I have often been told that I write engaging, descriptive prose. I think that may even be somewhat true… What I don’t really do well is brevity.
They say that you should try the things you are not good at, to challenge yourself and to get better at them. A few months ago, I decided to challenge this one by entering a flash fiction contest. This was an especially brave move since I didn’t actually know until that day what flash fiction was… (stories of less than 1,000 words).
Over the summer, I entered the New York City Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. Writers are given challenges at midnight on a Friday, and have until midnight Sunday to write a complete story (story arc, developed characters, etc.) in less than 1,000 words. The contestants are broken into groups of 30-40 writers and each group gets a different set of prompts – a genre and location to which your story must adhere, and an object which must appear somewhere in the narrative.
The first round consists of two challenges. The top 15 stories are ranked and given points – 15 for first place, 14 for second, etc. – and the scores for both challenges are added together. The top five scorers in the group move on to round two, where a single challenge defines the top five from that group, who will move on to the final round.
Well, I thought, two chances to write, to get feedback from their judges, and from other writers in their forums – that will be a good exercise for me!
As it turned out, it was four opportunities to better my skills. I scored well in the early rounds and managed to stay in until the final challenge. In addition to tightening some of my writing, I encountered some wonderful and talented people there.
The results only show the top 10 who place, and however many stories the judges choose to give ‘honorable mention’ – so in this case, only the top 15 writers know how well they did, and I was not among them. My final round story was well-crafted, but was not nearly as catchy as some of my earlier work – and I also chose a lighter approach, which may not have been suited to this contest (since it appears that 14 of the 15 listed were serious drama; the last was over-the-top campy humor). I thought I’d be disappointed by that – I had hoped I might get as far as an honorable mention. But as it turns out – ‘not so much.’
Of over 1400 competitors from 26 countries, I was one of 40 who was in it to the very last. For my first-ever writing competition, and my first-ever flash fiction – I am feeling OK abut that.