Writer’s Games Events look super daunting: a huge list (41 on the public list!) of challenges that look so detailed and specific with all these requirements and and and… ACK!
We’re dissecting the anatomy of an Event.
Games Events are pretty easy to understand if you break them down into smaller parts. Here’s one of my favorites:
JUST THIS ONCE
Just because everyone survives doesn't mean it's a happy story. For this Event, tell a tragic story where no one dies.
Core Concepts: foreshadowing, perspective
I love this Event, inspired by Doctor Who, because we get to see depth without death. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good murder mystery and cut my fiction teeth writing serial killers. I love a dark character death but with so many entries, sometimes they’re too easily lumped into categories: wrong place, wrong time; surprise medical issue; random accident. There are only so many ways “tragic death” can go and even though every entry is judged on its own—never compared to others—we want something deeper. Tragedy can exist without death.
This Event isn’t about creating the best sob story, either. Instead, it asks writers to look at who their character is at their core, psychologically. What does the character need on an emotional level to feel fulfilled and what can they do to achieve that goal? Then we take it away to see what happens.
The first sentence(s) in an Event definition provides some background or foundation information to why this matters to writing. We try to keep it light, rather than technical, to help spark an idea no matter how much writing experience you have. We also try to use this space to help prepare you for the Event’s goal. Looking at the first sentence for Just This Once, “Just because everyone survives doesn't mean it's a happy story,” we know what to expect: this will not be a happy story but everyone will make it through the situation. We know our characters need to struggle.
Next is the qualification section of the definition; it always starts with “For this Event”. In Just This Once, we confirm what we already know from the first sentence. “For this Event, tell a tragic story where no one dies,” tells us the Big Sad Thing(TM) that happens cannot be related to a character dying. When we judge entries from this Event, a character’s death means we have to discuss it for potential disqualification. I work really hard to find ways to push limits so as many pieces as possible will qualify but I can’t change the story.
The Core Concepts play a HUGE role in scoring an Event. We list them last and italicized to set them apart and show their importance. When the judges read an entry, they’re looking at how the piece uses these two Core Concepts. For Just This Once, the judges want to see a clear character perspective and foreshadowing that comes true. I’ll go into more detail about the judging process and Core Concepts in general in other posts. For now, suffice it to say a piece could handle one concept really well and forget the other and still score in the middle range on Core Concepts. Other factors also contribute.
Now we know this Event asks for a tragedy with a focus on perspective but... why?
If you know your character, understand what drives them, they will breathe into existence. Superficially, we’re asking for sad stories but on a deeper level, we’re pushing you to connect with your character’s psychological and emotional needs to share them with the reader. This foundational skill translates across any genre and helps you develop stronger characters long term so your stories are more inviting and powerful.
It doesn’t happen often, but...
...just this once, everybody lives.
Like a piece of writing, each Event starts with a small idea. We have tons of new ideas at various stages, waiting to be developed into full Events; many use song titles, lyrics, or pop culture quotes to keep things fun. This one started with a Doctor Who line as the title, others fill a gap in the Core Concepts—left by one of the 70+ Events we've retired. Sometimes the hardest part is not running all of them at once. Which is your favorite?
We've run 125 Events across 17 portions of The Writer's Games, inspiring thousands of stories since 2014. We volunteer to be here because we believe in you.
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I am currently building the 2024 schedule to include normal Games operations. Our internship program accepts active readers over 18 located anywhere, college affiliation not required. Look for more information on our internship program in early December.
In lieu of running another portion this year, we're releasing more "Inside the Writer's Games" posts throughout 2023 as we celebrate a decade of this competition and our community.
About the author: Theresa Green is the co-founder of The Writer's Workout, a crime fiction writer, and a freelance developmental editor.