Still, I have entered some contests in the past. I’ve even paid fees, only to not win. So this has made me hesitant about entering writing contests. Until recently, I had won only one contest.
Back when I was a youngish IT tech working for a state agency, I entered a short story contest they held as part of their Christmas celebrations. There were few other entries, but I won it, nonetheless. The prize was a gift certificate to a local restaurant. The story was My Christmas Carol which is the first story in my collection of short stories I call, The Wider World.
That experience was a nice prompt for my writing ambitions, but I didn’t see it as winning a legitimate contest. I did like the story I produced, though, and what I published in the collection was a revised version.
Recently, I came upon a little contest sponsored by the owners of the “writer’s helper” company, WriteByNight. It was announced in a blog post and it caught my eye because it was a contest of short stories that could be no greater than 25 words in length (micro-fiction).
25 words? Could that really be considered a story?
Such were my first thoughts. Then I remembered a short story noted by my old writing teacher. It went something like:
For sale: infant’s shoes. Unused.
That’s a jarring story in 5 words. It speaks volumes of mystery in what it doesn’t say. So I thought, well jeepers, maybe I could do something similar with 25 words. So I gave the matter some thought.
Now, the assignment was complicated by the requirement that the story must contain a specific phrase. That phrase was: “Break of Poop.” You could use the phrase however you wished, but it had to be there.
Dictionarily speaking, “Break of Poop” is an old term that refers to the part of a sailing ship where the poop deck (the elevated part in the stern) meets the lower deck (technically, the “mizzen,” I believe). So a sailor could be swabbing the deck at the break of poop. Or the captain could exit his quarters and step onto the break of poop.
It was not a requirement to use the phrase in that nautical context, but I felt compelled to do so. And I wanted to at least imply a story within the 25 words—enough so to evoke mystery or greater implications.
So I considered the works of Melville, Verne, and Dana, and I thought and thought. I centered on a Moby Dick ambiance because it would be readily recognizable and prompt readers to fill in the blanks like I wanted. I didn’t mention a white whale or giant squid, just a “monster” with a “tail.” The story would be in implying what the monster does, and its consequence for the narrator.
After a number of rewrites and editing (yes, even for 25 words!), I came up with something I was satisfied with, and submitted it.
I have to admit that I was as motivated by the proffered prize as by the writing challenge. It was a copy of Yann Martel’s latest novel, The High Mountains of Portugal. I had become a fan of Mr. Martel from reading Life of Pi, so I thought I’d take a shot at getting a free copy of his latest.
A lot of other people must have been similarly motivated by the small scope of the contest and its prize, because the response was considerable. There were more responses than I’ve seen on that blog. Because the stories were so short, they were submitted as blog comments.
I’ve posted the contest/blog link below so you can see all the submissions. Most were clever plays on the required phrase, and most (maybe all but mine) were comical. Yeah, this was a bunch of writers and Yann Martel fans!
The contest went on for not quite a week, and then the winner was announced. Actually, “winners” because there were two. And I was very pleased to be one of them. It seems the WriteByNight folks appreciated my attempt at story within their constraints. They also appreciated the sort of “Animal House” cleverness of my co-winner’s entry, and I have to agree.
With two winners they had to give away two prizes, but they had only one copy of The High Mountains of Portugal. The other winner responded faster and got dibs on it (the shortcomings of having a day job). They offered me a few other books as prizes and I selected Georgia by Dawn Tripp. It’s a historical novel about Georgia O’Keefe. I thought I might relate to a tale of a struggling artist.
I won’t reprint my winning story here. You’ll have to check out the WriteByNight site to find it. I post there under the name of “Raymundo.” That’s my name for the “most interesting man in the world” character of the beer commercials (”I don’t drink beer often, but when I do…”). I don’t submit to contests often, but when I do…
So what’s my take-away here? Well, it was fun. Even if I had not won, it was a neat exercise in creative writing with a quirky twist that suits me. It makes me think that maybe I can “do it.” Heck, I might just submit to another writing contest or two.
OK, I’ll post a link to the contest blog below. You can check out what all the respondents did with the “break of poop” phrase, and find the winning entries in their midst.
And while you’re there, check out the WriteByNight website. David and Justine Duhr have put together a company of working writers and authors to offer help to their aspiring literary brothers and sisters. They can help you at whatever stage of the writing process you are in (no, they didn’t pay me to say that).
To check out the “Break of Poop” contest and the WriteByNight website, go here.
Stay thirsty my friends…and write good stuff.