Wednesday, May 01, 2013

And the Winner of the Setting Conest is...

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

You guys are making it harder and harder to judge these contests. There are so many great entries this time, and a lot of solid writing here. Also a bunch of new faces, which is great! Nice to see new folks joining in.

There were a few that were very well done, but one of the "rules" of this exercise was no new growth or flowers, and they mentioned one or both. That actually made it a little easier for me to narrow down the list -grin- You guys get an honorable mention nod.

Since this is about setting and using uncommon details, I'm going to bold the details that stood out to me.

The Honorable Mention nods:

Plump Paul plopped on the bed. A spring sprung. Knifing through decrepit mattress fabric and slightly soiled briefs, the erupting coil caught the chubby crack top and pierced his coccyx. Paralysis radiated. His bladder emptied.

The urine floated rust particles off the abused metal and into his spinal fluid. Breathing stopped when his involuntary respiratory control center shut down.

Elvira thought he was asleep when she arrived. “Disgusting (as usual),” she mumbled. “You’d think I’d get used to it.” She smiled. She was not puking. “I am getting used it.”

In contrast to the bedroom, the kitchen was immaculate. Elvira kept it that way. She was cracking eggs for Paul’s breakfast when she realized the smell of bacon had failed to arouse him.

Returning to the bedroom, she shook him, called his name. He stayed a lump.

She tried to roll him. The sprung spring sprang loose. Its pointed tip appeared bloody. She called 9-1-1. Within minutes, she heard sirens.

As she stepped onto the landing to hold the door for the hero guys, a robin in a bare oak said, “Tweet.”

“Oh, that spring,” she thought. “My setting is for naught. Janice won’t care about an ancient, rusty coil protruding from a ripped and urine-soaked mattress with a rotund corpse upon it. She’ll want the robin in that bed.”

“Submit it anyway,” said the evil little voice that told her to go gross in the first place. “Nobody’ll notice. Your novel’s going nowhere, and you’ll never entice that robin to that stinking bedroom.”
I like the non-traditional approach here to the word spring. Thinking outside the box was what this was all about, and this certainly does that. Had it had more actual setting, it probably would have made the final round.

Sloane Smith
The sun we hadn't seen in months wasn't shining as bright. And suddenly, the new white paint on my house looked worn. The shouting of kids down the street was more torment than usual. Not to mention unlike every other spring, the still brown grass didn't have the still-frozen crunch. I kicked a rock. It bounced off the only bare tree in my yard.
It was all alone without a friend...just like me. And just like me, as if I were the tree, it was surrounded by lilies just starting to poke up between the dull pine straw. They will be bright and happy, but the tree will only have to put on its leaves – its mask – and pretend to be bright and happy too. Then the annual remembrance will come, and the mask will fall, and it’ll try to protect itself, and both the tree as well as I might as well be dead.
Just like now with this year’s horrible, lonely first day of spring.
I really like the sense of loneliness between the narrator and the setting here. The setting is used well to reflect the mood of the POV. But the new lilies knocked this one out.

Chuck Brown
Alex strode confidently to the first tee. Finally.

The fairway stretched out before him like a sea of emeralds, with waves of fuchsia and pink azaleas to-and-froing in the breeze alongside the right edge of the fairway. Bastards.

Alex pulled his eyes away from the colorful display, knowing that they’d been placed near the out-of-bounds marker and designed to drag the golfer’s eye in that direction in order to make the club face open up and push the ball that way.

Instead, Alex narrowed his eyes and focused on the white ball sitting up on the tee. Concentrate, he ordered himself. Just like you saw on those interminable video lessons you watched as snow continued to fall all through February, March and April. So much for global warming.

Thwack. The ball arced into the azure sky, curled left around the dogleg, then drifted right into the rough. Damn.

Alex stalked down the fairway. Focus. Ignore the trees, the sun, the bright colors. Distractions, all of them. This is why you didn’t complete those tax forms fanned out across the dining room table. Be the club; it’s just you and the ball.

The longer grass grabbed at his spikes as he exited the fairway. Thirty yards away, his ball sat atop the grass, like an egg about to hatch. Alex headed toward it, worrying about his next shot and trying to ignore the birds’ chirping, the tangy perfume of new buds on the trees, the rainbow of bright colors.

How he loved Spring.
I like the sense of golf course setting here and how it flows nicely with what the POV is doing. I also liked the contrast of the flowers and his attitude toward them. But all the flowers knocked this one out of the runing.

And now, the finalists:


The wind whipping around Observation Peak still carries the ghost of an Antarctic winter. The shiver it sends through my body makes my stomach churn. It’s just nerves, I assure myself. I’ve stayed inside. I haven’t been exposed.

But I’m outside now, and I try to ignore the sickly green hue of the cloud-heavy sky. Bombs, they’d said, before the satellite went silent. For eighteen days, that word has repeated itself in every thought and every conversation. Bombs. Plural.

A lone Petrel sprawls across a rock nest, surrounded by carcasses and broken eggs that have been picked over by the few predators still strong enough to scavenge. She doesn’t move as I pass, but warns me with a high, stuttering call that echoes and dies like laughter in an empty room.

I reach the summit and stare down at the lapping tide. The ice has melted, making room for the supply ship that was supposed to come a week ago. But the bay is deserted even by the Weddell Seals that should be calving on the black sand.

The transmitter’s power switch creaks under my thumb. My message won’t carry all the way to New Zealand, but if there are any ships on their way, they should pick it up. Please let them hear. Please let them hurry.

“This is Dr. Carver at McMurdo Station. If you can hear me, please respond.” Static. “Radiation levels are spiking. People are dying. Please respond.”


The horizon blends into the sky. Empty.
What I like about this one is the sense of solitude and world building, connecting the loneliness of the POV with the loneliness of the place. The setting is woven in flawlessly and nothing feels stuck in or out of place. The Spring details are subtle, yet poignant to the POV and unique to the setting itself.

Amy Schaefer
Marnie stared out at the naked brown fields as endless rain pounded against the kitchen window. Brown, brown, everything was brown. The dirt. The stubble of last year’s wheat. The muddy floodwaters that were still rising, killing more and more of her fields. The half-drowned trees along the banks, trying not get washed away. Washed away like the seed she’d couldn’t afford but bought anyway. Like her last chance to keep the farm from going under.

Crows hunched in the trees. Occasionally one would dive to catch a fish between the furrows. At least someone was eating this spring.

The wind picked up, sending ripples across the flooded fields. Dead husks poked through the water, blemishes on the ugly face of the flood. Marnie leaned against the cool glass and wondered if the water was deep enough to set a boat on. Whether she could pack them all up, Dad and the kids and Buddy and all, and just sail away to a better life somewhere where the rain didn’t bring death and famine and a bleak, homeless future.

Dad shuffled slowly into the kitchen, leaning heavily on his cane. His rheumy eyes sought her out, his cataracts so bad that he was almost blind now. Marnie jumped up to ease his wasted frame into a chair.

He gave her a wavering smile. “How’re my crops today?” he croaked.

Marnie took a last look at the huge brown lake. She squeezed his shoulder. “They’re coming along great Daddy. Just great.”
Another excellent snippet. What I like about this one is the way the setting details reflect the scene itself and the mood of the character. The water and washing away theme resonates nicely with her desire to "wash her hands" of the whole thing and run away. The contrast of spring being a season of rebirth and this one bringing death and famine was lovely.

And the winner is...


What pushed this one over the top for me was the way she wove the setting into the scene itself. There was a solid sense of place that moved the plot and story, contributed to the tone and mood, and reflected the character.

Jess, just contact me at janice (@) janicehardy (dot) com for your critique.

Grats and fantastic job to everyone!


  1. Great job, Jess! I thought your piece was delightfully scary - I really wanted to know what would happen next.

  2. I echo that ... Congratulations, Jess!

    And thanks again, Janice, for all the help and advice!

  3. Thank you both so much, and thank you Janice! I really enjoyed participating and reading everyone's entries. It even made me pay more attention to Spring over the last couple of days. :)

  4. Great piece. Congratulations, Jess.