I have been working on the National Short Story Month Contest. The goal of the contest is to explode open one’s creative juices and write a short story every day. The criterion were, you had to write 30 short stories in the 30 days of April, they had to be at least 200 words and they needed to be real stories, with a beginning, a middle and an ending.
Make no mistake, this was a brutal challenge because if your story was short, it was hard to make a complete tale in 200 words. I guess its possible, but my shortest was 347 words and had only, in my opinion the barest rudiments of a story. Catafalque was the title, about two cats investigating the new baby brought home by their owners. I wrote really short stories after I burned out on really long ones. In this case, this was written after Hikaro Dorodango, a follow-up to an earlier piece I enjoyed so much, I had to go back; Aethermancer, a tale of a warrior-sorceress on a mission of vengeance.
The real challenge which made this different from National Novel Writing Month which I took part in, last November of and completed successfully was and this is key, you had to create an entire new reason for telling each story, each day. With NaNoWriMo, you had to produce more of the same single story, so you did not have to create an entirely new reason for being today. You did not have to find new protagonists, new story ideas, new character motivations, new threats, sometimes new tones of voice, occasionally even different genres, altogether. This made the challenge take on a completely different tenor of difficulty.
For the most part, my stories were split evenly into three lengths 5000 words or greater, 2500 words to 5000 words and 350 to 2400 words. I have ten stories in each category. But I can say the longer pieces were done earlier for the most part, and they grew shorter as I either ran out of ideas or out of strength when the challenge grew harder near the end. Strangely enough, I thought I would like the later stories less, because I thought they would be less good. But that did not end up being the case. Some of the ones I wrote later, were in my mind more solid pieces because I had to think differently about what I was writing.
Now, to be fair, I did intentionally limit myself before starting. I said I would write no vampire stories, no werewolf or shapechanger stories, no Eurocentric ancient tales of military derring-do (and I kind of fall off with one story that talks about a pseudo-Romanesque empire that is destroyed in a magical conflict) but I liked that story so I wasn’t going to throw it out. But these limitations were considered because I wanted to get away from the genres that seem so easily done by just about everyone today and there is so little fresh juice in that fruit, I did not want to create yet another stereotype and be considered a lazy writer for picking low hanging fruit.
Once I was done though, I noticed another trend in my work. I was partial to destroying the world, or working with dystopian futures. There are at least two tales where the possibility of the destruction of the world has happened (Brotherhood) or potentially could happen (Bludgeon), or there has been a disaster large enough that the world as we know it is no more (The Great White Spot, Paper). Two of them don’t end the world but leaves it so transformed, we would not recognize it (Genetically Modified Organism and Suicide Seed). I noticed I had a sense of humor, though I did not know it until I started writing: A Private, Little War, A Cappuccino with Charon, Catafalque, Take Us to Your Leader and Cats Versus Evil, all the pieces revolve around a strange perspective on a not quite normal life. I even wrote a couple of less magical or more human-oriented tales, Autism’s Arrow, The Lions of Mexico and Hornblower.
Into this mix, I also wrote two superhero pieces, Übermensch and Dark Star Rising, and a good deal of space opera, The Outpost, Bug On!, Hunger and The Planet Traders. I managed a good mix of science fiction and fantasy with equal parts of both. The major fantasy pieces included: Blind Man’s Bluff, Leading the Spirit Army and Dark Gods Gambit.
I planned none of this. I wrote every day as if it were the first time I was going to write. The only time there was any real extra thought was if one piece might have referenced another piece. Only one piece managed to do that, though I had planned to and will likely write a couple of others. Forsaken, my weird-western tale was supposed to have a second part. And I don’t think I will be right until I create it. It is a world begging for a longer visit. I had a couple of others that made me hanker to write more, Suicide Seed, a tale of a future where the human race verges on extinction through the machinations of a global agriculture company, Aethermancer, a world where magic and technology co-exist violently, Paper, a world where technology-oriented powers have oppressed the uneducated underclasses, and outlaws selling the information hidden in the written word. I also think I enjoyed the superhero tales just a bit too much, so I suspect I may have to do more with them as well.
So, was this a good experiment? Absolutely. A brutal, taxing, savage, unrelenting, and merciless pace to write stories to. I wrote 84,133 words once the documents were bound together in a single file. I did not realize the terrible pace I was working at until I was done. I was sleep-deprived, manically-driven, and now that it is finished, I plan to fall into a death-like coma for at least a day. But I have a book, granted a small one, and I may have to write a few more stories to supplement it, and I will unlikely be able to find a publisher for the book, so making it into an e-book will likely be the best way to sell it, if I go that route, but I have a book, created by me, written by me and with stories I am proud to say I have written. I don’t have a single one I do not like and for me that is a good thing, my standards being way too damn high; I am my own worst critic.
I will definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to test their mettle, their creativity, their desire to write, their writing instinct. My favorite writer Ray Bradbury, wrote over 400 pieces of short fiction in his career. He is a master story-teller and I know where it comes from, writing short fiction sharpens the saw like nothing else. This will test you the same way a marathon or a triathlon would test your body. But the same satisfaction is derived from the effort. You will feel that accomplishment from doing something few people can do, if you really put your mind, heart and dare I say it, soul into it. Could you fail? Yes, I believe failure to complete this difficult test is definitely a possibility. But if you are really working at it, you will be a better writer for the experience. I feel different after completing it. You will too.
The wonderful background art belongs to and is the copyright of the talented, young, Saudi Arabian artist I found on deviantArt named Mohammed and who goes by the handle QAZ2008. You can see some of his other amazing space scenery art at: http://qaz2008.deviantart.com/. The full painting I reference for my cover is: The Spirit of Gold. An awesome artist. Be sure to go to deviantArt and tell him so.
P.S. I have tried to get in touch with Vic regarding badges. Since I have been unsuccessful, I will go ahead a post some badge ideas here. These are jpeg images for National Short Story Month. If you were a participant please feel free to put them up on your blog or where-ever you talk about your writing. They are large, so remember to scale them down for your use. Enjoy.