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WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Cage Bout #4

Reminder - You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE.

It's CAGE BOUT time!

Here's how this works. Instead of two writers competing against one another, now it's THREE AT ONCE. But there's a twist. All of the winners have been given the opportunity to absorb the feedback offered during their preliminary round and submit an edited version of their original submission. As a writer, utilizing feedback can be a tricky proposition - because frankly - not all feedback is equal. This is our chance to see how the contestants used that feedback (if at all).

The readers/voters are to choose one of the three to move on.  There will be six daily bouts (Mon-Sat), and no saves this time.

Remember, one of the real values of this contest is FEEDBACK. So, please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-S), because of time restrictions the voting period will be staggered somewhat, so please pay attention to the dates posted. The voting for today’s bout will close on Tuesday, June 9th (noon central time).

The piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent with a BRAND NEW WRITING SAMPLE

As always, in case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote.

Here are the voting guidelines –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Anyone can vote (even the contestants themselves), but although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

3) Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will cause that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

4) Although more of a suggestion than a rule - cast your vote before you read other comments. Do not let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others.

Here our the contestants for this first cage bout (in random order) are -

P. Baker

The number one rule if you don’t want anyone to know that you’re pregnant: NEVER touch your stomach. Don’t rub it. Don’t check on the protrusion in the mirror. And never, ever rest your hand at the peak of the curve just above your belly button.

I can’t think of a worse place to be secretly pregnant than church camp. I had brought my baggiest t-shirts with me, or actually, the biggest shirts I could sneak out of my brother’s room, but it won’t make a lick of difference in a minute when they force me in the lake. A wet shirt will expose my swelling bomb.

The other girls are all out waiting for me on the wooden platform. If I wanted to sit directly under the blistering sun and just look at the water, I could stay on the shore, thank you very much. But you’ve never experienced peer pressure until you’ve said no to your church friends.

“Daisy! Get your booty out here,” Rebecca calls for the tenth time. I block the sun with my hand to see her on the platform. Her pink swimsuit is a glitch in the brown East Texas lake. Other campers shriek and laugh in the water around the queen’s waterlogged throne. I shift between feet, rocks and twigs stabbing at the soles.

The counselor puts a hand on my shoulder and hits me with the toothy white smile of a TV evangelist. “You can make it!”


“I’m coming! Christ,” I mutter. The counselor clears her throat. “Uh, just praying…” I shrink away from her and wade into the water. It's the temperature of a warm bath, but it feels nice on my sun-crisped skin.

I swim out to the platform and hoist myself onto the wooden deck. The girls cheer as I right myself. Rebecca hugs me, pulls away and stares down at the wet shirt clinging to my round belly. My throat tightens. She sees. The queen of the Good Christian Girls, notorious spy for the parents of us sinners. The plum-sized fate in my gut suddenly weighs a thousand pounds.

She turns back to the shore and starts the peer pressure campaign over again on some other girl. I pull the fabric away from my skin. How could she not have seen? To me, it’s so obvious, a neon sign on my stomach growing brighter every second. A swelling tumor, a parasite consuming my whole body. As glaring as Hester Prynne's letter A. But to her, I’m an extra, shrinking into the background of her personal movie set.


Contestant number two is Circle Slide

That moment before wake and sleep. That beautiful time when people’s dreams paraded themselves in tumbling orbs of liquid images. A bubbling fantasy of pure enjoyment. Worlds contained in a single moment—gleaming, dewy droplets of pretend.

 I called it the Land Between. Nothing was impossible in that Land. There, spina bifida didn’t tether me to forearm crutches or worse, a wheelchair. There I experienced things: wind whistling in my ears, slippery mud up to my ankles, and the glorious sun warming my skin. In the Land Between, I ran free, my limbs obeyed my brain, my joints moved with unabashed ease.

 And another thing, there, I wasn’t a social outcast.

 Most nights, I bounced from one person’s dream to another—a skipping stone in a tranquil pool. I’d keep to the edges of their imagination. People don’t appreciate you mucking about in their heads, but stay in the shadows, and you are golden.

 Nearly all were the same, uninspiring snippets of their daily life—a pop quiz, the winning shot of a school basketball game, showing up naked in a crowded waiting room.

 But last night something was different.

 I’d settled in Birdie’s Land Between. She was my favorite, like a comfy sweatshirt—secure, warm, and snug. Maybe I preferred her dreams because her Land-Between was my first. I’ve relived every one of her birthday parties and witnessed her dreams change from toys to boys, all from a safe distance. Sometimes I searched for her in crowded places. If a girl with a tight ponytail walked by, I’d just know it was her. Except it never was. Which was a good thing, because meeting her in real life, would break my number-one, red letter rule, and I could never visit her again. I crossed that line once, and I would never do that again. 

 But last night, while I lurked in the shadows, a shining broke through the boundaries of her dream. It rocketed across her fantasy in a blinding display.

 She didn’t notice, but I did. A person appeared, like me, who wasn’t supposed to be there.

 I saw a boy.


 “Earth to Piper,” Toby, my seventeen-year-old brother, said as a rubber band stung my chest.

 “Ouch.” I yawned. The afternoon sun warmed my cheek from the sunroom windows. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, but I had searched for the boy longer than I’d intended.

 “Daydreaming again?” Toby was the opposite of me in every way, good looking, athletic, and charming. Somehow he avoided his embarrassing years altogether, whereas my awkward years pulled up a chair and snickered at me from the coroner of the room.


And finally number three is Miss_Sunflower

The audience was full of Chorale Directors and Ship Captains. Lyra Academy always drew a crowd. The sky above the open arena was the clear blue of an island spring. Across from her, a boy stood barefoot beside a pool of seawater, holding a set of pipes loosely in his hand.

 “Show us what you can do.” The bass rumble of Master Singer Lyranch set off a whirlpool of nerves in her stomach as a waiting silence fell. 

Zaraina shifted slightly, digging her toes into the fine damp sand, lengthening her posture. Her breathing deepened, she caught the tang of sea salt on the air. Whether this wind caller could keep up with her or not, she would sing her best, as written. Her eyes met his. He raised the pipes to his lips.

Storm Songs had no lyrics. There was no need for them when you were singing to water and wind. He began the melody and instantly Zaraina felt a breeze tug at hair she’d tucked behind her ear. She narrowed her eyes, catching the barest smirk in the quirk of his cheek, and took a fresh breath. Then she let out that first long clear note. She felt the water in the pool answer her in a rippling echo. The notes of the pipes changed just so, meeting her tone, strengthening it. She blinked. No one had ever done that. The joy of the music lifted her voice into the first aria. 

The soft patter of the notes as she released them began to pull water from the pool and into the air, a mist forming clouds above them. For this piece, it was up to her to carry the depth of the song. She met the melody in perfect counterpoint, bringing the water out to play as breezes and gusts swirled. The harmonies sent a chill over her skin and a hum in her bones unlike any she’d felt before. The resonance built into a current pulling her off the pages of music drilled into her head. Wind and water danced into a storm.

The music and the magic flowed through her. She wept with the strength of it. On cue, a warm rain began to fall. Her tears and the rain mixed, pooling at their feet. Her voice softened as she returned to the practiced piece. Her eyes closed as she breathed the last few notes. The music faded and she opened her eyes to see him take the pipes from his lips. Stormclouds thinned. They stared at one another in a silence that still vibrated with power.

A door above them slammed open. Zaraina shot her gaze away as a steward rushed in. “Master Lyranch sir, there....” His voice faded into whispers.

The Master Singer never moved his eyes from the pair of them. “It dissipated moments ago?”

“Yes sir.” 

Lyranch gestured to another steward. “Take them to the Sounding rooms.” He ordered. 

Zaraina trembled, confused. “Did we pass?”

Please leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detraction's.

We’ll be back tomorrow with another cage bout. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encourage them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!


  1. Today my vote goes to Miss Sunflower.

  2. P. Baker -- Liked this the first time around, but not making any changes was a dangerous decision. People like to see that their critiques were considered and implemented. Still a good story, but just taking out those exclamation points would have gone a long way.

    Miss Sunflower -- Still not in love with that last line, but I like the new intro. Great use of music in a fantasy setting, and getting rid of some of the info from the first version worked well. Way to use your critiques.

    Vote is for Miss Sunflower

    Circle Slide -- Again, not taking the opportunity to make changes could hurt you. The story is still good, but there was a lot of room for improvement. The chapter break at the end should have been removed and a smooth transition added, the story could have been tighter, and some of the critiques you received should have been addressed.

  3. I had to look at both versions of all three stories side-by-side to see what the authors did with them. I agree that Circle Slide and P. Baker missed an opportunity, so I'm voting for Miss Sunflower today.

  4. P. Baker - Not much change, but I still liked the delivery of the moment. Very solid teenage girl voice. I had zero trouble getting into the scene.

    Circle Slide - Still interesting, but the opening remains a bit cumbersome and doesn't flow as smoothly as it could. I want to get pulled in but I'm still hovering on the surface.

    Miss Sunflower - I actually preferred the original opening. While this new opening does give us a "right-off-the-bat" sense of place, your use of "she" is unclear because we don't know who "she" is yet. Personal preference, but I would watch the "he" and "she" use throughout the piece to be clear to whom you are referring. Naming them once in a while or referring to "him" as "the boy" would not be a bad idea.

    My vote goes to P.Baker

  5. Baker: same version, so I have no new comments. Relatable and easy to follow. I would’ve loved to see some conflict and payoff here, rather than have all this buildup around Daisy’s fear and then... nothing happens.

    Circle: many people commented in the first round that the scene shift at the end was jarring and/or that a person “escaping” their disability might be problematic. Although I like the concept, I’m not sure why you didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to edit and address these items.

    Sunflower: did you accidentally remove the waterspout reference? What dissipated moments ago? I didn’t understand the stakes in your first version, and unfortunately this makes even less sense. I think you missed a needed opportunity to explain why this test is happening in the first place, and what might happen if they don’t pass. Lovely prose, but you’ve sacrificed some of the meaning of the story for it.

    Because I think it’s still the strongest writing, and they took the opportunity to make edits, I vote for Sunflower.

  6. Sunflower still had the most appealing story, in my opinion, but the changes made it feel like a different story and I liked the first version better.

    In spite of that, Sunflower still gets my vote, as the other stories could have used editing, and did not take the opportunity.

  7. This is first cage bout where all three writers got my vote in the preliminary rounds.
    Miss_Sunflower, for me, the edits don’t work. The new opening sentence/paragraph does nothing to draw you in or add anything. Your original opening did a better job of drawing the reader into the story. I also think concealing the waterspout didn’t help. In the original it put the reader on notice of what powers the MC was evoking. Now, it could be anything. And that makes it less interesting.

    Circle Slide- I still don’t understand the line “That moment before wake and sleep”. Wake and Sleep are opposite states and to me there cannot exist a moment that is before both. I wish you had used the opportunity to clarify that. But beyond that, I really enjoyed your submission.

    P. Baker- As I noted in my preliminary round comment, I am outside the target audience of your submission.I don't think you made any changes. But given your original piece was so tight, I don't think you needed to. I enjoyed your writing style. I particularly like the line “Her pink swimsuit is a glitch in the brown East Texas lake”. It is a wonderful description of what Daisy is seeing.

    While it is a close choice, my vote is for Circle Slide because I would read that story.

  8. P. Baker: It was a solid story the first time around, and still is. It's too bad you didn't take advantage of the opportunity to tweak the dialogue a little bit.

    Circle Slide: Once again, I'm sorry you didn't address the suggestions made the first time around. As an opening to a longer story it works, but it could have been tighter.

    Miss_Sunflower: In this version youj've made the feel of the magic and the music stronger, which I love. Congrats on making that improvement. I'm still missing a bit of context about what's at stake here. In the first version it was a test and they needed to pass, though I didn't know why; in this version I can't tell whether there are actually any stakes at all.

    Partly in recognition of the work done in revising, and partly because of the lovely fantasy feeling, I'm giving my vote to Miss_Sunflower.

  9. My vote goes to Miss Sunflower today. I didn't feel the other two really used the opportunity to tweak their entries and use the feedback given in a productive way.

  10. Miss_Sunflower: Thank you for bringing us into the world with more clarity. Now I can see it. The story isn't quite as lyrical as before, but its beauty hasn't changed. I can picture everything better in my head. And I still love your last, one-line paragraph that says so much with so few words.

    P. Baker: Mixing metaphors of the queen on her throne and her personal movie set would have been an easy fix. A good story with authentic voice could have been tweaked to be even better.

    Circle Slide: The disconnect of the last paragraph still throws me out and leaves me confused.

    My Vote: Miss_Sunflower

  11. Hard truth: Writing is rewriting.

    I always encourage writers to consider all criticism and apply ONLY the revisions that resonate with them. It is, after all, the author's story. That said, if several readers from a small portion of the population get stuck on one point, you can rest assured a good number of readers at large will get stuck on the same point. If you don't fix it when the first readers point it out, future bad reviews are on you.

    These are all solid pieces. I simply don't understand why issues that were pointed out by several readers in the previous round were left unaddressed, especially those that would have been easily fixed.

    I apologize if I'm being too harsh. I do understand life can get hard and things can get overlooked. If that applies to P. Baker or Circle Slide, you have my apologies and my sincere wishes for future success. You've demonstrated great storytelling abilities, but in this round, the deciding factor for me is each author's willingness and ability to use criticism to strengthen their piece.

    Miss_Sunflower, I would have named Zaraina earlier, but it's clear that you took criticism under consideration and worked to revise accordingly.

    Miss_Sunflower has my vote.

  12. Miss_Sunflower gets my vote! What can I say? Gorgeous writing, I loved the world, and there's a sinister hook at the end.

  13. My vote this round is for Circle Slide. Still intrigued to see where this story would lead ...

  14. The first two stories had maybe the tiniest tweaks, but Miss_Sunflower really expanded into the world in the story.

    My vote is for Miss_Sunflower

  15. My vote is for Miss Sunflower. I loved the visual aspects of the piece.

  16. This contest is so great. I wish I had entered. Next year for sure. Love all the stories, but I was so caught up with the MC. Dream hopping! Circle Slide got my vote.

  17. As I read these, I kept looking for changes in P. Baker's and Circle Slide's entries in this go-'round. I thought the comments in the first bout were constructive, overall, and in most cases easy to incorporate. That none were suggests that the two authors felt their pieces were pretty perfect already. I wish I had that kind of confidence.

    Miss Sunflower's entry gets my vote. I still appreciate the lyrical qualities of this piece very much. I like the new introductory material as it brings me into the setting and culture right away. I would have used Zaraina and "the boy" in the first reference to them instead of "she" and "he", but that's minor and didn't slow me down much. I would still like more guidance about what was at stake ... passing? advancing? punishment for failure? The ending doesn't answer that question for me, but at least it's a little less ominous at this point. In any case, I enjoyed this story the first time and find it improved in this bout.

  18. i found Sunflower to be the more compelling of the three entries. i vote fore sunflower

  19. I'm voting this round for Miss Sunflower. The lyrical language really builds the fantasy world for the reader. If you expand this piece after the contest, a little more background about the main characters and whats at stake would help the reader empathize with them. I'd read more of this for sure.

  20. I'll give P.Baker and Circle Slide a little grace on the non-revisions, seeing as how the world is a bit mad right now. These are still strong pieces. I particularly love the voice and premise of P. Baker's, where I found myself forgetting the writer was operating within a 500-word restriction. This is a testament to the strength of the story.

    That said, I know how difficult revisions can be and think Miss_Sunflower did a phenomenal job on this rewrite. Pulling out some of the rich, lyrical descriptions made for a stronger scene. I believed all of Zaraina's emotion this time and better understood the significance of her connection with the boy. I agree that, while it's clear these two are students by nature of where they are, it was less evident that they're taking an exam. There would be an opportunity to address that in Lyranch's line.

    I had suggested in the original critique that you take out the spout and make the impact of their duet more obscure, and I stand by that. Without knowing the significance (or volume) of the waterspout in their world, I think it actually lowered the stakes. The reference to SOME sort of event happening made me want to read on.

    And so, Miss_Sunflower gets my vote on this one!

    1. Hear, hear! I stand by your standing by the waterspout removal, KimberSaint. ;) I found the obscure whispering to be more intriguing and a better lead into a coming-of-age adventure (a la Avatar: The Last Airbender. That show often had moments where villains were conferring but the Gaang, realistically, being kids, didn't know the significance until later. This approach gives a natural room to mature the story with the characters).

  21. I think it is a bit of a shame that P. Baker and Circle Slide's entries seem to have come back unedited. Both are strong pieces of writing that could have been made even stronger if they'd have used some of the feedback provided, but as has been noted by other people commenting, there may be any number of reasons they chose not to change their work. Both writers should be very proud of their work.

    Having said that, I do think that Miss Sunflower's entry, thanks to the revisions she/he made, has grown to be the strongest of these three. I understand things now that I didn't in the previous version. Some things are still a bit vague to me, but I think that's because it's a genre I rarely read.

    Vote this round goes to Miss Sunflower.

    Well done writers, and good luck.

  22. P. Baker's story felt like a YA Judy Blume. I liked some of the descriptive language but the dialogue fell flat.
    Circle Slide's sentence fragments starting the story were distracting, but it got on track after. Ending was a little ambiguous.
    Miss Sunflower gets my vote because I love music and I'm a sucker for a story that incorporates it, but the names were hard to pronounce and could have been left out.

  23. What a fun combination of stories for the 4th Cage Bout Rounds!!

    Hard choice between Circle Slide’s & Miss_Sunflower’s piece, but Miss_Sunflower ultimately pulls ahead for me due to two main factors:
    1. Miss_Sunflower’s willingness to continue to improve and deepen the appeal of her short story through the utilization of all the thoughtful commentary and critiques
    2. Between these two stories, which of them am I most impatient/eager to read the remainder of/which one’s writing style, setting, character development, and story line/plot has the most overall intrigue and that I can easily see myself gravitating toward to read and reread over & over again simply due to it being a well-written, engaging work of fiction.

    For this round, my vote goes wholeheartedly to Miss_Sunflower! 🌻

  24. Voting this round for Miss Sunflower

  25. Zero changes for P. Baker and Circle Slide on the one hand, may be missed chances to improve. However, I do respect writers who stick by their work. It can be sooo tricky revising and incorporating feedback. Sometimes, you have to just stick to your guns so as not to start second-guessing yourself or lose your unique voice/style. I'm also the type that I'd rather go out of a competition submitting something that was wholly me and I was proud of, then change something to appease someone else and always then wonder, "What if I'd stuck with just me?"

    So mixed bag there. But hey, if you are proud and stand by it, that's never bad.

    No further comments for those pieces since there were no changes.

    The addition of these details: "...Chorale Directors and Ship Captains. Lyra Academy..." had me going, "Aaahh!" For me, that clarified the stakes here are for job openings. I'm imagining in this world that ships need weather controllers, so the "test" to me felt much more purposeful. It also came off less like generic test in school and more "Hey, there are going to be recruiters at our next game, so be on point!" I like that. You don't often see YA fantasy have a parallel to sports recruiters, though that is a big component of school for athletes. Way to bring out that uniqueness!

    This also, to me, shifted the story feel a bit to be more Treasure Planet-y. It's got an adventure overtone now that the last version was missing. I dig it. I dug the last lyrical tone, too. They're just different. But this new vibe definitely has more energy to it.

    I also much dig Lyranch being a magic singer, too. This gives his presence more meaning and weight as an assessor (and it addresses that note I had about male singers being less expected. So yay!). Weirdly, though, I guess with the Academy call-out, audience, and Lyranch's new authority, I get a military vibe from this now. That's pretty interesting. I'm not sure Zaraina's personality matches someone intentionally joining the military right now, but if this school/society feeds into military roles, that could work quite well and hint at some meaty future conflict. Not sure that was the intent here, but this story could now totally go the route of playing with authoritarian regimes (akin to how the Youth Revolution in China recruited kids with a positive face, but supported a really terrifying regime in its underbelly).

    Agreed that Zaraina's emotions are more defined and less chaotic. And I get a much better sense for how to imagine this music, which is great.

    I think the flow starting here: "Wind and water danced into a storm," and through the next paragraph gets a bit choppy. Three back-to-back sentences starting with "Her" and the first sentence I pulled out doesn't mesh as well with the preceding and succeeding sentences (it works as a definitive end to the preceding sentence and would flow well if the song then immediately wound down, but there's more description of the music building in the next sentence, so it feels misplaced). Other than that segment, however, the pacing, writing, etc... is stupendously solid!

    Vote to Miss_Sunflower. Superb writing then. Superb writing now. And I'm intrigued by this ships captain/military-like setup.

  26. My vote is for Miss_Sunflower! I find your premise intriguing, and the music lover in me wants to see more of how this world works.

  27. All great entries, and it was easy to tell which one had been worked on. As previously stated by others, I found that the Circle Slide and PBaker didn't take time to make any corrections or improvements, while Sunflower did. I appreciated the effort she put forth to make her piece better. My vote: Miss Sunflower!

  28. My vote is for Miss Sunflower. It seemed easier to follow this second time.
    P. Baker and Circle Slide did not flow as smoothly. I do read fantasy as an escape from reality...

  29. P. Baker gets my vote today.

  30. I have to go with what everyone else is saying. All three stories have good bits, but Miss Sunflower put in the work, so you get my vote.

  31. Pregnant at church camp!?! the thought gives me nightmares! P. Baker gets the vote!

  32. P. Baker -- I like your story even more this time around. I think it's a great opening, or even middle. This story could go somewhere very interesting that I want to read, or it could go somewhere that I'm not interested in reading as much. It's very much between you and Circle Slide for me.

    Circle Slide -- Ooh, now I see the diversity angle of a MC with spina bifida and a "super power." That's really good. And I'm almost certain that I'd enjoy more of this story, so you get my vote.

    Miss_Sunflower -- This is good, but I feel like I've walked into the middle of something. Like starting a series in the third one, and not knowing about the original two. I just feel like I'm missing something that would invest me more.

  33. Three great stories, but I think Miss Sunflower made the most of her edits so my vote is for her.

  34. P. Baker - I love the similes. Great story all around. You get my vote.
    Circle slide - I liked it, but the beginning was a little off for me. Got better as it went along.
    Miss Sunflower - I think the changes made the story worse, but it was still an entertaining read.

  35. Story one had good visual and emotional writing, but the dialogue wasn't authentic to me. I liked the end and the piece felt complete at 500.
    The second story with the dream hopping was nice. A good way to have an escape for your MC.
    The last story had a neat fantasy setting, but it left me with a lot of questions. Not bad, but I think since the contest is all about doing what you can with 500 words, Circle Slide did the best, so that's my vote.




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