I promised you I’d give you the full scoop on my experience with Round 1 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. So, here we go!
I had eight days to write a 2,500 word short story based on an assigned genre, subject and character. The competition kicked off two Friday’s ago, just before midnight. I knew I’d never sleep if I looked at my assignment right before bed, so I waited until early Saturday morning to check it out. This was what I saw:
First thought? Thank God I didn’t get romantic-comedy or comedy! Not only are those my least favorite genres to write, but they’re so subjective compared to the other genres. If a judge doesn’t have the same sense of humor as you, then you’re SOL.
Second thought? YES! I can totally handle suspense. And I can totally handle those prompts! They’ll be a piece of cake! A piece of wedding cake–ha-ha. I was so relieved, especially when I started reading what some of the other groups were assigned: Comedy/a cult/an apprentice? Fairy tale/domestic abuse/a physically disabled child? Political satire/a presentation/a secretary? Yikes! I got an easy one compared to those.
So, I set a goal to have a solid draft written by Sunday afternoon. That would give my story plenty of time to settle and marinate before I revised and submitted it at the end of the week.
I confidently prepared to dive in.
On Sunday afternoon, after working almost 20 hours on my story, I sent it to my first reader/critic…An hour later, they responded with, “Well, you have a good skeleton of a story, but it’s not really a suspense.”
Yeah, I was upset. Not only had I worked really hard (like forget-to-eat-and-change-my-clothes-for-two-days type of hard), but I’d emotionally drained myself. During my initial plotting, I’d (unexpectedly) decided to take on a touchy topic that made me uncomfortable, sad, and angry. To think of all that time–all those emotions–wasted…Ugh. But I knew my beta reader was right. The story was good, but it was not a suspense. It was a drama.
So, after my bitter denial faded, I did as suggested, and kept the “skeleton” of my story and threw the rest away.
Hence began a week-long journey I hadn’t planned on taking. Waking up super early to write before work, and staying up super late to write after work. It was a jagged, “blerg” process that was frustrating, exhausting, and discouraging. It seemed each draft I cranked out was met with the same “It’s good, but it needs ‘this’ or ‘that'” reaction. By Tuesday night, I considered scraping the entire concept and starting from scratch. Maybe write a loopy groom-wants-to-kill-bride-but-bride-kills-groom-first story? Or an “Unless we diffuse this bomb hidden in the wedding cake in the next ten seconds, everyone at this reception is gonna die!” dealio…
But, it was just too late. I’d grown too attached to my concept–had put in too many hours and emotions–had worked too hard! I wasn’t going to give up. I couldn’t. I just needed to keep pushing, keep editing, keep twisting and turning and molding. A good story was right there, just out of reach. All I needed to do was reach a little higher, spin my plot a tad tighter, dazzle my audience a whole lot brighter.
So, I reached and spun and dazzled until I finally had a draft that I felt semi-proud of. Only problem: it was 1,000 words over the 2,500 word count limit.
BLERG! BLERG! BLERG!!!
I chopped and chopped all day Thursday until I managed to get the story down to just a few words over 2,500. Nervous, but satisfied, I sent it off to my beta reader, as well as a couple of friends to critique. When their feedback popped into my email on Friday morning, I almost cried with relief. Overall, they liked it! One said, “I loved it. Very cool.”, and another said, “I think you’ve got something solid.” (Thanks Jess from What Comes Next!).
So, besides a few style tweaks, some character development flaws, and one or two confusing sentences, the story was good to go! Suddenly, I went from wanting to stab my story in the face, to “Oh, you like it? For Real?”, to woo-hoo, dance party time!
After a few more rounds of revising and chopping (final word count: 2,496), I submitted my story on Friday night. And you know what? I’m satisfied and proud of the final product. Yes, I worked a lot harder on it than I planned, and I took on a subject matter that’s a lot more intense and troubling than I’m used to, but I’m happy I stuck with my original concept and saw it through to the end.
Now, will I do well in the contest? Who knows. As I learned from NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2013, the judging for these stories are completely unpredictable, so my hopes aren’t high. However, I don’t participate in these challenges to win them (yeah, it would be nice, but that’s not the point). I enter them to learn. And, once again, I learned a lot during my week spent in suspense hell! And I’m sure to learn even more this week when I get to post my story here and on the NYC Midnight forum. The feedback I receive from others is like drops of gold–so awesome and so important to helping me improve my writing.
So, that’s it folks! The first round of the Short Story Challenge 2014 was difficult, exhausting and frustrating, but I’m glad I did it. I won’t know for over a month how I did officially. Only the top five in each group advance to round 2 (and there are around 25/group), so my odds aren’t great…But we shall see. You never know!
My story, “Chasing Monsters”, should be up this week. I hope you get a chance to read it and let me know what you think! 🙂
Sidenote: I’ve added a link at the top of Jen’s Pen Den with all the stories I’ve written to date (minus my unpublished manuscripts, of course). Feel free to check them out!