Help Cat Valente Design an Award

Cat Valente got active in discussing Jay Maynard’s award proposal at Black Gate and suddenly had an inspiration of her own, which has been discussed on Twitter and in File 770 comments all day.

Oooh, what if the awards were ACTUALLY for story? Like…aspects of story?

  • Best Ending
  • Best Twist
  • Best Worldbuilding
  • Best Villain
  • Best Action Scene
  • Best Romantic Scene
  • Best Death Scene
  • Best Dramatic Speech
  • Best Protagonist
  • Best Climax
  • Best Battle Sequence

I could actually get CRAZY excited about awards like that. And they probably would sell books like crazy. Without spoilers, knowing a book won an award for Best Ending would make me pick it up in a heartbeat! Plus, you would know damn well people had read the books. There would be so much discussion!

There I go, getting excited about a doomed idea


Absolutely! (Note, I don’t have a Twitter account, so that @mglyer isn’t me, although he is holding a mighty good-looking sandwich.)

What would it take to get this award off the ground?

Valente already has a short list —

Well, you need a couple of administrators to gin up a website and run the thing, access to a large community online to hash out the rules and categories and how to make it fair, for example, for both long and short fiction, and to design a nominating/awarding process, money for award trophies because it’s no fun without a statue, a con willing to host an award ceremony, and publicity. And, you know, a name…

Fire away. Personally, I need a good night’s sleep before I join the brainstorm. I’ll be interested to see what the night shift comes up with….

145 thoughts on “Help Cat Valente Design an Award

  1. Has anyone talked about having a mercurial list of categories? E.g. a few really core ones that are always there (Best Villain, Best Protagonist, Best Climax, Best Worldbuilding, Best Making the Impossible Possible?) and then some that get swapped in and out, including more whimsical one-off ones?

    Best Second Sentence
    Best Diction
    Best Prose Prosody
    Best Neologism
    Best Monster
    Best New Twist on an Old Idea
    Best Old Twist on a New Idea
    Best Page
    Best Treatment of Technology
    Best Treatment of Magic
    Best Thing That Should Have Ruined The Book But Didn’t
    Best Embedded Non-Prose (e.g. poetry, song, drama)
    Best Punctuation
    Best Sex (there needs to be an antidote to the Bad Sex Awards which are incredibly stupid (I have pals involved in them :/ but still)
    Most Noble Sacrifice of Narrative Simply to be True to Ramifications of World-Building
    Best Location

  2. Pingback: Cat Valente’s Excellent Idea | The Royal Academy at Osyth Blog

  3. This. Is. Awesome!

    I would be totally on board with helping to get something like this going. Not much time at all, but I do have some of teh web skillz. Whether you want a quick WordPress blog thrown together or (given enough time) a full-blown database driven system up.

    Random thoughts:

    – The parallel to the MTV Movie Awards also occurred to me. Although those are pretty over-the-top, I do personally think that the awards would do very well as the “just a lot of fun” awards rather than going for the “venerable” awards niche (which is already well occupied). Be the MTV Movie Awards to the Hugo’s Oscars. 😉

    – I also really like the idea of this being cross-media, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if it is only prose. One issue I thought about if it was film/tv and prose is that audience sizes could be an issue since individual movies and TV shows tend to have much larger audiences than books/short stories. So it could be easy to for film/TV to dominate simply because there tend to be a much wider shared experience. To counter that it could have a system of, say, 6 nominees on the short list. Two are the highest nominated prose works, two are the highest nominated dramatic presentations. The last two are “wildcard slots” that take the highest nominated works of any format. The chaotic fun of trying to decide whether character A in some novel is better villain than character B in some movie, I think, would add a lot of excitement and discussion.

    – As for names, if we want to be named after a person, I have always been partial to the Serlings (probably better than the Rods). 😉 That is if it is cross-media. Or I was trying to think if there are any venerable writers who had great prose and scripts? The Bracketts? But I have no particularly strong opinion on a name. I would just love to see this happen.

    – Award statues – Again, no strong opinion, just throwing ideas out there (although “made from stuff in fan’s basements” does fit the chaos of it nicely). Maybe something that blends sci fi, fantasy, and writing like a crossed sword/laser rifle/ink pens. Or typewriter/dragon/spaceship hybrid. *shrug*

  4. I thought maybe of having the core 6-8 categories and then having one that changes every year. Allowing the voters to also vote on the unique category?

    Also, the point about multiple nominations is well taken. Would restricting a work to one nomination per year be too draconian?

  5. How about a “Best Enemies” award, for really fascinating and twisted antagonistic relationships?

    Examples of the sort of thing I mean include Frodo and Gollum, or Aang and Zuko (from “Avatar: The Last Airbender”), or Snape and Harry.

    On another subject, are these awards limited to SFF?

  6. @jo

    Do you think these would start to function as incentives? Like if there WERE a Best Map would people start trying to up their map game?

    It’s kind of what I was thinking, I do like a good map; but this cuts both ways, I’m not sure Best Opening Sentence would be a good influence that way. I can imagine a lot of writers staring at blank screens for days faced with that one (but, you know, just get the book going and worry about it later, I guess…)

    I really like your list, especially Best Thing That Should Have Ruined The Book But Didn’t, but – Great Cthulhu! – Best Punctuation? Surely, this is asking to start a war that will make the puppy interlude seem like a tiny skirmish, The Great Stylistic War. In the interests of good transatlantic relations alone, I beg you to reconsider. (Though at least there’s no Best Spelling award…)

    Oh, and the puppies will get in on the act too; they’re already hardening up the party line with respect to colons, apparently one in a sentence is one too many.

  7. I suggest calling the awards the Spoilers, and make the trophy like a sci-fi hot rod’s spoilers. Seriously. In service of this, one could publish a list of nominated works, so that folks can see whether they’d rather wait on looking at the nominees and/or winners – not broken out by category, but grouped some sensible way so that it’s not a mondo long list in purely alphabetical order.

  8. If the name is available, I’d call it the Constellation Award, on two grounds:

    1. If the award is intended to boost sales, it should sound impressive, even before your average fan has reason to attach prestige to it.

    2. These are craftsmanship awards. A constellation is made up of multiple stars, a story is made up of multiple craft facets. If there are, say, eight core award categories, there could be eight stars in the constellation on the award…

    If there already is a Constellation Award, then Nucleus…?

  9. I have significant concerns about the voting system for OBVIOUS DANG REASONS. Ideally, it would be just like the Locus Awards, but that’s intensely vulnerable to gaming. However, I also don’t want any weird trust level crap and I don’t fancy charging money as Worldcon does for the simple reason that I am not Worldcon and it’s probably not worth it to people to pay for my popcorn awards? What’s in between?

    There are some alternatives, but of course, none are really satisfactory.

    – Allow tele voting, but require verification based on driver license, passport, whatever.

    – Verification via other online platforms (facebook, google, whatever).

    – Vote requires physical presence.

    – Jury only, no open voting.

    – also see this link

    If you want people to be able to vote via internet, you will have to live with cheating (unless you ask a sufficiently large sum of money, or require your voters to swallow down any kind of privacy concerns.).
    There is no easy way out, I’m afraid.

  10. …If there are, say, eight core award categories, there could be eight stars in the constellation on the award…

    If there already is a Constellation Award, then Nucleus…?

    Atomic Number 8, so it’s the Oxygen Award? What do the neutrons do?

  11. Love the concept. Cat you came up with some great ideas for a “Storytelling Award”

    I know, there’s something great about things that are made by the human hand (or by the hand guiding machinery) – but 3D printing is, in my view, about going as quickly as possible from idea to some semblance of reality; much like science fiction can take an idea and see where it goes.

    This is a great idea. 3D printing is getting better everyday and the materials you can use are improving.

    One option would be that instead of picking eight or whatever interesting categories, and straight up voting, we could design a kind of massive (fun?) online quiz where one answer could win a book points in multiple categories. E.g. one question might be a straightforward “Name the book that has your favourite character (and who they are)” and so obviously that gets that book lots of points in the “BEST CHARACTER” category but maybe it also gets that book one or two points in the “MOST EMOTIONALLY ENGAGING” category, on the basis that characters are homunculi of our very own heartflesh, & thereby vectors for feels. Basically a question of literary criticism meets game design.

    This sounds like fun but also like a lot of work to create. But I love it.

    To counter that it could have a system of, say, 6 nominees on the short list. Two are the highest nominated prose works, two are the highest nominated dramatic presentations. The last two are “wildcard slots” that take the highest nominated works of any format. The chaotic fun of trying to decide whether character A in some novel is better villain than character B in some movie, I think, would add a lot of excitement and discussion.

    This sounds like it might help with the media issues. I still worry games & comics will be left out.

    For initial start up funding Kickstarter is a lot of work but if enough big names would promote a blog post and donate goods I think the money needed to get the basics funded is doable. I recommend talking with Robin, Michael J Sullivan’s wife, for help in setting up. I’ve backed tons and occasionally advise. I am willing, as health permits, to help out.

  12. A few thoughts:

    1) You will need some revenue stream to pay for trophies, web hosting, etc. I think charging people $5 to nominate and $10 to vote on the finalists will cover the costs without pricing out even the most cost-conscious fans.

    2) Vote in two rounds – everybody pick 3 nominees, top 6 are finalists and we vote on them Australian-style. This is not really an anti-gamer idea, but a way to encourage people to not just list everything they think is eligible in a category. If people decide to game the awards, it will be obvious and the public will give the award all the (lack of) respect due thereunder.

    3) I wouldn’t have word-counts. Let the shorts fight it out with novels or even series for those categories that make sense (like best villain). I would separate out visual media from written / audiobook, at least for the Best Fight and similar categories.

    4) Don’t worry about duplicate works. If Blasters of the Space Patrol gets enough votes to be in Best Ending and Best Monologue by a Villain, so be it.

  13. Chris:

    I’m happy to pay for web hosting and those sorts of incidental costs out of my own pocket. My main concern as far as funds is the trophies. (Unless I’m missing a big cost. We’ve got a number of volunteers already to help with coding, etc.) There have been a number of ideas on how to do trophies on the cheap–including the latest from Twitter, having a bottle of alcohol or (for non-drinking or under 21 winners) cool non-alcoholic beverage with a special award label made up. If they were reasonable enough I could pony up for awards, too. Anyone have a 3-D printer?

    Alternatively I could knit everyone an award. 😉

    I like the voting option you mentioned, it’s at least simple and easy to understand. I do really want this to be a popular award everyone can vote for online without barrier. If it’s a People’s Choice Award, it ought to be that.

    I think part of the problem with Kickstarter is that if high profile people were to promote it as Tasha says, we’d almost certainly end up with too much money for our actual expenses. I suppose overflow could be put in escrow for future years.

  14. I think part of the problem with Kickstarter is that if high profile people were to promote it as Tasha says, we’d almost certainly end up with too much money for our actual expenses. I suppose overflow could be put in escrow for future years.

    It never hurts to have extra for unexpected expenses and future years. You need to incorporate/non-profit to protect yourself from liability and protect the awards/trademarks. It shouldn’t come out of your pocket. Same with hosting & awards. A 3D printer could be a stretch goal as well as materials needed to make awards. If your not putting on a con there is cost of shipping awards (people always underestimate this). Long-term you don’t know what your finances or health* will be (old age & death gets everyone in the end) and If this award takes it will likely outlive you.

    Aim for what I list in number #1 below and if you raise $50k you’ll know people really want this award and you’ve got the funding to cover more than basic cost for years. Plus there is nothing wrong with paying people for their time & services even if they’ve volunteered.

    My off the top of my head goals:
    1. Pay for legal paperwork, web hosting (5 years robust package), shipping rewards (unless donators are donating reward & shipping), Kickstarter fees ~10%, 1-5% for misc/unexpected expenses
    2. Stretch goal pay volunteers providing website & databse setup, artwork, etc.
    3. Stretch goal buy high quality 3D printer & base supplies/software/etc. for creating innovative rewards & best estimate on all shipping cost for 1st 5 years
    4. Stretch goal $x dollars to have in savings to have backup to handle any unexpected problems
    5. Anything extra will be used/kept for future years

    If this award doesn’t work out after 5 years:
    1. a vote will happen to determine what existing award will get the funds in savings or
    2. funds in savings will go to con or bust (or wherever)

    *take it from someone knocked out by multiple chronic illnesses (get over one & 2 new ones pop up) & then hit by an 18-wheel truck (so cliche I know).

  15. Ha they should be named the hivies !

    I would like to see an award that also recognizes the great mult-media work that is done. Tumblr, YouTube, episode recaps, cosplay, there is so much out there.

    I would vote by tweets and hashtags and tumblr shares.

    Set up feeds and pages for the categories and let people subscribe, add and retweet their preference. If you vote for a book include a screen cap or pic of the scene in question or gif or anything creative really.

    After the awards are given, set up new tags for the next year.

    It would be an interesting experiment that could take off and see how people might interact. I would enjoy viewing that feed as it evolved across a year.

    Just an idea on how you might do it.

    ETA This way has low overhead, is anarchic, and would allow new categories to be added/changed at will.

  16. This sounds like it might help with the media issues. I still worry games & comics will be left out.

    Yeah, I wondered about that, too. Either have those wildcard slots go to “other media” and maybe have a longer short list. Or 1 guaranteed prose, 1 guaranteed dramatic, 1 guaranteed “other” (or go so far as splitting comics & games? But are there other others?) and 2-3 wildcards of top nominees of any media. I dunno, just playing with numbers.

    That is if the consensus is to go beyond just prose. I think it would draw more interest that way and be really fun, too.

  17. While it would probably be useful, you don’t need to incorporate: WSFS is an unincorporated literary society.

  18. While it would probably be useful, you don’t need to incorporate: WSFS is an unincorporated literary society.

    From what I understand – correct me if I’m wrong, because I’ve never been part of the con scene – WSFS doesn’t really handle money, and the individual Worldcons do have sponsor companies. Incorporation would simplify governance and management of intellectual property, not to mention that 501(c)(3) status would confer tax benefits.

    Legal infrastructure can be as important as physical infrastructure in dealing with unforeseen contingencies – take it from someone who’s had to clean up a few messes.

  19. Must be something in the air. The Dread Pirate Scalzi has some thoughts about voting:

    My Almost Certainly Ill-Advised Proposed Award Voting Process

    I confess, I find it hard to parse this stuff for some reason. (Keep bouncing off it, while I have no problem with varied national electoral systems. Weird.) But I really do like the idea that you can nominate something, but you cannot vote for your nomination. That’s a really interesting dynamic.

  20. Well, this is a bit too MTV for me (i.e., not exactly prestigious), and I immediately thought of Wordsworth (“We murder to dissect.”) in all this splicing and dicing, but it seems that plenty of you are enthused, so I wish you luck. 🙂

  21. How about a different set of categories for short stories, that focus more on the story as a whole than on individual scenes?

    Best voice
    Best concept
    Best character
    Best ending
    Most heartwarming
    Most heartwrenching
    Most exciting

  22. This is a fantastic idea, and all of the specific award ideas various people have mentioned are perfect. But one thing that I’ve always felt awards should to is to encourage people to produce work that might not otherwise be made due to commercial or other constraints. Things like best cross-genre story, or best experimental fiction, or best story that doesn’t fit neatly into a category, best story challenging genre conventions. How about “Most Bizarre Story” or the “Not Sure It’s Even A Story, But It’s Good Award”.

  23. From a space drive discussion on another thread: Best Method For Getting From A to B.

    Doesn’t have to be any kind of space drive, could be semi-sentient zebra/gorilla chimeras or something. And story-telling? A bit of travel can literallly drive the narrative along handsomely, I think…

  24. @Nathan McKnight

    Brilliant. The ‘best story that doesn’t fit neatly into a category’ Category just has to exist. That one could even be the Russell’s Paradox Award if you only delete ‘neatly’, that term allows too much fuzziness for a real full-on paradox. But it’s still great even with it.

    [Wait. Thinking about the ‘neatly’. It can become a paradoxical adverb in its own right, I think. Damn, it’s late. Brain hurts.]

  25. If there are many categories, it may be difficult to get people to focus on them, or it may become horribly expensive to award trophies in all of them. So some minimum number of votes in each category seems necessary (so that those categories that don’t get enough interest, instead get automatically no-awarded).

    Or one could go horribly overboard and instead way that of the N categories, only M (M < N) will be awarded; and there could be a separate EPH-like round for which ones of the categories should be on the ballot this year, before the nominations open for those categories.

    … and possibly with write-in candidates for new a one-off or temporary category to be included this year (and possibly considered for adding to the list).

    It's ballots all the way down!

  26. How about an award for the puppy anti puppy war?

    Best Zinger
    Best blog commenter
    Best twitter warrior
    Best bottomless pit
    Best recommend new award or rule change
    Best argument
    Best antogonizer
    Best suggestion on how to bring both sides together
    Most entertaining asshole

  27. Best Opening Sentence.

    I read that Harry Harrison used to practice writing opening scenes – just enough for a first page of a submitted manuscript, because if that didn’t grab them they’d never see the second page. The Stainless Steel Rat opening started as one of these, so if we’re giving each award a name, I pick either Harrison or Stainless Steel Rat.

  28. As long as we’re in the brainstorming segment of the program …

    The specific story-aspect recognitions are a cool idea, though trying to guess ahead of time what might be out there worth rewarding can be tricky. Here’s a random idea: nominate a combination of work and “feature that this particular work does really well that it should be recognized for”. **complex handwaving** Derive an emergent set of categories from the nominations.

    Dunno how this would work out in practice.

  29. Guess:

    How about an award for the puppy anti puppy war?

    How about confining yourself to constructive suggestions?

  30. I propose the name the Aspects Awards, since these would be awards for aspects of novels (and stories?)–ending, worldbuilding, characterization, villain, action scene, etc.

  31. About the name, just call them the Besties. No matter what name you pick, that’s what they’ll be known as.

  32. I’ve just realised what we’re missing here, the prestigious Chapter Five Award:

    1) Best Chapter Five
    2) Most Chapter Fives

    (Whichever gets the most votes wins. And any entry that starts a Chapter 5 before the end of Chapter 4 is automatically disqualified. I expect it will need further rules, but that’s a start.)

  33. I would like to propose the “Best Random Watermelon” Aspect in honor of Buckaroo. For outstanding absurdity in science fiction.

  34. I understand how my suggestion could be construed as being antagonistic. To clarify, I actually think it would be a great name, a nom de gueux.

  35. OK, we have the protagonist and the agonist awarded. We do not have any awards, as yet, for the comic sidekick; the tediously garrulous old-timer; the whore with a HoG and other bit players. Likely a good thing too.

    But, this is SF/F – what about The Other? In SF terms, that would mean Aliens, which is a fine thing. But it could be interpreted to mean any being beyond our (meaning the reader’s – the voter’s) normal range of empathy or comprehension (even if we do eventually get to understand them by the end of the story).

    It could include anything from Peter Watts’s strange non-conscious ‘intelligences’ to Fred Hoyle’s Black Cloud to sympathetic Orcs, or even a human with one particular ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation that happens to be different from the viewpoint of the narrator. The last comes with the strong proviso that there is sufficient SF/F content/context to justify its inclusion, otherwise it should be punting for a mainstream award.

    It’s clumsy, but I’d go for something like Best Representation of Otherness, something like that.

    [I’d be likely to vote for Best Alien, myself. In that field, I wish Watts wouldn’t keep coming up with Others, his are depressing but hard to ignore. But they’re Others, why should they care what I think?]

    [Mike, I meant this one seriously…]

  36. Just to expand on Jo’s thought in the first comment on page 2, if the awards are to have as many optional categories as have been suggested, perhaps consider a nomination round where any work created during the award period can be nominated for any award, and only awards that clear a floor of 5% split any way across no more than 5 works (or more or less, depending on shortlist format, and yeah, I’ve got hugo vote mechanics in my assumptions a bit, and the math should be placeholdery) will actually be present in the shortlist round of voting? Or something, not quite sure how to set this up…

  37. I don’t have a specific name suggestion to offer, but I did want to support the notion of basing the name on something abstract, rather than deriving it from someone’s actual name.
    Since these are craft excellence awards, it seems a bit awkward to single out one person in particular.
    And, for simplicity’s sake, I’d recommend one over-all name, with the specific prizes as the field – though there could be nicknames for the specific prizes.

  38. I really hope this comes to fruition, even if only as a less formal, strictly for fun kind of thing. I just love the idea of an award with categories made from the kinds of things people actually mention to each other when making recommendations and talking about stories they loved.

    I’ve been guilty of using awards ballots as a “here’s all the stuff you should feel bad about missing last year” list. That’s something I want to change, so I can get more involved in the nominating process, but for others who still follow awards that way, these would serve even better as a potential reading list. I’ll be following this with much interest!

  39. I’d suggest keeping it all simple to start with. All this stuff about naming each award individually or awarding an ever-shifting set of obscure categories is fun to talk about but seems like it’d be an administrative nightmare.

    A workable set of categories, not too large, with one name. That would seem like a simple, clear way to start, and if, later on, people want to figure out a way to add Best Dishonest Aunt or Finest Use of Oregano in an Escape Plan, at least you’ll be tacking it on to a working structure rather than trying to build a Dr. Seuss structure from scratch.

  40. I think Cat’s initial list works just fine for the most part. Maybe change Battle to Combat for reasons already mentioned, and possibly, perhaps in the small print, define Best Action Scene as non-combat action, since there’s the potential for a lot of overlap there.

    I love the idea. Not sure I’d have any relevant skills to contribute, but if ever there’s a Kickstarter or something similar, I’d be happy to pitch in.

  41. I think a fundamental aspect (oooo, I like that word) of these awards is that they are both low-key fun and serious at the same time.
    It’s important to preserve that mix.
    You probably will want to set up a supportive structure – the whole incorporating thing and money stuff – Tasha’s post covers a lot of the concerns brilliantly.
    I think the Kickstarter idea is also a good one – if you want these to take root and last (and I think they can) they shouldn’t just come out of your pocket.
    That’s not fair (to you), will lead to burnout, and diminishes their potential viability.
    Doing all the financial footwork sets them up as an independent and respectable award, which is good.

    But you also want to build in a lot of flexibility, and keep them fun.
    I think the physical prizes themselves are made to order from STUFF, based on the recipient or awarded work, and kept “uniform” by attaching the engraved official brass plate.
    I’d want to see a smallish number of fixed categories always awarded: opening, ending, world-building, villain, twist.
    And then a whole stable of possible categories, which can be added to at any time, but which would only be awarded intermittently, given robust enough nominations.
    So, there would always be awards for best scenes.
    And open nominations for favored scenes, perhaps labeled by nominator as to proposed type.
    And judges – lucky them – would sort the nominees gaining +5% into ballot created by those judges.
    (Sort of like Kyra’s brackets.)
    So the main awards would be the fixed five or so, with whatever number of wildcard slots.

  42. Re: 3D Printing: There might be opportunities to use a 3D printer in the area on the cheap like public high schools, colleges, or libraries. My local library has a 3D printer that is available for public use with a small fee (though I’m not certain what the size limitations are, my brother-in-law printed a 4″x4″ snowflake last Christmas, fwiw.)

    Re: Categories: Best Series might be neat as an occasional pop-up category.

    Re: Kickstarter:

    I think part of the problem with Kickstarter is that if high profile people were to promote it as Tasha says, we’d almost certainly end up with too much money for our actual expenses. I suppose overflow could be put in escrow for future years.

    It never hurts to have extra for unexpected expenses and future years.

    Completely agree. Monies for future years can only help long-term viability.

    Re: Name: The Aspects sounds good to me. Award name suggestions (continuing in similar vein):
    +Story Facet Award (Pretty crystal statues?)
    +Elements of Speculative Fiction Award (“The Specs”)
    +StoryMaker/Builder Awards


    Suggest some kind of volunteer sign-up sheet in the near future with request for what skills are needed moving forward.

  43. I’d help in any way possible, which isn’t much, but I would definitely vote for it and spread the word.

    Agreed it shouldn’t be named for a person. But I love the categories. I would gladly click on anything needed.

  44. I agree with Kurt about starting off simply. Maybe 6 categories the first year? Or no more than 10, anyhow. And I like Cat’s idea of one revolving/impermanent category that would get chosen each year, just for that year.

    And presumably a lot would be learned the first year, leading to fine-tuning from then onward, in terms of all aspects of running this award contest.

    Also, by virtue of NOT being in a petulant quarrel with experienced Hugo administrators and volunteers, founders of this award could ask them for advice about how to set about managing and administering an award. And/or by asking some to participate in establishing this award.

Comments are closed.