If you follow agent blogs, you may already know about Janet Reid. http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/
If you’re not familiar with her, she not only does the blog thing, she also provides help with query letters via the infamous Query Shark. The Query Shark in of itself is an invaluable service, if you can stand being bitten by the Query Shark. Being bitten means she might chomp on your query, tearing it to shreds, while using a “voice” reminiscent of Miss Manners. It’s sort of like hitting your funny bone. You kinda want to laugh, except it kinda hurts too, in a good way. If she chooses your query, she will take you to task with a load of humor and that sharp edged toothiness well known by Query Shark followers.
Fair Warning: She’s done hundreds of these and has kept them all in her archives. She requires you read EVERY single one before sending her a query b/c she may have answered it in the past.
But, I’m actually not here to talk about her blog per se, or the Query Shark, that was just for openers to get myself going. What I AM here to talk about are the flash fiction contests she holds on her site, although she’s not referred to them by that name. She had one, and then I think everyone has so much fun, she decided to keep on. Since then, we’ve had about five or so. The basic rules are:
- Five prompt words are provided, and there are specific rules about how to use the words,
- The “story” must be 100 words or less
- She generally gives notice of a contest on Friday’s
- They generally start Saturday’s 9:00 a.m. EST (per Janet Reid, that’s Eastern SHARK time)
- They end 9:00 a.m. EST on Sunday
At first, I was nervous entering…but, they have turned out to be a lot of fun!
As writers working on our craft, we always need extra practice. Yes, revising and writing our current WIP’s can be considered that to some degree…,but for me, these contests have become a mini break from thinking and thinking some more about my current story.
What I love about her judging methodology is she has “special recognition” categories. Even if you don’t win, you might get a special mention, and her categories are witty and apropos. They might be for, “a great line,” or “great turn of phrase,” or “a memorable line”, or “names that cracked me up…” just to name a few. The number of entries have ranged from mid forties to mid eighties. (And, here I am blogging about it, so I don’t know what she’d do if she ended up with more than she could handle…eek)
The main reason I wanted to blog about this is because of what it taught me inadvertently. How to not waste words. When you only have one hundred words to tell a story, you think twice about word choices. You also quickly realize you can get a point across even after removing that great sentence you thought the story just had to have. (yes, even in this you will kill many little darlings.)
Here’s an example of my last story entry from August 11 contest. The word prompts are: slush, spade, hear, fiction, 262. You’ll notice by how some of the words are used (heard for hear), there is some flexibility with word prompts:
The dog days of summer saw Dylan slurping a Slushy while sitting next to a boy named Spade.
He said, “Heard your mom’s still writing a book.”
Spade sighed, “Yeah.”
“How many rejections she had?”
“Huh, must not be any good. What’s it about?”
Spade stared into the distance, “Can’t tell, I’d have to kill you.”
Dylan snorted, “Yeah right.”
Spade reached under the park bench, pulling out a small gardening tool, the metal end gleaming.
Dylan’s eyes widened, “Hey, what’s that for?”
Spade inched closer, “The book’s about me, it needs a new chapter.”
I’ll admit, I’m sort of addicted to entering the contests. They’ve really helped me think about the necessity of choosing words in my current WIP, and what I’ve come to realize (once again), when writing, that old adage, less is more can work really well.
What have you run across unexpectedly that’s helped you with your writing?