Well, everyone, I’m happy to announce I made it through the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.
Last week, I found out my story, The Ark, advanced me to round two. After doing a little “woo-hoo” dance, I began mentally preparing myself for the shorter deadline (three days, not eight) and smaller word count (2,000, not 2,500).
I actually felt much better going into this round than I did round one. During round one, my entire life had been a mess and I was exhausted from working on my manuscript. This time, my life was–relatively–calm, and I had plenty of energy to get me through the crazy three day deadline.
The whirlwind started on Friday morning. I woke up and looked at my second round assignment:
Yep, not gonna lie. I wasn’t happy with my assigned prompts. Even though they didn’t include comedy or romance, I was irritated I’d received “Ghost Story”. In my opinion, it’s one of those genres that’s hard to be original and surprising with–and I pride myself on being both of those things.
Plus, the “statue” and “waitress” prompts were uninspiring and dull to me. I just didn’t feel anything when I saw them.
Luckily, I remembered a concept I’d thought of months ago after listening to Ella Henderson’s song, “Ghost”, and my “blah” transformed into an “ah-ha!” I quickly called my mom and sister to see what they thought of it, and they liked it too.
During my 40-minute commute–yes, I had to go to work that day, and yes, I was annoyed about it–I brainstormed a general plot so that when I sat down at my desk, I could jump right into things…Unfortunately, work ended up being a lot busier than I’d expected, and I spent most of the day crying on the inside while watching my precious time tick away.
By the time I left work, I’d only managed to write a few paragraphs, and I wasn’t happy with any of them–gah! To make matters worse, on my way home, my sister called to see if I could run a last minute errand with her, and it was an errand I couldn’t say no to. So I ended up losing even more time.
I was on the verge of a meltdown. I’d basically lost one of my three precious days–ahhh!
Once I finally got home, I went straight into hermit mode. I locked my doors, put on my PJs, and huddled up on my couch to write.
I barely made it a third of the way through my first draft when I threw in the towel. You know it’s time to shut things down for the day when you work on the same two paragraphs for three hours. Plus, my house started making creepy sounds right when I reached the ghost scenes. I yelled at it to stop freaking me out and went to bed (and hid under the covers, haha).
On Saturday, I woke up around 5 AM and got to work. I felt much calmer, steadier, and more focused than I had on Friday. It helped to know I had nowhere to go and no obligations to uphold. The day was mine.
By mid-morning I had a first draft. Around the time I finished it, my mom showed up to offer support and provide feedback. I wasn’t expecting this, but I was grateful. My mom is so amazing during these contests. Not only will she help me edit my stories to death, but she’ll give me 100% honest feedback, especially during my early drafts.
If a plot is boring or cliche, she’ll tell me. If a character is annoying or unlikeable, she’ll point it out. If there’s a way to twist things around and surprise the reader, she’ll suggest it. Seriously, without my mom, my stories wouldn’t be what they are. She’s the best ever!
(You are cool, Mom. Thank you!)
Anyway, as I made myself breakfast, my mom read my first draft.
“Well?” I nervously asked once she’d finished.
She was silent.
Finally, she turned and looked at me. “Honestly? I think you could submit this and be fine.”
I. Was. Shocked!
My mom has never said that about a first draft of mine. Usually, she says, “It’s a good start…” Or, “It would be better if you…” Or, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t like it–at all.”
Her positive feedback dissolved the anxious knot in my stomach and gave me the boost I needed. We spent the next two hours reading through my story to figure out its weak points, and then my mom left so I could focus on a second draft. I was able to finish it by dinner and send it back to her for more feedback. She called me soon after:
“Hey, I read it.” She sounded out of breath.
“Uh, are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah.” She laughed. “I just ran out of breath reading your story. Your ending…sheesh!”
Suffice it to say, she liked it.
We decided to read through the story again over the phone to track down its weak spots–and there were still many. More backstory here, better descriptions there…Thankfully (and miraculously) I was still 500 words under the word count limit, so I had plenty of room to expand and improve things.
By early Sunday morning, I finished a third draft and sent it off to a handful of beta readers. As their feedback trickled in, I noticed the biggest concern was the “ghost story” aspect. Some of my readers didn’t think it would technically qualify.
So, grumbling and mumbling, I went to work rewriting parts to ensure it would qualify…Thank God for Peanut M&M’s. Those little sanity savers are what get me through those beepity-beep! moments.
(Seriously, I went through that entire bag over the weekend…Don’t judge me!)
As I worked on infusing more of a ghost flare to my story, my mom showed up to help me in the final stretch of the process. We read the story out loud about a billion times to search for flaws, rework sentences, and chop out words to get it below the word count (because of course I ended up going over the 2,000 limit).
Around 3 p.m., I hit my “I’m over this!” wall and submitted it.
So, another challenge completed and another story in the bucket. Overall, I’m satisfied with its outcome. I’m not sure what others will think of it–I never do–but considering I only had three days and 2,000 words at my disposal (and had to write a blasted ghost story), I’m proud of it.
As always, I’ll be posting my story here once I get the thumbs up from NYC Midnight. For now, here is my title and synopsis:
The Darkness Whispers
Brief Synopsis: Jude, a tormented artist, is haunted by the memory of his murdered muse. Self-loathing, insanity, and terror drive him to the edge of darkness.
Did you participate in the second round of the Short Story Challenge 2015? If so, how’d you do?