This is a writing challenge that takes place over several months in the form of a competition among 6 lead players with eliminations leading to a final winner. The competition is open to Patreon supporters of DreamForge at the DreamCaster Level.
Players not chosen as Lead Players act as Beta Readers for those remaining in the bake-off. The competition is meant to be a fun way to learn a few principles of story-telling, ones that we often see lacking in the submissions to our magazine.
All players who contribute to the bake-off from start to finish are welcomed to submit a story for consideration by DreamForge, outside of our regular submission period, with all submitted stories read by Editor-in-Chief Scot Noel. Deadline to enter is March 4th, with the submission of your “Template Challenge,” from lead players will be chosen.
All DreamCasters are eligible to participate, even if they can’t make it to the DreamCaster Meetings. You start by sending in a “Template Challenge” according to the pattern provided at the end of this article.
Players are eliminated step-by-step until only two remain and a champion is chosen. All players are encouraged to continue to the end as Beta Readers and advisors for those still in competition.
*Stories submitted must be no more than 5,000 words and to be considered for publication must show some mastery of the materials covered in the Great DreamCaster Bake-Off Challenge.
Everyone who wants to participate delivers a completed “Conflict Template” for review. (See the template at the end of this article)
DreamForge editor Scot Noel picks 6 Lead Players and assigns the remaining players to Beta Reader teams for each Lead Player. The Templates Submissions are discussed during the March DreamCaster Meeting, with tips for the next stage given.
The 6 Lead Players write the beginnings of their stories, specifically:
DreamForge editor Scot Noel picks 1 Lead Player to be Star Champion for the month and eliminates 1 Lead Player, who leaves the game to become a Beta Reader assigned to one of the remaining players. The Submissions for the month are discussed during the April DreamCaster Meeting, with tips for the next stage given.
The 5 Remaining Lead Players write the next stage of their stories, specifically:
DreamForge editor Scot Noel picks 1 Lead Player to be Star Champion for the month and eliminates 1 Lead Player, who leaves the game to become a Beta Reader assigned to one of the remaining players. The Submissions for the month are discussed during the May DreamCaster Meeting, with tips for the next stage given.
The 4 Remaining Lead Players write the next stage of their stories, specifically:
DreamForge editor Scot Noel picks 1 Lead Player to be Star Champion for the month and eliminates 1 Lead Player, who leaves the game to become a Beta Reader assigned to one of the remaining players. The Submissions for the month are discussed during the June DreamCaster Meeting, with tips for the next stage given.
The 3 Remaining Lead Players write the next stage of their stories, specifically:
DreamForge editor Scot Noel picks 1 Lead Player to be Star Champion for the month and eliminates 1 Lead Player, who leaves the game to become a Beta Reader assigned to one of the remaining players. The Submissions for the month are discussed during the July DreamCaster Meeting, with tips for the next stage given.
The 2 Remaining Lead Players write the next stage of their stories and polish them for final submission, specifically:
DreamForge editor Scot Noel picks 1 Lead Player to be Bake-Off Champion and the winning story is discussed during the August DreamCaster Meeting, including whether the story makes it for publication in DreamForge.
Everyone who has played to the end is encouraged to submit a story based on what they have learned in participating with the Great DreamCaster Bake-Off. These will be uploaded into the DreamForge submissions portal.
This is the story structure template all players will use in the Great DreamCaster Bake-Off of 2022.
We’ll call this pattern the “Conflict Template,” because the Obstacle pattern we learned in using the “Robus Template” will be replaced with Interpersonal Conflicts.
To step things up a bit, we’ll also complicate the “Character” element. Where before we focused on a Character Weakness, this time you can pick from one of the following
central Character Motivations: jealousy, duty, debt, a terrible secret, a vulnerability, guilt, hatred, or love.
And for a final trick, we’ll start the story “In Medias Res,” but we’ll do it in a very specific way. So, make sure to read the instructions carefully. You’re going to write the opening last. To make the parts of the pattern clear, an example plot of a basic conflict story is included.
Maximum Word Count: 5,000
Avoid using a “false climax.” That’s where the story seems to climax, but you’re holding back, and real threat happens just as the characters begin to relax. It’s often used in movies; it’s another lesson, and I think it’s overused.
For each part, the players will substitute in their own info section for their own story. The story included below is for example purposes only.
Orientation: Introduce Who, What, When, Where, and Why
Important Note: The orientation IS NOT backstory. Imagine a curtain being drawn back on a stage. What do you see? What setting and characters are you introduced to? Keep this section of the story short – a few paragraphs
Example Template Info on Orientation:
Story opens on a small oar and sail powered ship approaching an uncharted island at dawn. The flower art on the sail, nine white petals surrounding a blood red pistil tell us these are not Vikings. A powerful leader strides the deck with a young girl, his daughter, beside him. A woman in a flowing white dress with a red club shaped icon front and back stands near the prow.
Cali, the 12-year-old daughter, is accompanying her warlord father on a mission. They are to find ghost campion, a rare flower found on some islands in the Forgiving Sea that bestows mystical powers on certain women, most commonly the ability to heal.
Character: Show us who the protagonist of the story is and their motivation.
Example Template Info on Character:
Cali is the protagonist, and the story is told from her viewpoint. She is in conflict with the woman in the white dress. Her name is Si Meara and she is Cali’s mentor. Cali is not a good student. Her father pays a great deal of attention to Si Meara and is highly protective of her. He is impatient and stern with Cali. This leads to jealousy, and ta growing, childish hatred of Si Meara.
Threshold Event / Inciting Incident: Something “out of the ordinary” from the orientation scene must happen and it must directly involve the protagonist, drawing them in to the forward movement of the story.
Example Template Info on Threshold Event:
For a moment, Cali’s father turns his attention to a small cage with sick animal in it, possibly a rabbit. He scolds Cali for failing to heal it —her lesson for the day— and he picks up the cage and tosses it overboard (showing ruthless temper).
Cali makes excuses, blaming Si Meara for giving her only dried ghost campion to work with. Her father tells her to do something useful and help the first mate lower the sails. As she does so, something gets stuck. Knowing she will be blamed no matter, she takes the opportunity to turn the spar so that the boat will hit the docks and knock Si Meara into the water.
The first mate, who likes Cali, takes the blame. In a rage, the father nearly drowns him, but in the end Cali’s father calms himself and orders Si Meara to heal the first mate. It will take several healing sessions.
Conflict One: Cali cheats to succeed at a test from Si Meara.
Example Template Info on Conflict One:
After making camp, Si Meara prepares a test for Cali. The women who can use ghost campion to heal are all sensitive synesthetes, and Si Meara explains how the scent of ghost campion on the wind will lead them to it. The scent of a blossoming plant, Si Meara explains, will manifest to Cali as a sound, vision, taste, or even a feeling, and that will be her means of activating the healing properties of ghost campion for the rest of her life.
Si Meara has carefully cultivated a plant and by use of magic and special nutrients has encouraged it to bloom this evening. It is close by, and Cali is to find it. Now we learn Cali often fakes her abilities in order please her father.
By reading “tells” in Si Meara’s behavior, Cali manages to find the ghost campion, but it is not quite blooming yet and has not released its pollen. Si Meara is suspicious, as she did not pick up the scent herself prior to Cali’s feat. She says something, fueling Cali’s negative feelings toward her.
Conflict Two: Cali fails at her first important task and Si Meara exposes her failure.
Example Template Info on Conflict Two:
They go in search of wild ghost campion. Cali is assigned to lead a party, including her father, up a jungle-covered mountain slope. Si Meara takes a party, including the first mate, in another direction.
Cali finds nothing. Si Meara returns with some ghost campion, showing Cali up. Worse, she confesses to Cali’s father that she sensed a great blossoming in the direction she sent Cali. It was a setup to allow Cali an easy success. Instead, it exposed her total lack of talent for the job.
That evening, Cali’s father mercilessly interrogates her about whether she has allowed a man to “touch” her. That would have destroyed her gift. First mate steps in and vouches for her honor; he has closely watched and protected her and always will.
This double humiliation stokes Cali’s jealousy of and hatred for Si Meara, setting up Conflict Three and the Climax.
Conflict Three: Cali fails a second opportunity and falsely accuses Si Meara.
Example Template Info on Conflict Three:
The final conflict is a last test for Cali. If she fails, her father has threatened to send her to the brothels. The first mate tries to calm the father and it works to a degree.
Cali hits upon a plan when she sees Si Meara checking on first mate’s health and they share a laugh together. The next day they once more go in search of ghost campion, all together. Si Meara is close at hand, watching Cali. This allows Cali to watch her for “tells.”
Cali finds a rich patch of ghost campion and in the midst of all the blossoms, she fakes a seizure of some sort. When she awakes and her father is near, she tells him that her gift is one of visions instead of healing.
He asks what she has seen. Cali demurs, but upon his later insistence she tells a false tale of Si Meara expressing her love for the first mate and how she approached him when they were on the other side of the island together.
Climax: Cali learns her nature and the price of her father’s attention.
Example Climax Info on Conflict One:
Father goes into a rage and —in a move Cali does not anticipate— horrifies her by beheading the first mate. Then he has his men create a funeral pyre for the body and ties Si Meara to it, burning her and all her gear and possessions. Cali pleads for her father to show mercy. He does not listen, even when she confesses outright.
When Si Meara is immolated and her possessions burn, some of what is burned is her store of dried ghost campion. When Cali breathes it in, to her surprise, her natural gifts are activated. Instead of smelling it, she is overcome by light and pounding music and the taste of death. Not only that, but she is also one of those rarest women for whom ghost campion provides true visions.
Her terrifying vision of is of a future empire where her father rules with absolute tyranny and the heads of his enemies are fixed to pikes which line the thoroughfares from city to city. The only threat, the only fate he must avoid is to be at sea this very night. There is a kraken lurking in the waters near the island and by morning it will be gone. If they leave now, it will find them and take men from the boat for its supper, one of them her father.
Denouement: Cali makes a decision.
Example Denouement info:
Cali notices that her father is now highly attentive to her; highly pleased, promising to keep her always by his side to hear her visions. He unpacks a fine white dress that has been sewn for her. She has gotten what she wanted at the beginning, but the true nature of her accomplishment is vivid in her imagination.
She tells her father of his coming victories and how his enemies will fall by the thousands and thousands. There is only one thing he must do to assure it all, she tells him. They must leave the island before dark and sail for the setting sun.
Opening (In Medias Res)
Opening: Take a scene from Conflict Three or the Climax and place it at the beginning of the manuscript.
Example Opening (In Medias Res) info:
Start with Cali finding the big patch of ghost campion and wading into it, feeling the proud eyes her father and the first mate upon her, her body trembling as she begins to fake her seizure. She has it figured out. She can be a soothsayer, and even Si Meara will never dare to question her.
In the end, the story described above seems a bit too dark to be a DreamForge story, but it is a coherent story about personal desires, growth and coming to understand evil, and a decision that may save others. It was also plotted simply by following the template and thinking things through one step at a time. It was not done by taking a story idea and trying to break it up across the elements of the template. (Which is probably why it probably came as dark as it did— it followed its own path, building on its own internal logic.