Friday, December 21, 2007

The Friday Challenge

A number of questions have come up lately about the Friday Challenge, so I suppose it's time to think about answering them. For example, how come the competition is so uneven? Why is the schedule so erratic and unpredictable? What the heck is "Door Number 2?" And what, precisely, are the rules?

The rules? Ah, yes, er — well of course, there are rules, and they are, um, ah...

Look, the Friday Challenge is a little audience-participation thing that's just sort of growed in the three years I've been doing this blog. (Three years? Good grief, has it really been that long? Well, as of February, I guess it has.) It's come and gone a few times, and taken a number of different forms over the years, and like any struggling TV series jumped around to different time slots, but in the end, the essence remains the same. I spot you an idea, or an argument, or the beginning of a scene; you take it from there; and a week or so later, we announce a winner.

At first I took the Friday Challenge very seriously. I wrote the first few paragraphs of a story, or posted an interesting scientific or historical factoid, and challenged you, the reader, to engage your fiction-writing muscles and produce a serious response. I even lined up several Celebrity Judges to review the entries and render a solemn decision.

All of that, frankly, was a lot of work, took a lot of time, and tended to limit the response, so eventually entropy set in and we drifted down to what we have now. I'll post an idea — a Big Idea, if I have the time, but I often don't — and invite you to toss it into your story generator and see what comes out. This is important. Even if you don't get an idea for an entry that you want to write, I also want you to comment on and vote for the entries that other readers post. This latter doesn't happen often enough to suit my tastes.

The number and quality of entries in any week varies wildly, depending on the quality of my Big Idea and whatever else I've been writing about that week. I've noticed that if I have the time to spot you the well-formed beginning of a science fiction story, I will in return see serious, thoughtful, and well-developed entries. If I've crossed the line and violated my No Politics rule that week — and especially, if I've written anything involving Vox Day — I'll have more readers and get more entries, but the entries will tend to be short and have a painfully obvious contemporary political slant. If I toss out an idea that's media-related, those often bring out the most and funniest responses, including some that have proven unforgettable. ("Britons! Tonight we dine in Hellllll!" I don't know how, but I'll get you for that, rycamor!)

Other weeks, my Big Idea just hits the floor with a soggy splat and sits there stinking up the place, until it finally sublimates out of existence a week later. I've also noticed that audience participation is directly proportional to the time I'm putting into the blog. If I post daily, even if it's only something small, I have a much larger readership than if I skip a few days. Unfortunately, unlike some other bloggers I could name, I do have a life, a family, and a day job, so writing a new bit for the blog daily is not always my top priority.

As for the judging: that, I'm afraid, is completely arbitrary. Having been burned by the experience of using Celebrity Judges, I have appointed myself Sole Authority, and I pick the entry that I find most interesting, amusing, or thought-provoking. I would appreciate and benefit from reader feedback in making my decision — we do things by Chicago Rules around here, vote early and vote often — but as I said before, I don't see as much of that as I would like.

Now, as for Door Number 2: that, my friends, is a reference to the legendary Monty Hall and the Mother of All Greed-Based Game Shows, "Let's Make a Deal!" When I first started doing Friday Challenges there was no reward but the glory of having your name announced and that brief glow of smug satisfaction that comes with being named the winner, but later on, we decided that actually giving out some sort of prize would make the game a bit more interesting. I started out giving away signed copies of Rebel Moon — and how I wound up with a garage full of crates of Rebel Moon is an amusing tale in its own right, but that's a story for a different time — but quickly realized market-saturation was only a few weeks away. Ergo, we've now assembled a grab bag of prizes, which you'll find on the Door #2 web page, and winners are invited to take their pick.

And now, with all of that said, we come to the moment that everyone has been waiting for. Who is the winner of Last Week's Friday Challenge, and the coveted whatever-the-heck-it-is they choose to win?

Dunno yet. The polls are still open. You have until — oh, 10 p.m. CST to cast your vote.

P.S. No homework tonight, because of the holiday. We'll have a fresh Friday Challenge for you next week.