Why You Should Enter the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014

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 a year ago. Then I took the plunge and entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2013 last fall, and then the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2014 this past spring. And whoa! My entire attitude changed.

Before I entered these contests, I assumed my writing skills were at their best…WRONG! In just two measly challenges, my abilities have grown exponentially. I’m actually kind of embarrassed by what I considered my “best”. I won’t even let my friends or colleagues look at my old work.

So, what has writing flash fiction/short stories taught me, exactly? Well, I’ll tell you:

  • Write a complete story. To make a story truly shine, all facets of it must be developed and balanced equally. Plot, characters, scenery, etc. If you miss or lax on one, it stands out to readers.
  • Characters count. Characters carry a large portion of a story’s weight. Making them as 3D and likable as possible is a must. Also, too many of them tend to be confusing/burdensome for a reader. So, make each one count, and make each one memorable.
  • Keep it simple! Chop, chop, chop. Do you really need that character? Do you really need to talk about that fact?  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, get rid of it.
  • 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,” as nothing of the sort. And–mostly–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 NYC Midnight Challenge.

The main one is their forum. NYC Midnight offers competitors a location to interact and share their stories with each other. And I love it! The forum helps you:

  • Overcome your fear of sharing your work with others.
  • Discover what you do well. Positive feedback is always nice to hear, right?
  • Learn to open yourself up to constructive criticism. If you’re planning to enter the Harsh Land of Publishing, you will need to know how to do this. Trust me.
  • Meet other writers! While doing these challenges, I have gained a lot of friends and colleagues. I’ve also found a few trustworthy beta readers to help me with my future work.

So, with all of that said, registration has officially opened for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014. 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 manuscript you’re working on now, or will be in the future, will thank you for doing this. I know the one I’m working on is thanking me (as are my beta readers–ha!).

20140618-CaptureIt-PictureOf course, the NYC Midnight 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 July 17th 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.

Hope to see you all on the forum!

To learn more about the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014, click here!

 

How to choose a point of view for your novel

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! I don’t know about you, but every time I begin a new story/revise an old one, I ponder which POV I want/need to write in. Limited? Omniscient? First? Second? Third? What? Well, today’s gem–discovered via Chuck Sambuchino–should help me from now on. And perhaps it’ll help you too?

How to Choose a Point of View for your Novel

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When it comes to writing a book and picking a point of view in which to tell it, there are several different options: first person point of view, second person point of view, third person limited point of view, etc. Two of the most popular and telling, though, are the omniscient and limited points of view. Choosing one of these paths can not only alter the course of your story, it can also make or break the tone of your book. But how can you tell if writing in the omniscient is a mistake and that your manuscript would be much better if you were writing in the limited third person?

As an added bonus, there’s a free download included with even more information/details about this topic. Check it out!

Read the entire article here.

Friday Funny and a touch of success

Hey, would ya look at that? It’s Friday! Time for a happy dance.

My week went pretty well–much better than last week. I’ll admit I didn’t get any writing done, but that’s because I was participating in the second (and best) part of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge: reading all the amazing entries. On Tuesday, the forum on the competition’s website opened up, so many competitors, including myself, posted our stories for others to read, enjoy, and critique. Thankfully, work was super calm this week, so I was able to read, enjoy, and critique many of them. Like, over 40!…Yeah, my eyes are starting to hurt, lol.

In addition to reading stories, I received terrific feedback for my own, Chasing Monsters. So far, the general consensus has been positive! I think that calls for another happy dance 😉

Here are just a few comments people have made:

That was an incredibly suspenseful and horrifying story…”

Wow.  THAT was one of the best short stories I’ve ever…

Wow Jen!!! What a story!!! You had me right on the edge of my seat from start to finish!”

I LOVED this story.”

I wanted to let you know I am still thinking about/cringing over your story a day later. Can’t think of higher praise for a suspense story.”

Very Guillermo del Toro-esque and I mean that as a compliment.”

Wow – an espresso coffee hit of a child’s tale! (Laced with rum!)

Love your writing! This was like a modern Grimm tale!

Okay, one more happy dance? Yeah?

Success! Thank. God!

Honestly, I didn’t expect this positive response for Chasing Monsters. I was so, so, soooo nervous and “ugh” about it. Why? Well, mostly because the subject matter was so dark and intense. I’d originally plotted a different twist in my story, but when I approached that twist, my characters yanked me in a different direction–a scary, grim, uncomfortable direction. I was also anxious because I genuinely struggled with writing this story (details here), and the more I struggle with writing something, the more likely it’s horrible and needs be tossed out.

I’m glad I didn’t.

And I’m glad I trusted my characters and followed them down the bumpy, twisty path they led me.

In addition to the positive feedback, I’ve also received some awesome constructive criticisms that will definitely help me improve Chasing Monsters should I ever decide to go back and revise it…Will I do that? I don’t know. People have asked me to, but to be honest, this was the hardest story I’ve ever written. It emotionally destroyed me last week and took me to dark places I never want to revisit…But, then again, I do tend to torture myself, so maybe… 😉

Anyways, in honor of my small but sweet success this week, I’ve dedicated today’s Friday Funny to my characters from Chasing Monsters.

0ace93e64f2504ec6a77f2f63ad29552Thank you to everyone who has read Chasing Monsters. I won’t know for over a month how I officially did in the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Despite the positive response from readers, I’m still not holding my breath. Judging for this contest is 100% unpredictable.

How was your week? Read any good books? Make progress with your own writing? Tell me, tell me!

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

Done and Done – Round 1 Short Story Challenge 2014

Book Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Chasing Monsters – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge Entry

A True Thursday Treasure – Hermione is born

The Devil’s in the Details–taking your fiction to the next level

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! So, I came across today’s gem(s) earlier this week while skimming through Twitter. I found a link that took me to Kristen Lamb’s Blog. She wrote two outstanding articles about those nit-picky things writers have to contend with in their stories: details.

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This aside, just because we are born to write doesn’t mean we’re any good, especially in the beginning. I use this analogy. We could see some gal at a club who can really dance. She has great moves. This doesn’t mean she’s automatically qualified to tour with Katy Perry. Training (lots of it) and practice (more of it) and discipline (whoa, crap, even MORE of that) is required to go pro.

Today I want to talk about a key aspect of what can make most fiction better, and what can even tank a decent story—research (or lack thereof). As they say, “The devil is in the details.”

Read both articles below!

The Devil’s in the Details–Taking Your Fiction to Higher Level

The Devil’s In The Details II–Keep Research from Taking Over

Conferencing for introverts

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! So, today’s gem is one that I think most of us introverts can learn from, especially those of us who’ve always been too shy/scared/nervous to even think of going to a writer’s conference…*throat clear*…Yeah, I’m a scaredy-cat. And poor. And just sad. Ha! Okay, okay, I’m not that pathetic, and I really would love to attend a writer’s conference someday. And when I do, I’ll definitely be reading this awesome article on how to handle it. Take a peek!

You’ve decided this is it, the year to attend a writer’s conference. Forms are filled, hotel and plane tickets are booked, and a satisfied warmth fills you at pulling the trigger on this writing milestone.

But as the day approaches, your brain buzzes. What to wear? What to bring? You look in your closet and suddenly forget what looks good together, what fits, and what shoes work with which pants. The jeans you love seem too run down. That skirt you wanted to bring is too dressy. Or is it? Maybe you could wear it to the pitch you scheduled. And then it hits: FULL BLOWN PANIC. You forgot about the pitch you booked while high on the glow of finally taking the leap.

Read the rest of the article here!

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Query Letter Pet Peeves – Agents Speak

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! So, I had to do a little more digging than I usually do for today’s gem, but the hard search was worth it. I discovered an awesome link on Chuck Sambuchino’s Twitter feed: Query Letter Pet Peeves – Agents Speak. I don’t know about you, but I’m always, always, always looking for helpful tips and tricks for my query letters. And this article definitely has some great ones!

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When submitting your all-important query to agents or editors, it’s not just a question of what to write in the letter—it’s also a question of what not to write.

I asked 11 literary agents about their personal query letter pet peeves and compiled them below. Check out the list to learn all about what details to avoid in a query that could sink your submission—such as vague wording, too much personal information, grammatical mistakes, and much more…

Read the rest of the article here!

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Advice For Writers From Literary Agents

5 Steps for Surviving a Revise and Resubmit

Jen’s Pen Den Is on Facebook

Jen’s Pen Den is on Facebook! So take a moment to stop by and hit “Like”, and then invite your reading and writing friends to join too. On this page, I’ll be posting even more information about books, storytelling, publishing and the rest of the land of make believe.

Check it out here!

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