A little while back, Behaviour ran a writing competition for the fans of Eternal Crusade to get involved and pen their own piece of fiction. They asked me to judge the entries, and with a few caveats on length and winnowing process, I was more than happy to do that. The winners have since been announced on the Eternal Crusade website, together with my commentaries on the top three stories. I’d written a short bit for all the twenty stories I eventually read, and here’s what I had to say about it all…
I normally don’t read unpublished writing that people send me.
Mostly because I’m simply too busy with my own work, but usually it’s because the person writing it is just starting out, and I don’t have time to give it the red-pen attention it likely requires. That’s not to sound dismissive in the slightest. We all start somewhere, we all put our first fumblings on the page in the hopes of writing something interesting. And if, in years to come, we look back at those first works, it’s often with a cringing sense of what was I thinking?
Trust me, personal experience has taught me the truth of this. I keep the first piece of writing I ever did for Games Workshop and it has more red ink on the printout than black.
And that’s necessary.
We need to see and feel we’ve improved, that we’ve learned things along the way. We need to get those words on the page before we can start refining them and learning from what we’ve done well, what we’ve done badly or what we just plain forgot to do. Only by getting words down on the page is it possible to grow as a writer.
Everyone who entered this competition has done that. And even if you didn’t make it to the final twenty, you’ve done more than a great many people who say they want to write will ever do.
You wrote. And that’s an incredible achievement in itself.
Almost four hundred of you wrote. We’ve been overwhelmed by the passion, enthusiasm and knowledge you’ve displayed. To get that many entries is amazing, and has made cutting them down a mammoth task. But like a World Eater hewing foes with his chain axe, cut down they were.
Twenty survivors landed in my Inbox with a simple remit.
Pick the best three.
In my experience, judging competitions like this are usually pretty easy. Sorting the narrative wheat won’t take long, right? A good story will always stand out, always be easy to spot. Right? And after reading the first couple of stories, I thought that I’d stumbled on two of the winners straight away.
This is going to be easy.
Not so much.
The more I read, the more I saw that every story was in with a chance. The more I read, the more I realised I was going to have to do more than just read them and pick whichever ones my gut told me were winners. It was too close to call without some form of comparison, so I assigned each story a value between one and ten in four categories:
1 – Originality: Had I seen this story a hundred times already or was it the same as a dozen others? Did it do something interesting with the setting and characters? Did it surprise me?
2 – Technical: Was the story grammatically sound, free from too many typos and did it flow well?
3 – Lore: Was the story faithful to 40k? Did it make basic mistakes or nail the lore perfectly? Did it make use of some quirk of background that showed a deep understanding of the setting?
4 – Wow Factor: Did the story do something that really made me sit up and take notice? Was there an element that made me think the author had crafted something above and beyond?
Add up all the scores and I would have my winners. It all sounds a bit mechanical, but when the stories were this good, I didn’t have much choice. Every story scored highly, but in the end there was one clear winner. Second and third place were tied, and it came down to that gut feeling I spoke about earlier to choose between them.
So, well done to everyone who entered, hats off to you all. And well done especially those of you who made it to the final twenty. I greatly enjoyed reading these stories, so thanks for letting me see what you all created. An honour and a privilege.
WINNER: The Shouting Contest by Irene K. Posey
I loved this story. It reminded me of Terry Pratchett, with great characters that were absolutely true to the lore and which made me laugh out loud several times. Tightly written, flowing, and with great respect for the lore of 40k and Eternal Crusade, I felt this captured what the orks are incredibly well. Not only that, but the haphazard nature of greenskin travel, their devil-may-care attitude and utter indifference to who they’re fighting, so long as they’re fighting. A worthy winner and I hope we see more of Irene’s work.
Second Place: The Path to Arkhona by Ben Hyde
An early standout, I loved the characters, the scene setting and the interplay between the Iron Warrior and the savant. The creepy atmosphere around the possessed tank was evoked wonderfully and the deeper questions posed by the Legionary established a great sense of place and time. I want to know more of these characters, and for that alone, Ben deserves this win.
Third Place: Arkhona, A Leap of Faith by Finn Kelly
I loved this story’s evocative use of the first person. Frythe was a great character, and his psychic powers were realised incredibly well on the page, as was his relationship with the other characters in the story. The action scenes were great, and an ending that left me wanting, needing, to know more was a great clincher. Finn’s done a great job with this story, and more than earns this place.
And in the other finalists…
Acridian312 – A nice whodunnit in space. I liked the twist at the end and the notion of a code hidden in gene-seed is a lovely (and particularly Hydran) way of doing things.
Andrew Hancock – A thumpingly good battle scene that showcased the Blood Angels at their best. Evocatively pulling the reader through, this did a nice job of showing just how dangerous a drop pod assault truly is.
Adrian Southin – I liked the sense of speed this story conveyed, and the sense of ferocity I felt from the Wild Riders. Adrian nailed the alien nature of the eldar as well as the horror of the tyranids.
Chowe – Like Irene’s story that eventually won, I loved the anarchic sense of the orks in this story. Again, it captured the resilience and love of war rooted in the ork psyche and ended on just the right note.
Chris J. Young – Space Wolves are often thought of as being easy to write. They’re just space Vikings, right? Sort of, but there’s much more to them than that. Chris gets that spot on in this tale, nicely capturing a sense of ferocity held in check by an equally ferocious intelligence. Keeping a note of ambiguity near the end is nice and establishing a credible backstory in so few words is a great achievement.
Connormf121 – I liked that the structure of this story was told out of sync, that we got to the ending first and worked back to that (like Memento or Irreversible), getting to see what brought the characters to that bloody end. This story nicely captured the secretive nature of the Dark Angels and the lengths they’ll go to in order to keep those secrets.
Goat64804 – I liked that we had a dreadnought as a main character, which – together with his recall of the Heresy – made for a different kind of story, one told mostly in flashback. That gave the current war on Arkhona a nice resonance, a sense that it’s war is eternal and that there’s a real, living history to the world.
Taylor Kaercher – I liked the viciousness of this story, the real sense that the traitors were incredibly dangerous and, at the end, incredibly callous. The battle scenes were evocative and the descriptions of the daemons, the fear of the Guardsmen and the battle lust of the traitors were all viscerally written.
Kearneyer – I particularly liked the interplay of the armour serf and the main character. It nicely encapsulated the difference between mortals and post-humans. The two legionaries were well drawn and the bittersweet note of the ending was a nice touch.
Keeblerhk – The eldar are always tricky to write (just ask Gav…) and this story nicely gets across the fact of their innate superiority and their urge to go further and exceed in all things. The sense of competition and rivalry between the two groups of eldar was well realised, as was the nature of how they knew, ultimately, that they needed to work together to achieve victory.
Nicop – I really liked how this story did a lot in its limited runtime. The Space Wolf character was well-written, and the traitors were clever and menacing without being pantomime villains. The cunning and never-say-die fight of the Space Wolf gave me a fist-punch moment when he killed his tormentor, and the final reveal was a gut-wrenching moment of horror.
Toby O’Hara – This was one of my favourites, and was a lovely story on how traitors become traitors. The gradual reveal was nicely handled, and the extent to which a warrior falls once he’s irrevocably damned was extremely well written.
John Dailey – I loved this story and how the Harlequins were written as these aloof, god-like beings, watching the pathetic dance of mortals almost beneath their notice. Thanks, in part, to their great, characterful dialogue, the eldar came across as monstrously alien, arrogant and unknowable, which is exactly right. The interplay of the characters was great, and the ending nicely paved the way for more from these characters.
Axel Cushing – This story nicely captured the louche nature of the Outcast and the backstory of the characters was delivered with great economy, such that I felt I already knew it without needing to be troubled by a massive infodump. The establishment of a deeper secret and the ruthless extremes of the characters set up a nice way to follow this story up with another one…
Daniel Freedman – This was a nice story with a great battle at the end. The skill of the characters was well developed, and the attack on the ork vehicles was described in just the right terms, as was the sudden reversal of fortune.
Tim Pedersen – I thought this captured the descent of a warrior into the embrace of Khorne perfectly, and the backstory of the characters neatly established how it came to be. Well written, gory, visceral and with a neatly realised ending, this was a great story with characters I’d like to see more of.
Victor Galis – This was a really well written story, and perfectly captured the skill and ruthlessness of the eldar in relation to other races. The characters were believable and the pacing was good, as was the battle itself. I loved how the eldar knew that rage and perfectly focussed aggression was part of their nature, but a part needing to be held in check by the Path. A great story and a worthy finalist.