Oh, The Horror – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Well, everyone, I’ve survived yet another round of an NYC Midnight writing challenge…barely.

Let me rewind a little bit…

A few weeks before round one of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015, I made a promise to myself: I wouldn’t start the competition until I finished the third draft of my novel. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. I had to finish it. I had to!

I didn’t.

Despite my best efforts, I still had two more chapters to write when the first round kicked off on January 16th.

Yeah, I was a little stressed.

Thankfully, the first round of the Short Story Challenge was eight days long, so I had the ability to sacrifice a day to get those last two chapters of my novel finished.

Which I did!

Okay, there was no time to celebrate the fact I’d finished the third draft of my novel. I’d lost one of my eight precious days with the Short Story Challenge and needed to dive right into it. So–after a mini “I don’t wanna!” meltdown–I put aside my fatigue and desire to do nothing, and pulled up my assignment:

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First thought? WOO-HOO! I’d been praying to get drama, suspense, or horror since those are the genres I’m most comfortable with. Plus, with my low motivation and energy levels, I needed a genre I’d be enthusiastic about. And horror was just the ticket.

Second thought? What the hell is “medical (or health) tourism”? Seriously, I’d never heard of such a thing. Thank God for Google. After a quick search, I figured out medical tourism is when someone visits another country for a health treatment (mainly because it’s cheaper, or because it’s a treatment they can’t get in their home country). I wasn’t thrilled with this prompt. Medical stuff freaks me out and I’m not all that inspired by it.

Third thought? “Oh crap! Hugh from Hugh’s Views & News is in my group!”

Let me explain: A couple of months ago, I encouraged my friend Hugh from the blog Hugh’s Views & News to enter the Short Story Challenge. I assured him we wouldn’t be put in the same group. I mean, come on!  There are 1,400 people in the competition, broken down into 48 groups of 30. What were the chances we’d end up pitted against each other? Huh?

After I screamed, “NOOO!, I laughed and emailed Hugh, because, really, it was hilarious. And also kind of cool. Even though it stinks to have to compete directly against a friend, it’s nice to know someone in your group. It gives you someone other than yourself to cheer for. (“Goooo Hugh!”)

So, anyway. Once I stopped shaking my head over that, and I figured out what the heck “medical tourism” was, and I drank a lot of coffee, I got to work.

Luckily, my story’s concept came to me almost instantly…Don’t worry, it wasn’t about a Frankenstein surgery gone wrong.

As fun as that idea might’ve been, I had a feeling a lot of my competitors would take that kind of approach, so I went in a different direction…Hopefully it’s a direction others didn’t think of. *fingers crossed*

On Sunday, I started and finished a butt ugly first draft and sent it to my favorite and most critical beta reader: my Mom. As expected, she didn’t love it and she had a lot of issues with it–just as I did. So, we had a long brainstorming session to iron out the kinks and come up with some much needed solutions.

After that, I felt better about the general plot and my two main characters. I sat back down at my computer and started over. And I worked allllll week long writing, rewriting, revising, editing, tweaking…

To be honest, it was a downright painful process. Even though I love horror and I liked my idea, I had smashed into a wall and fallen beyond my breaking point.

Having worked non-stop on my novel for over a month, my willpower was close to zero. And everything hurt: my head, my eyes, my wrists/forearms. Every time I sat down in front of my computer, I’d make it a few words and then want to quit and go to bed.

To make matters worse, I decided to take on a subject I wasn’t prepared to. And it’s a subject I have deep personal convictions about, so…yeah. I was in a constant battle between me and my characters. I had to figure out how to word things that would  satisfy all of us.

By Wednesday night, I had a decent enough draft to send back to my Mom. I also sent it to my sister since she–after helping with a few of the kinks I struggled with most–wanted to give some input.

My sister’s feedback: “I LOVED the last line. Loved, loved.” I almost cried when I read that because I had no idea how to end the story. I’d written that last line on a whim. But after her enthusiasm for it, I knew I’d keep it and use it as my guide while trudging through the end’s fuzzy murk. Yippee for clarity!

And then I read my Mom’s feedback: “It doesn’t feel urgent enough. And I think you should change this and this and this…” I did cry then…Okay, not really. But her critique pushed me to the brink of an epic meltdown.

But, once again, I gave myself a mental slap and went back to work. And by Friday morning I felt confident enough to send my story to three more beta readers (all writing pals this time). Each one gave me incredible feedback and helped me chop down my 2,700 worded story to the word count limit of 2,500.

I’ll admit, a couple of my betas made some suggestions that would’ve required rewriting large portions of the story, and I ignored them. Because I just didn’t care.

Yep! Talk about a horrible attitude. And I’ll likely pay for it when I start getting my feedback from other readers. Oh well. I just didn’t have any fuel left in the tank to deal with those big changes.

On Saturday, I edited my story once more and then submitted it.

And CRASHED!

I spent the rest of the weekend napping on the couch and watching episodes of “The Good Wife”. It was pure bliss.

Now, as you might imagine, I’m not all that confident with my story and I don’t know if it’ll be good enough to advance me to the second round in March. But, whatever! I’m just proud of myself for not giving up, fighting through my exhaustion, and submitting something.

As usual, I’ll be posting my story here once we get the thumbs up from NYC Midnight (which should be today or tomorrow). For now, here is my title and synopsis!

The Ark

Brief Synopsis: When Becca picks her mom up at JFK Airport, she discovers she was diagnosed and treated for cancer while overseas. Their train ride home is fraught with bickering, accusations, and death.

Dun, dun, dun…

Yeah, okay. I know my synopsis is vague. But I’m stickler for spoilers and I didn’t want to spoil anything with this one 🙂

Did you participate in the Short Story Challenge 2015? If so, how’d you do?

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Why You Should Enter the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015

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, and whoa! My entire attitude changed.

Before I began entering the NYC Midnight writing challenges, I assumed my writing skills were at their best…wrong! In just two Flash Fiction Challenges and one Short Story Challenge (FFC 2013, SSC 2014, FFC 2014), my abilities have grown exponentially. I’m actually kind of embarrassed by what I considered to be my “best”. I won’t even let my friends or colleagues look at my old work. Yuck…

So, what has writing flash fiction and 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? 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, 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,” 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 NYC Midnight Challenge. The main one is their private 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.
  • Critique other stories. You wouldn’t believe how much you can learn about the art of storytelling by reading and critiquing other people’s work. When you (tactfully) explain to someone what you liked and did not like about their story, you will likely apply those observations to your own work (whether you realize it or not).
  • 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 Short Story 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 manuscript 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.

10734194_10152421763496776_3321341572966777122_nOf 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 December 11th 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 January 15th.

Hope to see you all on the forum!

To learn more about the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015, click here!

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