I had so many things I needed to do this weekend–do the laundry, finish my “Fall” cleaning, read all The Bane Chronicles, investigate my appliances to determine which one is broken and jacking up my energy bill…ugh. But you know what I did instead? I wrote. A lot! Over 10,000 words, actually. I was a writing maniac, typing, typing, typing. Not even my bad habits could stop me. I was IN IT.
I know this magical writing weekend was inspired by the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2013, as well as the other short story contests I’ve been entering recently. Through them, I’ve quickly learned the importance of “showing” a story, rather than “telling” one. When you only have 1,000 words (or less) at your disposal, you can’t mosey down the road of plot and character building. You need to get to it and give the reader a world that they want to be involved in–that they can feel something about.
This vital storytelling lesson made me realize I made a terrible blunder with a manuscript I’ve been working on for years. (Side note: This manuscript went on a crazy, rocky, and, in the end, disappointing journey. In a nutshell, it was optioned by a producer in Hollywood in 2010, critiqued extensively by an agent at Writers House, considered by multiple publishers, and showered with lots and lots of hype for being the next “big thing”. And then the project wilted and slowly…slowly perished, until my option contract ran out this past February and I painfully put my precious baby to rest.)
However, after this epiphany of “showing” rather than “telling” came to me last week, I decided to open my dead manuscript and start poking and prodding at its limp carcass. Halfway through the first chapter, I shook my head in disgust and decided this story didn’t need to be resurrected. It needed to be reborn! And I’m not talking about revising it (I’ve done that about 100 times). I’m talking about shredding it, trashing it and lighting a match to it and watching it burn. The only things that need to be saved from the towering inferno are the concept and the two main characters. The rest can turn to ash and blow away on the first big wind.
So, on Saturday morning I opened a blank document and I started writing and creating this new version. And I didn’t stop until late last night. I wrote and wrote all weekend like a mad scientist, feverish and giddy by the fresh, wonderful discovery opening up beneath my typing fingertips. The narrative, the plot, the action, the humor, the drama…It all came together like a lyrical masterpiece, fitting together like a perfect puzzle…Of course, I’m not a complete idiot. I know this is a first draft and I know it’s mostly all crap.
Still, I’m happier and more enthusiastic than I’ve been in a long time about writing a story. And I have short stories to thank. In less than two months (ever since I entered my first contest) they’ve taught me how to be a better storyteller–to hook the reader, thread an intriguing plot, and create likable characters. Boom, boom, boom!
I strongly believe all writers should take advantage of the many flash fiction and short story challenges out there. And I highly recommend you enter them not with the goal to win (though that would be nice), but to learn and improve your own writing.