Last year, on New Year’s Eve, a couple of my friends and I got together late at night. We challenged each other to write a short story to commemorate the holiday. I’m not sure what happened to their stories— mine, I know, is still sitting in a folder waiting to be finished. Considering I couldn’t think of anything except ‘gravel elephants’ as an idea, I’m not disappointed.
This year, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to do something better. We wanted to do something with you.
I introduce my short story challenge. Any who wish may take the hours leading up to midnight, December 31st, and write a short story. Only two requirements here: when the new year appears, you are writing; and sometime the next day, that story is published.
The goal here is to write and publish in a short period of time. This means you aren’t going to be able to edit much. You’ll have about twenty hours to edit (if you don’t sleep), so you’ll want quality over quantity. Eighteen thousand words won’t help you if it’s a repetition of your grocery list. Instead, keep the story short and easy to edit, and don’t stress about the outcome. It’s a challenge, not a competition, and the important thing is writing and publishing.
Here’s an FAQ, except ‘frequently’ here is replaced with ‘foreseeably’.
What are the time limits?
Publish within 24 hours of starting the story. If you start writing at 10 pm December 31st, publish before 10pm January 1st. You can spend the entire 24 hours writing. You can spend five minutes writing and the rest editing or sleeping. It’s up to you. If you start writing early on December 31st, you have to publish early on January 1st. (If you start writing now, you have to publish tomorrow. The 24 hour idea is the only timing rule, although I think it would be cool to write as 2015 arrives.)
Is there a specific wordcount?
Nope— you can write as much, or as little, as you want. Short stories are traditionally between 1.5k and 7k words. The short story I wrote a couple nights ago was just over 1k, and I still consider it a short story. If you can slap down 10k in your 24-hour period, go for it. It’s up to you. Because of the time limits, however, a low wordcount might be better. I’m going to shoot for about 2k words.
Is there a writing prompt?
No, which changes the challenge a bit. I’m not going to give you a writing prompt. You have to come up with the story on your own, or use an online writing prompt somewhere. The 24-hour ticker doesn’t start until you write your first word, so plan as much as you like.
Is there a prize?
No. I will read as many stories as I can, but I’m not judging them. This isn’t a competition. However, if anyone would like critiques on their story, say so somewhere. I and many others enjoy critiquing, and receiving critiques. If you don’t ask for a critique, I will not give one, and I’ll trust others to do the same. Again, in all this talk of critiquing, no one will win or lose. The writing and publishing is the only important part.
Are there content restrictions?
I’ll leave that up to you. If you feel like your story needs sensitive content, you can include it, along with a note somewhere that it contains that content. I’ve read plenty of stories that I would not have written because they’re too gory, or racy, or profane— yet, the story needs that element to be included, or it loses power. If possible, keep things to a YA level of content. If not, place a content warning.
I have a blog. Where should I post the link so others can see it?
You’ll have to comment with a link to your story. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t accept other types of link-up widgets, so we’ll have to make do. After a couple of days, I’ll round up all the links and post them again for convenience.
I don’t have a blog. Where should I post the story so others can see it?
That’s a bit more difficult, but you have a couple options. In the right sidebar is my email button— email me the story, with whatever notes or formatting it needs, and I can put it in this currently blank Google document. No one can edit that but me, and I give my solemn oath that I will neither tamper with nor steal anyone’s story. After a couple of days, I’ll post that link again for convenience. If you don’t want my grubby paws copy-pasting your story, LiveJournal has a quick and easy signup process, and the possibility of a public post immediately following. If you go this route, refer to the question above and post your link in the comments.
This isn’t enough time to write anything good. Why can’t we have more time?
There are absolutely no stakes. We’re all writers in various stages of development— posting your work only opens it up to a new audience. You might have your pet project that you’ve been working on for months or years, but I’m not asking you to publish that. Just write for a couple hours and publish the result, for fun. If nothing else, it proves that yes, you do write fiction and yes, you are kind of serious about it. I’m going to keep my other novels and unfinished short stories in the closet, but this one can have some air. So… no time for editing because it doesn’t matter whether it’s perfect or trash. Have fun.
Can I write a poem?
Of course. Write anything you like, as long as it falls inside the time constraints. Short stories, for me, are easiest because I prefer prose. If you prefer poetry, go for it.
How do you write a short story?
Approach it the same way as every other story, but restrict yourself to fewer characters and locations. Arrive in the story late, get out early. Make sure your stories have a sense of setting quickly— magic and creature attributes, as well as places, have to be introduced early (“sketched, not photographed”, Maggie Stiefvater says). If you have a romance, figure out how to show that chemistry quickly, in a lovers’ shorthand of sorts. Characterize people quickly so we can get to action rather than hear their backstory. (Much of this comes from Maggie Stiefvater, in her collection The Curiosities. Well worth a read if you want examples of amazing short fiction.)
I hear plagiarism is useful. Can I—
That’s all I can think of. Writing is difficult, but everyone loves having written— that’s what this is for. Begin the year having written and published something of yours, for others to read. That’s the essential purpose of a writer, before hooking an agent or publishing a book or anything. You’re here to write and reach audiences. Do so, and have fun. I hope you participate.