(Where a Writer’s Ideas Tangle in Puns)
This is my third year participating in the New York City Midnight Short Story Challenge, where writers are packaged into heats with prompts unique to each, and have 8 days to write a story no longer than 2,500 words. To make it to Round 2, judges must score us in the top 5 or 6 out of our heat of 30 (or 31 if you’re lucky, like my heat 98).
Round 2, participants have 3 days to write no more than 2,000 words; and the coveted Round 3, 1 day to write a story under 1,500 words. I’d love to make it to round 2 again; I’m not so sure I want to make it to round 3 again. Once more, it’s the day before the Flying Pig. I haven’t told my sis yet, but maybe, just maybe, because I’m a glutton for punishment and testing my limits, I might, gulp, say I’m ready to try running/walking the half marathon. If I sign up for it, can I guarantee I make Round 2 and Round 3 like last year’s adventure?
Our competition has hit its highest number, 3031 competitors. Heat 98 drew prompts of Political Satire/Guns/Middleman. In past years, combinations have always seemed off-the-wall to me, and I’ve seen dozens of combinations because I’ve helped beta-read friends’ pieces (meaning I’m their sounding board) and I’ve critiqued other competitors in the forum the competition sets for us. Why wouldn’t creative juices flow when you write a Fairy Tale about a Whale and a Tropical Rain Forest?
But this year’s prompts? C’mon, they hold hands, screaming “terrorists,” or “arms dealer” or “gun control.” Where’s the creativity in that? I’ve entered this contest to see if it’s like the first two years: I come up with a great idea that leads to a novel (Solve for x comes from my 2015 contest) or the off-the-wall romance short story I’m shopping around (“Stolen Heart, Stolen Will, and the Wisdom to Know the Difference” comes from 2016’s Round 2).
Two Saturdays ago, I surveyed my prompts and gulped. Publicly, I’d said the only genre I didn’t want was Horror. But like an overdue notice, Political Satire sat in my back pocket, the number two genre I didn’t want. Nailed it!
Online writer friends taught me, ditch the first three ideas. Odds are, other competitors will grab that same idea. I sat in Panera’s, my go-to writing spot, mulling over the first idea of a terrorist-driven story; of a gun-control driven story. I tried to purge from my brain the backdrop of the 2016 Political Reality TV. A series I couldn’t ignore. Elections where idiot politicians from both parties rallied supporters with disgraceful rhetoric, pitting “us” against “them.” For shame, political parties, for shame. For shame, candidates, for shame.
Therein lay a seed, a government doing something so stupid, someone was going to have to stand up to them. But who? And what stupidity could I seize upon? I continued my research, expanding outside literature. I had no idea that during the Depression, several Broadway musicals turned to political satire.
Two hours in, and I still hadn’t had the inkling of a third idea I could discard. Telling myself I’d earned my fru-fru coffee, I popped in another Celtic Christmas CD and berated myself for not having updated my travel bag. I didn’t know it, but seed two germinated.
Crossing from my back corner into the main dining area, muses drew me in with laughter and stories. A table full of delightful grandmothers, mischief sparkled in their eyes. With Broadway on my mind, “Granny Get Your Gun” gave me a title. Seed three. I could not discard this. I could not. But….
I turned to my online friends. Competitors should turn a cold shoulder to each other, but that’s never what we do. They embraced my story concept and reminded, “keep your focus on the absurdity of political satire.”
Powered by their comments and ideas, the coffee, and a massive pecan roll, I hammered out the rough draft. My grannies with gumption, sick of a government determined to legislate to protect us from our own stupidity, wouldn’t go quietly into the night of over-protectionism, no siree, Bob, and mind you don’t burn your hand on that treat fresh from the oven. The grannies engineered a plastic gun not even an idiot could confuse with a real weapon. They baked the plastic in mini bundt pans, frosted them with silicone to glisten like confections, and shot sugar bullets a whopping inch. Yeah, hard to hurt anyone like that. The more absurd, the more I worked it in. Puns, innuendo, Granny Reality TV, FitBitMeters on Steroids, I popped that addictive material in everywhere it fit.
Beta Readers Rise to the Challenge
Thanks to wonderful betas, the story deepened as it passed from draft one to the final draft, nine. The humor deepened; the grannies got more manipulative and devious; the government got dafter and dafter. I laughed, my betas laughed. They told me where my humor fell short, or where I could start a gag and deepen it as the piece went on. Clueless Granny Gayle came to life, popping in with facts and figures, and raising her hand when Granny Gertrude asked who had time to read 600 pages of legislation.
Check out the writing of my awesome betas:
- Shanan Winters—from her webpage, her novel Rising (Book 1 of the Adept Cycle): “What do you get when you combine a no-nonsense federal agent, a high-profile murder and a demon turf war? Special Agent Kessa St. James is about to find out.” Her professional services as writer, editor, and blogger are also available.
- Hylan Baines—Hylan’s working on her debut romance novella, Finding Home. She’s also got a webpage.
- Paul Draper—Looks like horror’s Paul’s thing!
- Corrie Haldane
- Cathy Missinne—no blog yet
I won’t learn my fate until March 20th, with round two being the end of that week. I’m hanging my hopes on a gang of grannies, and hours of writing I refuse to tally up. And I wouldn’t trade that effort. It’s what we writers do, pouring our energy into a story, and breathing characters to life … with the help of our writer friends.
What’s something you worked hard to accomplish? Did friends jump to you aid? I’d love to hear your story.