was meant as foreshadowing, but it is specifically stated that the humans are treated at birth to forget others when they turn 32.  The cat should not have been affected.  When you stated this important fact yourself, you misphrased it so that it reads as if humans forget all OTHERS when they, themselves, turn 32:  “…is the message to forget people at the age of 32.”………….

Many grammatical errors? CP said few.

So many thanks to the judges and CP and now I want to boil this information for a bit and see how or if I want to apply it too the next (and hopefully) final draft.