I know many people don’t want to take the time or spend the money on entering writing contests. I was in the same boat up until I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2013. Then, whoa! My entire attitude changed.
Before I began entering the NYC Midnight (NYCM) writing challenges, I assumed my writing skills were at their best…Wrong! In just a handful of Flash Fiction and Short Story Challenges (FFC 2013, SSC 2014, FFC 2014, SSC 2015), my abilities have grown exponentially. I’m actually embarrassed by what I considered to be my “best”. I won’t even let people look at my old work.
So, what has writing flash fiction and short stories taught me? Well, I’ll tell you:
- Write a complete story. To make a story truly shine, all facets of it must be fully developed and balanced equally. Plot, characters, scenery, etc. If you miss or skimp on one, it stands out to readers.
- Characters count. Characters carry a large portion of a story’s weight. Developing them so they’re as 3D and likable as possible is a must. Also, too many of them tend to be confusing/burdensome for a reader. So, make sure each one counts.
- Keep it simple! Chop, chop, chop. Do you really need that character? Do you really need to talk about that meaningless detail? With their limited word count, short stories force you to take a step back and consider what’s vital to a plot. If it’s not pushing it forward or making it deeper, chop it out.
- Take the road less traveled. Go outside the box. Be creative! Ask yourself, “Is this different? Will it make me stand out?” Example: In round one of the Short Story Challenge 2014, I received these prompts: Suspense, wedding, chef. My first impulse? Write a story about a bride and groom who are trying to off each other, and in the end the bride poisons the groom with the help of the chef. I immediately tossed it out and forced myself to dig deeper and think beyond the obvious. And I’m glad I did. Most of my competitors wrote stories about poisoned food and vindictive brides and grooms. Mine, “Chasing Monsters,” was nothing of the sort. And because of that, I landed myself a 2nd place finish.
Those are just a few things I’ve learned while participating in these challenges. To list all of them would take a decade.
I will, however, point out some specific benefits of participating in an NYCM Challenge. The main one is their private forum. NYCM offers competitors a location to interact and share stories with each other. And I love it! The forum helps you:
- Overcome the fear of sharing your work. I’ve been sharing my stories for years and I still get butterflies whenever I let others read them. However, sharing our work is a must if we want to learn and take our writing to the next level. Plus, if you dream of being published like me, then sharing is a basic requirement. So why not get used to it and learn how to manage those pesky butterflies?
- Discover what you do well. Not only does positive feedback give you a nice ego boost, but it also helps you understand your strengths. And understanding your strengths helps you understand who you are as a writer.
- Discover what you don’t do well. Yeah, I know. Who wants to hear what they’re bad at? Unfortunately, opening yourself up to constructive criticism is a necessary evil if you want to become the best writer you can be. Plus, if you’re planning to enter the Harsh Land of Publishing, then you will need to learn how to handle constructive criticism. And the forum is a great place for that.
- Learn by critiquing other stories. You wouldn’t believe how much you can learn by reading and critiquing other people’s work. When you (tactfully) explain to someone what you liked/didn’t like about their story, you will naturally apply those observations to your own work.
- Meet other writers! While doing these challenges, I’ve gained a lot of amazing friends, writing pals, and trustworthy beta readers. So, believe me when I say the forum is an excellent place to connect with other writers and find the moral and professional support you need to succeed.
Anyway, with all of that said, registration has officially opened for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2015. I strongly–strongly–encourage you to consider entering it. Yes, it costs some money, and yes, the actual challenge is, well, a challenge. But I promise if you go into it with the right attitude and participate on the forum, every penny and every stressful second will be worth it. Plus, the story you’re working on now (or in the future) will thank you for doing this. I know the one I’m working on is thanking me.
Of course, the NYCM writing challenges aren’t the only ones out there. If you aren’t ready to take the plunge, or aren’t in a position to spend the moola, then I still encourage you to look into a blog or website that hosts free weekly challenges. My favorite is Chuck Wendig’s, terribleminds.
You have until June 18th to take advantage of the early entry fee. There’s also a Twitter discount, so be sure to use that to lower the cost even more. Final deadline is July 30th.
Hope to see you all on the forum!
For those of you who’d like to understand the differences between NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge and Short Story Challenge, click here!
To learn more about the NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge 2015, click here!