A Writer’s Journal Pt.1: My first flash fiction competition

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Hello reader. If this is your first time visiting this blog, thank you. Like so many others, it is a sincere desire of mine to be an author. As such, I felt that entering writing competitions would be a good way of both getting noticed as a writer but also force myself to stick to a project with a deadline and create something I can be proud of. My first foray into a competition since starting this blog, came a couple weeks back when I heard of an inaugural flash fiction competition run by Toronto Fan Expo and the Toronto International Festival of Authors. A competition I just participated in this past weekend.

The requirements of the competition were simple. Write, edit, revise, and submit a story of 750 words or less in 72 hours of the competition start time, and include at least one of three items listed. This year’s competition asked us to use a silver sword, a ruby book, or a ghost in our stories. This provided a much needed guidance to motivate me in creating my first short story in a while. It did not take me too long to come up with a central conflict in the story and a general idea of which item would be a centre of that conflict. That being said, as I began to write, making a point to focus on engaging the five senses of the reader, I found that the more time I invested in describing the setting and building suspense, the less time I had to give to the characters, the motivation behind the conflict, and the ultimate pay-off at the end of the tale. This competition was a reminder that while there are 1000s of good ideas for a flash fiction that could have any one of the above items mentioned, it takes great effort to turn that idea into a coherent and complete story with a beginning, middle, and end that doesn’t have the reader feeling like their time has been wasted. Even more difficult that one only has 750 words to work with.

A day went by drafting a story before I ended up starting from scratch. I could tell that at the narrative pace I was going, very little was going to happen before I ran out of words. So I started fresh with the same conflict in mind but the cause, journey, and resolution to the central conflict had evolved and changed, calling on me to both expand on the background information of the characters and their circumstances before the conflict arose. I wrote this like a memory so I needed to be careful that my passive voice as a narrator wouldn’t lull my reader to a listless sleep before they had a chance to care about the story. Once I got the details of the story down, I was able to seek the opinion of some readers to get first impressions. There were two things during this phase of the writing that I found to be incredibly helpful.

  1. Stepping away from the work to let it breathe a bit helped me collect my thoughts.
  2. Finding unanswered questions in the story and answering them.

Both of these things helped me to become more objective in evaluating the quality of my own story(as objective as one can be to one’s own work) and to fill the unanswered holes in the story that leave it confusing and incomplete.

The revision process ended up taking far longer than the time it took to come up with an idea and a first full draft. I was very lucky to still have a day and a half left to carry on with revisions before I submitted the work. Whether my story wins or loses the competition, it became a story I could be proud of because I managed to take the time for revision, to think about the unanswered questions and fill the holes. I will be sure to update you, win or lose. Overall the experience of participating in a competition of this nature was riveting, no matter what the result is, and you can bet I will be writing for more in the near future. I look forward to where this all goes.

All that is left to say is that if you find yourself entering a time-limited contest, always ensure time for revisions and time to breathe. There is no worse feeling then sending off a version of your story that you know could have been significantly improved through a few simple changes.

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