One of the more challenging things I’ve been doing this past year is participating in writing competitions that give specific prompts that must be used and a strict, short time limit for completion and submission. The first was a screenwriting contest in which we first had eight days to write 12 pages, then five days to write eight, and finally 24 hours to write five pages.
At first, it seemed rather masochistic – “Your prompt is Romantic Comedy, a window washer, and a sewer grate. Go!” – but I found that I not only produced under these exacting conditions, I produced high quality material.
So I’ve continued to enter things like this. I’m currently involved in a competition for flash fiction, defined in this case as short stories of one thousand words or fewer. But by far, the competition that has been just the most darned fun is the Sledgehammer 36-Hour Writing Contest. Interestingly, it was open to both individuals and teams, so I recruited my 16-year-old son to be my writing partner.
The biggest appeal of this contest was that it’s a Portland-based, Portland-centered contest. Run by local editing and publishing company Indigo Editing, the contest started with all participants meeting at a location downtown at noon on a Saturday to hear the rules and receive the registration packets. We also received one of the four story prompts and a clue that would lead us (with a little research) to the next downtown location, where we could pick up the next and the next clue, et cetera. Quite fun, although the final clue was much harder than the others and made completion of the scavenger hunt rather frustrating.
By the time we’d finished, the prompt looked like this: A public restroom somewhere in Portland, Thor, Sounding the alarm, No [insert own word(s)] in the Rose City. We’d been told that all the prompt elements had to be in the story at some point, and recognizable, but that it was okay to be creative with them. My immediate thought was that we’d be creative with the character of Thor – as in, it would be someone’s name or just a reference – but Andy threw a wrench into that with his idea that the God of Thunder should actually come to Portland for some reason.
And I thought, Hey, why not go with an idea that will require loads of research into Norse mythology? We have a whopping 36 hours to produce this story. Might as well spend at least a third of it on the internet reading about Thor, Asgard, and the entire Norse pantheon!
Which is precisely what we did. Yet somehow, despite all the time we spent researching (not to mention the time we spent with one of us reading to the other what we’d just written and laughing our asses off over it), we managed to turn in a complex, coherent, and very funny story. Granted, it’s rough in places, and there are typos, because it’s hard to write a meaty story in a 36-hour time frame and adequately proofread. But all in all, we’re proud of it.
I mean, where else are you going to find out what Thor’s been doing for the last few millennia? If not for our story, would you even know what Thor’s modern-day drink of choice is? And who else is going to tell you about his urinary shyness in public restrooms?
Nobody else, that’s who. Just us. And one of our readers pronounced it so funny that he had to stop reading to pound the table periodically. This not only strikes me as a Viking-like reaction (I’m sure that Thor himself tended to pound a table when enjoying a hearty laugh in Asgard), but it suggests to me a new metric for rating the hilarity of a story: “I give it three broken tables!”
So I heartily encourage you to go check out “No Apocalypse in the Rose City” by Team Baldwin. And don’t forget to go to the left sidebar and vote for our story to receive the Reader’s Choice award!