How I Won David Farland’s Writing Contest

Today my short story Forcible Powerdown is available for free as part of an Anthology published by David Farland. The story won his recent short story contest. I’d like to explain myself–how I won the contest. It wasn’t by accident.

About two weeks before the deadline for David’s writing contest, I told one of my writing group peers that I wasn’t going to enter the contest. I’d tried to write a story, and just didn’t have it in me. Anything I wrote ended up being too long.

And then, about a week prior to the deadline, I decided to give it one more shot. Forcible Powerdown resulted. When I finished, I knew I had a contender. Here’s how I knew: I know David Farland, and what kind of fiction he likes.

In fact, David had given to the entire world advice on how to win a contest, and his first piece of advice was this: write a story tailored to the judges.

From the start I set out to do exactly that. I wanted to write something that David Farland would like.

How did I know what he would like? I’ve spent a fair amount of time with David, at writing workshops, conventions, and dinners. I’ve worked with him at his seminars. I’ve read his Daily Kick since about its beginning. I think I’ve read six of his novels—which is saying something, because these days I don’t read more than one novel from any given author unless I really like the books.

For example, where some people complained about the ending of his fourth Runelords book, I found it brilliant. I understood what the role of the Earth King really was through those four books, and the equivalent in our world today. I totally got what he was doing. Dave’s books just speak to me unlike a lot of other writers’ books.

What I’ve concluded is that Dave and I have the same taste. And that made it easier to write a story he would like.

I’d most recently read Nightingale, his newest novel, and On My Way to Paradise, his very first novel. I noticed themes that resonated with each other, especially about what makes us human. And how do “special powers” and technology change us, make us less human? And how can we use those tools to make us more human?

Also, after reading Dave’s work, I knew that he likes stories with heart. That’s what he writes. His heroes almost always face challenges because they’re too nice for the situation they’ve been thrown into. (Coincidentally, that’s how Dave is. He’s a super nice guy, and I bet it’s gotten him into trouble a time or two.) Dave likes heart. My story had to have heart.

So I took that knowledge and crafted a story in which technology dehumanizes people. Then, with “magic” the people are able to become human again. Fortunately, it was easy because I’d been chewing on the themes in my own life for months, and been watching as augmented realities are beginning to be seen in our own world. I simply extended the existing technology out a hundred years, and built a simple world. I knew Dave would love it. He was messing with augmented reality in his first book.

Aside from that, I threw little details in there that I knew would speak to Dave. For example, at the opening of the story, a kid gets hit by a car. Dave once told a story about how someone got hit by a car while he was in China. I knew it would resonate with him. I tried to include as many details like that as possible—things I’d heard Dave talk about or write about. Even the name of my story “Forcible Powerdown” utilizes a word commonly found it Dave’s Runelord books: forcible.

So, there you have it. I won Dave’s contest by writing a story just for him. As a result, I’m not sure how many other people will like the story as much as he did. That’s okay. I wrote the story for an audience of one.

I’m pretty happy with the result.

Thanks, Dave, for everything you’ve taught me and done for me!