Ceramic DM - Spring 2005 (Late Bloomer) - We have a winner.



No problem in putting it off for a few more hours, at least for me. So have a good night's sleep before composing judgements, and RangerWickett gets another handful of hours where he can still hope to win this thing :)

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Nothing terrible happened to us. A few weeks of living with too little sleep has been trying to catch up with me though. I finally ran out of steam yesterday. *Bleah*

But hey, I just compiled the judgements and will be posting shortly.


Final Round Judgement - Berandor vs Rangerwickett

Last Judgment. Both stories literally 'wowed me. Whew:

All I can say is "Wow." This really blew me away. Touching, powerful, and all around a great story.

The plot here is mediocre, but the characters that travel it make the story. I loved the characters, they seemed vivid and real. The characters developed well, and I was amazed how much I cared for them by the end of the story.

I also have to comment on the general premise of the picture use: none of your stories really involved an 'alternate world' of any kind. No dreamscapes, just a real world and someone that sees it just a little different. I really liked that, as it made the picture use all the better.

As for the pictures themselves, they're well used, for the most part. I'm amazed at how mundane this story seems, despite all the odd pictures. With the exception of the time travel bit, it all seems very real, albeit from a slightly twisted point of view.

Overall, a very good story. I think your moral really carried the story, it reads almost like a folk tale in some places, but that style really works.

Wow. Three rounds, three parts of a story. It's not often we see trilogies of Ceramic DM stories, but I think you pulled it off quite well.

Looking at this story all on it's own, it would be easy to be confused. We come in at the middle of a bigger plot, with the major villains relying on knowledge from the first two stories. The story gives just enough background to make sense, but not enough to make the story totally self contained.

The plot was strong, if a little dependent on the other stories. I really felt like the first two stories were the rising action of the last one, which is good in the bigger sense, but it leaves this story a little flat. All of the story is action, we don't really get the rising part of the story.

The picture use was some of the best you've done in this triad of stories. Very few of the pictures were directly in the netnet, which makes for good picture use. The netnet can be a bit too easy to throw a picture into, but you avoid using netnet pictures for the most part. Your weakest picture was the long-legged sign, which seems tacked on. Not only is it in the postscript, but it doesn't really play into anything. The biggest feature of the picture (the oddly long legged man) is barely touched on. Not bad, but not as creative as, say, the polygons sitting in front of the grocery store when viewed from the netnet.

Revealing that the real world is not as real as it seems worked well. It made the netnet seem all the more plausible, and helped explain the magic. Perhaps a bit too Matrix-y for some people (this is what I had been expecting to happen in the last Matrix film), but it worked well.

Rodrigo Istalindir

Ceramic DM - Final Match, Berandor v. RangerWickett


What a charming little story! The beginning had a deceptively whimsical tone, a little 'Let us go then, you and I' feeling that is unusual but effective. Right away, it makes the story feel like it's being told rather then written. The narrator toys with you a little, hinting at bad things to come. Foreshadowing in a short story is problematic, moreso in Ceramic DM where you don't have a lot of space to put some distance between the foreshadowing and the actual events. Here, though, it works, because of the completely unexpected turn the story takes at the halfway point.

I must confess that up to Michael dying, I was a little disappointed. The characterization of Michael and his daughter was solid, but the wife and his boss were completely one-dimensional. A little more humanity for the wife, and a little more plausibility for Michael's work assignments, and you would have generated some real sympathy for the father and daughter. As is, though, instead of drawing you into the story, it kind of reminds you that you're just reading words on the page.

At the turnaround, though, the story takes off. A little deus-ex gives Michael a second chance, and he gets a chance to live happily ever after. The repetition as Michael relieves his last weekend with his daughter works well, almost in counterpoint to the foreshadowing of the first half. A daring approach, all in all. I wouldn't have thought it would work well in this kind of competition, but you pulled it off.

Picture use:

Leaves: Michael's dying vision, merely descriptive.
Broken sculpture: The means by which his benefactors from the future restore his imagination. Kind of a throwaway, as anything odd could have been used, but acceptable.
Running Man: A billboard come to life, giving Michael the endurance to reach his daughter before she leaves. A clever use, given it's initial appearance as just a billboard, seeing it take a more active role was unexpected and welcome.
Helicopter head: The odd-ball hairstyle of the pain-in-the-ass boss. Bonus points for actually having the characters recognize it as a helicopter and act accordingly. This would have been an easy one to try to finesse, but taking it at face value was the better way to go.
Bug Backpack: Nice juxtaposition, with the daughter's imagination in the first half being transferred to the father in the second. It made for a nice transition between the two. And it's reappearance at the end was a nice touch.
Martial artists: I was concerned when I saw this picture come up. Similar pictures in past rounds caused no end of trouble, and I wasn't really looking forward to more martial arts stories. But the way Michael's resurgent imagination intertwined the physical kung-fu with the verbal judo was superb. Very Walter Mitty, very unexpected, and maybe the single best use of a straightforward picture in this competition.

Ranger Wickett:

Part 3 in the trilogy. Unlike part 2, this one stands on its own a little better. A little bit of flashback fills in the gaps, and brings the reader up to speed. The plotting is a little tighter, too, giving the reader a clearer sense of direction and action. Still, being so wacky/surreal/something along those lines, is jarring, and really interrupted the flow of the prose. I had to keep stopping and re-reading sections as I went along.

The scenes in the netnet and the confrontation with El Hadje are much better, partly because while it is still a little wierd, there is some internal logic holding things together. The shifting between the netnet and the psuedo-real was well done, especially in the fight between El-Hadje and Chou. This time, the in-joke punchline comes partway through the story rather than at the very end, and was I think the highlight of this particular episode. The chain-letter booby-trap was brilliant, perfectly in keeping with the setting and consistent with the rooster's cryptic reference to "things primordial from the earliest days of the netnet."

The ending falls back into the pattern established in the beginning, where one gets the sense that things are happening merely to serve the narrative, not because they make sense within the confines to the story. The epilogue seems tacked on -- it would have been better to resolve that within the arc of the story proper, I think. This seemed too much like the obligatory 'last scare' in a horror movie.

Picture use:

Leaves: The end of the ice danger, pretty much just descriptive within the context of this story
Broken Sculpture: Code representations of the world seen through Chou's new insight. Creative use, and it really works in a Tron sort of way.
Running Man: The billboard as a billboard.
Helicopter Head: A tangle-haired druid, her appearance seems perfunctory and doesn't seem to tie in to the rest of the story very well.
Bug Backpack: An evil little hitchhiker. Kind of confusing, but creepy enough to be effective
Martial Artists: Chou and Jessica alter their perception of reality and escape into the virtual. Set up well in an earlier scene, although it could have been a little better -- how did Jessica figure out how to do it, when it was Chou's outlook on life that let him perform the feat?

Interestingly enough, both stories deal with someone learning to see the world in a new way. Berandor's story was a surprise, and got better as it went along. What seemed weak and obvious became clever when viewed through Michael's resurgent imagination, and there was some genuine depth to two of the main characters. RangerWickett returns to his cyberpunk world, with an excellent in-joke that works both inside and outside of the story. Both worthy entries in the final, but this is Ceramic DM, and the writing is only half the story.

Whereas RW's picture use is solid but uninspired, Berandor takes some straightforward pictures and really puts a neat spin on them. Taking the strange and unusual and explaining them within the context of the ordinary is harder than using the same images in a more conventional sci-fi or fantasy story.

My judgement for Ceramic DM: Berandor

Final Round

RangerWickett's untitled

We have the culmination of RangerWickett's trilogy here. Our protagonist, Chou, is still in the asylum, and is still battling evil. Writing a trilogy, or any sort of serial, in Ceramic DM is a bit risky. So does Rangerwickett pull this one off?

The story itself is a pretty decent story. But by the time we are here at the third installment, it is really becoming too serialized to standalone. Hmm, does a Ceramic DM story need to standalone? That is a worthy question and I am not sure there is a hard, definitive answer. I think if the story is compelling enough, then it does not need to completely standalone. But the risk involved is keeping the story compelling enough that your readers care about the end. On the other hand, it is a short story contest. This story must be compared directly against the competitors story. So while there can be references back to previous stories, there must be enough background that the story can be judged against another story. So I think a story doesn't need to be standalone, but it must be self-contained.

On to the story. The lead-in on the story comes off as a little inconsistent. We are told everything from Jessica's perspective with a tone that sounds like this is the first letter she has written to Chou. Yet near the end of the letter she speaks of the 'letters between us.' Perhaps I am mis-reading it? Jessica also seems to go on about information that you would think Chou would certainly have since he is allowed access to his netnet.

Speaking of Chou's netnet, you would think after the previous adventures he has had, somebody would have clamped down on his access. Even in the most incompetent beauraucracy you can only push things so far. Apparently Batwarden's incompetency hasn't pushed far enough. Chou still has his netnet and works at the supermarket, even though he has abused both priveliges in the past. If I have read the previous stories, I am beginning to wonder why Batwarden hasn't clamped down, or been replaced with somebody competent. If I am reading this story first, I think I am just kind of confused. Chou certainly seems to have an awful lot of freedom for somebody that is a prisoner.

The problem is that I think of some of these plot holes while I am reading the story and it detracts from my willing suspension of disbelief.

In some ways, the story reads like a bad trip. It is a fun story, but it reaches a point where I realized I no longer care whether Chou succeeds or fails. I enjoy reading the story for the small bit of philosophy that are sprinkled throughout. I like to smile at the music references. But I don't care what actually happens with Chou. He no longer has any empathetic appeal to me.

That's not a good place to be and I certainly don't think that is what Rangerwickett is aiming at with the story. Perhaps it is because without the previous stories, there doesn't appear to be any reason why Chou would care about El-Hadje and O'Malley. Chou is just doing what some rooster is telling him he needs to do. There seems to be some big plot with the 'digital sorcery' and O'Malley. Keep going kid. You gotta defeat the bad guys or something bad will happen. I'm not saying what, just trust me that it will be bad. There is some sort of vague responsibility to do the right thing. There are reasons why Chou should do the right thing. But I never feel why Chou chooses to do what he does. Perhaps I am not quite the target audience?

Picture usage: These were not supposed to be easy pictures, but I can't help but feel that a good portion of the story was decided on and then the pictures were shoehorned in to fit wherever they could be. None of them were particularly memorable for me. None of them seemed particularly important to the story. If I were an editor, I am not sure I would have chosen any of them for illustrations within the story.

That being said, there are a lot of good things about the story. As I said, the music references are good. There is well handled dialog. There is a certain screwy internal consistency. There are culture references and clever takes on things. As I said, I think this story needs to be cleared of the fetters of Ceramic DM. Rangerwickett needs a different space to maneuver this vehicle to deliver his message. I think there are ways in which this could be a wonderful statement rendered through a cyberfantasy world. But as a Ceramic DM story, I don't think it is Rangerwickett's finest work.

Berandor's One Hour later, Three Days Ago

OK I admit that the tone of this story intially threw me for a loop. It has a Rod Serling/Twilight Zone vibe that I needed to see before I understood. Even then, I got through the first part of the story and thought "What the..."

That is when I began to understand how Berandor was telling the story. It is a clever, though risky, method. It is quite possible to lose the audience. So does Berandor make it work?

Well to be honest, at the beginning of the story Michael Carpenter seems vaguely interesting. Then he goes downhill. The fact that he completely sells out and devotes himself entirely to a career he doesn't enjoy is a real downer. He really becomes one of the worst embodiments of a corporate wage slave I have seen in fiction. I kept wanting him to snap out of it and regain his soul. By the time he settled down to die, I almost felt relief.

Oooohkaaaay I thought. What a downer and all the pictures weren't there. I know Berandor posted early and all. But to leave out all the pictures? That's not quite like him. Is this going into some Rip Van Winkle thing? Is he going into a dreamland where the weird stuff happens? I guess there has to be more story. That's when Berandor kicks in the second part of the story.

It's hokey! The Divorced Dreamer-Dad Association? A time machine to send back inspiration? *sigh* This is going to just get silly.

And it does. But you know what? It actually works. Berandor takes some of the more unusual pictures and makes them work through the power of the protagonist's imagination. As you read you understand that Michael doesn't really believe these fantastic images. He is just harnessing his imagination to liven things up. Then when push comes to shove, he bails on his job to handle what is important in life.

Berandor got me with the empathy of the character. His picture use isn't brilliant, but the pictures are significant. The biggest stretch was the imaginary fight with Candice. But it added some levity that I was willing to acceot in the story. I just kept thinking of a multitude of bad martial art fight scenes as I read it.

I think I could easily seeing some of my friends in this sort of position and dealing with the stress with absurd creative energy.

This is not to say that Berandor's story doesn't have flaws. Some of the dialog is a little flat for me. Especially compared to some of Rangerwickett's dialog. The narrative tone is a little too dead in places as well. The story needs some polish to it. Perhaps it would have had that if Berandor has spent a little more time on it?

Judgement: [sblock]After reading my assessment on both stories, I doubt that anybody will be surprised that I give the round to Berandor. I do think Rangerwickett has a good story and a message to convey. I think in the context of his trilogy the entire thing could be reworked and consolidated so that message is stronger. But in the context of single stories, side by side, I liked Berandor's better. It very well could be that I fit Berandor's target audience better. But I do hope to see more stories from both authors in future contests.[/sblock]

RangerWickett vs. Berandor
Hard choices.

I like the three days "rewind" making up for old wrongs is always a notion
that is appealing. The long legged man, has a certain "baron von
munchhausen"feel to it, well done.

Even more in the "supermarket epos", this time , the risk of a sequal did
not really pay off. The frirst two stories were more original and "rounded.
This one needs the first two stories to make sense. And I find it
unfortunate you abandonned the "buy organic" schtick. IMHO it would be worth
it to combine the three stories and clean them up into one big story. It has
great potential, it has the same "feel" as Bruce Bethke stories

[sblock]My vote: Berandor, it was more a story, and not a (lesser) chapter in a
longer story.[/sblock]

Twelve competitors. Eighteen Stories. Thirty-two pictures. Days of writing time. Even more of waiting. Four judges for comments, three for votes. It's been a long month and a half. When all is said and done, who is awarded the current Ceramic DM title?

[sblock]Berandor wins with three votes in this final round. Congratulations! Rangerwickett, thank you for your stories. I hope to see you in future contests.[/sblock]


A variety of comments:

First of all, I want to thank Alsih2o. Without him, we wouldn't have Ceramic DM. It is a fun experience. While I enjoy the stories, that is a secondary thing for me anymore. I enjoy the participants of Ceramic DM even more. I have always liked the banter and I like this aspect of the community of EN World. So every time I encourage people to post smack talk or just to pipe up in general, it is because I like the general conversation. Alsih2o, that is what you have helped give us. Not just stories, but a better feeling for who other board members are.

I want to also thank Maldur, Mythago and Sialia for out-of-channel encouragement. Running Ceramic DM is hard. When I agreed to do this one, I didn't know how busy I would end up being at work. But I don't regret it at all. The encouragement from these folks helped a lot!

I want to thank my fellow judges. These are great people. I knew I was going to do OK when I meant to write a comment in one of the early judgements and forgot it with everything else. I posted it together, realized I missed a comment I thought was crucial and thought 'I bet somebody else mentioned that same thing.' Somebody had! That was when I knew they had me covered.

I want to thank the competitors. I made you guys wait for some of these judgements. I hope all of our comments have been useful. I know what it feels like to get that sting when somebody judges you. But you have some great stories here and I enjoyed reading them.

And finally, thanks to the spectators. But please, feel free to comment on any story you want to! It's an open thread.

Picture choices: Since I have never chosen pictures before, I wanted the first round to really fit a couple of potential things. Person, Place, Thing, Action. Those pictures had to suggest those elements to me. The writers could do anything they wanted with them, but I had to set parameters for myself in choosing the pictures.

Later rounds I tried to keep to this same basic criteria. But I wanted pictures that might suggest more. Some pictures can suggest a person, place and an action all in one. Perhaps a martial arts picture. ;) I was quite sad to redo my pictures for the final round. In the context of the contest, I think the round two pictures were the most fun.

I would also like to solicit comments on the twelve contestant format for round one, as well as the four judge format. Did these changes make the contest better? Your thoughts are welcome. Post, PM or email.

Thanks folks! It was fun.

It was a very fun competition. When on a tight schedule, things never work out quite as you hope, but I'm still proud of the stories I wrote. I'll say, though, that I agree with the judges on all counts, including the winner. Top-notch story, B.

I'm just surprised no one mentioned that my protagonist's name, pronounced phonetically, is Chosen One. *grin*

Thank you to the judges, the other contestants, and to all the readers who came by and hopefully had a good time.


Honestly, I didn't think it'd end this way, so I'm very, very happy :)

Thank you to the judges for their hard work, and to BSF for his double hard work, of course. I would also like to thank my agent, Donald L. Basingstoke, esq., and my lawyer, John Witherton-Smith from Downward, Torrance, Witherton-Smith and Turnpike. :) But seriously, thanks a lot to judge and jury!

I think the three-way first round is a nice idea, because even when one competitor has to drop out, there's still a competition possible. I had the impression that a lot of those first-rounders dropped off afterwards, as the thread got quieter and quieter, but that could be due to other reasons than the big first round (RangerWickett's injury and my heavy workload, for example, that pushed the contest back a week).

I think the extra judge is a very good idea, and should be used henceforth, if more consequently to ensure a smooth contest, i.e. if you have three judgements after a set timeframe (say, four days), you put them up, and the fourth judge can give his comments seperately.

I think BSF did fine with the pictures, too. Of course, there were one or two I couldn't really work with, but that's par for the course for Ceramic DM and not a feature of this particular showrunner.

Comments, as usual, were extremely helpful and competent. I don't know whether BSF had been a judge before, but we had at least two novices in the judging seat, and it went very well. Often I found myself nodding in agreement with the judges, or cursing under my breath that some weakness of mine had not gone undetected. Curse you! :)

The competition was also very strong. Even though this time there was no story that completely, totally floored me from beginning to end, there was also not one that I really thought a klunker. And the latter are more usual than the first, so I'm not complaining. An extremely good showing this time around. Of course, RangerWickett made it to the finals, so here's to you and your meta-commentating Nigerian spam mail Chosen One! :)
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Not that you think I forgot something...
RangerWickett said:
Thank you to (snip) all the readers who came by and hopefully had a good time.
Pfshhh. Who cares for the readers? :D

(Yeah, I hope you were entertained, as well, and now I've got Robbie Williams's "Let Me Entertain You" stuck in my head. RW got his revenge, it seems.)


Oh, and (three posts in a row), I don't want to forget a very special thank you to all those who commented on my stories outside of jury duty, especially the extremely help- and insightful Hellefire for his lengthy discussion of my first entry. It helped a *lot*.

Macbeth said:
Whew. I enjoyed judging a lot, thanks to everybody for giving me the chance to give something back to Ceramic DM.

Likewise. And hopefully I've gained some insights into the judging process that will make me a better competitor :cool:


Yes, what an interesting experience! I found that my perspective as judge and as idle commentator was different. As a commentator I have always been happy to read the stories without thinking overly much which story was _better_. But as a judge, I had to decide which story I liked better. It was very interesting to quantify the things I liked/disliked and what criteria I think a good Ceramic DM story should include. The next time I write as a competitor, my outlook is going to be a little different!

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