NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge and Me

And you may say to yourself, “My God! What have I done?”” ~ David Byrne, Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime

File this one under the category of here we go again, or, my god what have I done?

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It would seem that I somehow (accidentally?) accepted the challenge to partake of the NYC MIDNIGHT SCREENWRITING CHALLENGE. Like it wasn’t enough punishment to subject myself to the SHORT STORY CHALLENGE that is STILL ONGOING. This coming Friday at Midnight (TOMORROW), all the NYC screenwriting challenge entrants will receive an email with the 3 stipulations they must include into their screenplays…which they will then have one week to write. I’ve thrown myself back into the deep end of the pool before I even had a chance to actually climb back out of it. I’m terrified, if not a little exhilarated. I like knowing that I’m not in this alone. I know a few of my fellow writers who are partaking of this madness. Hopefully, we can commiserate together…although there’s probably not enough Kleenex in the world!

The 3 stipulations for the SCREENWRITING CHALLENGE are: GENRE, LOCATION, OBJECT. Here’s a sample of some of last year’s stipulations:

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Yeah, not scary AT ALL. More like, terrifying!

Now…I guess I have a few hours left to figure out the ins and outs of writing a screenplay. They do, after all, offer a crash course for those of us who have never done so! Here’s the handy-dandy link to the NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge HOW TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY. “Shouldn’t be too difficult,” they said, laughing like a hyena as tears of regret spilled from their eyes.

Wish me luck, or at the very least a broken leg or two…

 

Reasons Why I Should Have Aced the NYC Midnight Challenge – AND Why I Don’t Think I Did

It’s all in the title. I thought I had trained well for this particular contest. I haven’t done a list in a while. This one is short, but makes for a great jumping off point.

Background: This past weekend, I was busy writing a short story for the 2nd round of the 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. Each writer in the challenge is given three things to incorporate into their stories; a genre, a character, a subject. We were then given 72 hours turnaround time to submit a 2,000 word maximum short story to the contest. Round 1 of the contest whittled the pool of writers down from about 4,900 to the 750 writers who took part in this past weekend’s 2nd round.

Reasons Why I Should Have Aced the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

  • I took part in the Trafalgar24 Play Creation Festival in Whitby, Ontario SIX TIMES. In this festival, the playwrights are locked inside a castle for 8 hours. In that time, they each have to create a 10-minute play that will be performed in front of six rotating audiences the very next evening
  • I took part in the Muskoka Novel Marathon in Huntsville, Ontario TEN TIMES. In this marathon, the writers are locked inside a room for 72 hours. In that time, they each have to create a full novel that will be judged by industry professionals in the months immediately following the marathon.
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This is the inside of the cathedral that is literally inside Trafalgar Castle in Whitby, Ontario. I spent 8 hours inside this cathedral all by myself a few years back, tasked with writing a 10-minute play that was produced the very next evening in the cathedral. Each playwright gets locked up in the room in which their play is to be set. When the 8 hours are over, you are to submit your play to the director and actors. They are, in turn, given 8 hours to rehearse. Then come the audiences! Hundreds of people converge on the castle to see all the plays in rotating fashion.

That’s it. That’s my list. I was so certain that those two things were enough to get me into the shape I needed to be in to pown this NYC Midnight thing. Or is it pwn? Either way, I thought I was going to ace this.

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Trafalgar Castle, Whitby, Ontario

I have always said that of all the writing assignments a creative writer could have, the short story is the hardest. I have pounded out novels in one sitting TEN TIMES now. I’ve written plays while beating the clock multiple times, for various festivals. And the thing that finally got to me, the thing that defeated me, was this short story challenge.

I submitted with one hour and fifteen minutes to spare. It was a 72hr time frame for 2,000 words. I’m not a mathematical genius or anything, but that’s a far cry from writing 50,000 words in the same number of hours at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. Let’s see…carry the one, add the 3, subtract the 7 and multiply by 11 and what do you get? 694.44 words and hour for the MNM and 27.77 words an hour for the NYC Midnight challenge. The pressure should be stronger at the MNM, shouldn’t it?

 

Above are pictures from one of the many Muskoka Novel Marathons that I have participated in over the years. 40 writers + 72hrs = 40 novels! AND, we typically raise $30,000+ for area literacy programs each and every year.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. The real secret about the comparison between the short story and the novel is that you have to fit the exact same amount of story into each receptacle. And that’s only one of the factors going into my perceived failure this past weekend. You well and truly need to get the whole story into a short story…squeeze 50,000 words into its itty bitty living space and condense them down to 2,000 (or 2,500 , or 3,000 or whatever your limit is). This is not an easy task, and to go into it thinking it is an easy task is folly. The takeaway lesson should be—never be cocky about your ability as a writer. Every challenge is another series of wrenches thrown at you. You’re never ready for hurled wrenches…don’t make the mistake of thinking you are.

So, to review, NOTHING can prepare a writer for an on-the-spot writing challenge. I guess that’s why these contests work so well. It’s an amazing feeling when you push yourself to take a leap into the unknown. And I guess the thought behind the NYC Midnight challenge is… a writer is a writer is a writer. Any good one should be able to take what they’re given and pump out a result that is both entertaining and worthy of a read.

Boy, did I struggle with this one. It doesn’t matter whether you read regularly in every genre or not. If you’re not comfortable writing in each of them and you’re tasked to take one of them on…it’s bound to be difficult. That’s the thing that got me this weekend. By the luck of the draw I received a genre to write in that I have read voraciously over the years, but never once wrote it. I was afloat on a sea of confused desperation for the past 72 hours.

We shall see how this round of the challenge goes. If anything, I’m thrilled to have made the first cut. I can’t imagine that it’s an easy task to move forward in this challenge. I did it, and I should be happy about that. It’s all I can ask for.

To all those who pushed themselves to enter the challenge, congratulations! You took a leap and I guarantee you it made you a better writer. To those of you who moved forward into round two with me, even more congratulations! You did it. That’s an amazing achievement in itself. I wish all 749 of you the best of luck in this next round of judging! If a miracle should occur, I might see some of you in the 3rd and final round. But if not, do your best. You got this!

 

NYC Midnight – Round Two and Me!

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The entrance stairs to my third floor flat in Paris in Rue St Louis.

I honestly can’t believe this, but I get to move forward to ROUND 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2019! The first cut of this challenge is the deepest. It just went from over 4,500 writers to only 750 writers in the 2nd round. Just after midnight last night (or, I suppose, this morning) the Round 1 results were posted. Not only did I make the Top 5 in my heat, but I made FIRST PLACE. I know, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are! But after I read the results three (or four, or five) times, I decided I was reading them correctly. It’s right there in black and white, come what may…

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I have been writing short stories quite a lot lately, and they’re always set in cities that I have visited in the past few years. I decided not to stray from that theme with this one. I guess it’s working. My heat in round one had 3 stipulations. The genre had to be DRAMA, it had to involve PET-SITTING in some form or another and one of the characters had to be a FIANCEE. I wrote a story from the perspective of the apartment I actually stayed in while in Paris in 2014. I had the good fortune of being told by the hotel concierge when I arrived at my hotel on Rue St. Louis on the Island that they had a special apartment down the street. He said, “You’re a writer, no? We would like to give you the full experience!” He took me for a walk down the street and showed me a top floor flat with a view to a courtyard below. As if he was afraid I would say no and demand to be taken back to the hotel, he offered me a daily discount to stay in the incredible flat. He had me at hello. I saw the woman downstairs while I was staying in that flat. I put her in my pocket, knowing I would use her at a later date. Thanks to the NYC Midnight challenge, because the prompts called her willowy ghost back into existence.

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See those three windows at the very top? That’s where I called home when I was in Paris. They looked down into the closed circular courtyard below. And…maybe into a few of the windows below, too. (-;

I’m stunned, really…so so happy and excited too. I can’t wait for the next round, even though it terrifies me. I can work around the other stipulations, it’s the genre challenge I fear the most. I tend to stay in my lane as a reader and as a writer…which means I could definitely miss some of the subtle nuances of quite a few of the potential genres I could find myself facing. I shudder to think!

And I won’t have long to worry about the gunshot that goes off and sends a scary genre-bullet my way. THURSDAY AT MIDNIGHT—that’s when I’ll receive the 2nd round challenge. And the 750 writers still alive in this challenge will have 72 hours to submit their 2000 word stories for the next round of judging.

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Nina, a dear friend I met while in Paris for the Left Bank Writers Retreat in June 2014. We spent a lot of our free time together, exploring all of Paris on foot. This is us atop the Arc de Triomphe.

Here’s what the 2nd Round officially looks like:

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I’m so thrilled that I held on to that woman these 5 years. When I run across my potential characters in real life, they sort of haunt me relentlessly until I get them on the page. She was particularly insistent. She’s free now. And I thank her from the bottom of my heart, both for sticking around and for pinch-hitting when I needed her most. Cheers to the woman downstairs in Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île, Paris! I am eternally grateful for ‘meeting’ you.

GOOD LUCK TO MY 749 FELLOW ROUND TWO WRITERS! Full disclosure: Every July I travel up to Huntsville, Ontario for the 72hr Muskoka Novel Marathon. That’s right…I write an entire novel in 72 hours. I’m ready for this challenge! BRING IT!

Col. Mustard in the Study with a Revolver – 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

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Okay, not quite the same thing…but close! The 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge kicked off Midnight Friday January 18th. We have 8ish days to submit our short stories for the first round of the competition. Each writer was sent an email with their 3 story stipulations: GENRE/SUBJECT/CHARACTER. The fun has begun. Here’s just a few samples of the first round heats:

Genre                                  Subject                             Character

  • Suspense                       Impossible                            a witness
  • Thriller                         Witnessing a crime             a hypochondriac
  • Comedy                         A raffle                                  a princess
  • Political Satire               Lying                                    a fruiterer
  • Action/Adventure         A standoff                            an engineer
  • Sci-Fi                                an exotic pet                       an interior designer
  • Fairy tale                        repetition                             a gunslinger
  • Suspense                        a secret club                          an intern
  • Drama                             photo shoot                          a composer
  • Crime Caper                    a backup plan                      a fixer
  • Fairy tale                           superhuman                        a cheesemaker
  • Spy                                     mountain climbing            a reporter
  • Romantic Comedy          comfort food                       an x-ray technician
  • Romance                           procrastination                    a social climber
  • Comedy                              a labyrinth                           a meter maid

 

You get the picture. That’s just a few of the heats in the first round. If it was easy, it wouldn’t push us to become better writers, now would it? I purposely did NOT mention my heat in the sampling above. I have a few days left to come up with my story. I’m panicked but it’s a relatively calm panic for now. I’m exploring options, stopping and starting…attempting to find a groove that takes me to a finish line. False starts and retracing of steps are to be expected. I’m leaving myself breadcrumbs so I don’t get completely lost. I’m not worried about having something submission ready by the deadline. I just don’t know if it will be something on solid ground or not.

Good luck to all my fellow contestants! There are A LOT OF YOU! Don’t forget the part of the contest opener email that shared a hashtag for writers to use and connect. It’s a huge community. I’m sure we can commiserate and egg each other on along the way…see you in hashtag land…

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If you plan on updating your progress in the competition on social media, make sure to use the hashtag #ShortStoryChallenge2019 so you can follow other writers and they can follow you!

 

NYC Midnight & Me

Here we go. I am entered into the 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. It begins at Midnight tonight and it is my first foray into all this NYC Midnight business. This is the 13th annual challenge and I’m pumped for it but certain I’ll fair poorly. I’ll come back and let you know, once I get the boot…but for now, here’s how it works:

KNOCKOUT ROUND ONE:

(January 18-26, 2019), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment.  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words

The contest judges will choose the TOP 5 STORIES in each heat and those writers will move on to Round #2. All other writers are given the boot.

KNOCKOUT ROUND TWO:

(April 4-7, 2019)where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000word (maximum) short story.

Whoa. The time between rounds?! I wonder if this is set up this way to mess with the writers’ psyches. I’d much rather prefer to jump right back into the ring, myself. Listen to me…as if I’d make it to round two! Judges pick finalist from this round, as well. And they get to move on to the third and final round. LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

THIRD & FINAL ROUND:

Remaining writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (May 17-18, 2019) in the third and final round of the competition.

Begins in January and ends in May. Yikes! The prizes for the winners are QUITE SUBSTANTIAL. First Prize is $5,000.00USD + almost $1,500.00USD value in other writer-related prizes. You can see the whole list of prizes HERE.

The biggest benefit for all writers who enter is FEEDBACK. From the site, here’s the statement in regards to feedback. It can come not only from the judges, but also fellow contestants on the group forum:

Not only does every writer receive feedback from the judges for every story submitted, but a special review forum is available for the participants to submit their stories for review from fellow writers throughout the competition.  During the Short Story Challenge 2018, there were over 9,500 comments made on the 700+ stories submitted on the forum.  Click here to visit the forums.

Oh, just so you know…as of this blog post there are still a few hours before the registration deadline. Sound like a great idea? Then CLICK THIS LINK TO GET YOURSELF IN ON THE GAME (Scroll down to the CLICK HERE TO REGISTER button—but registration closes at 9:00pm EST today — Friday January 18th).

The first challenge will be emailed to contestants tonight at Midnight. I guess that’s where the name comes from!

GOOD LUCK, SHORT STORY WRITERS! May the words be with you!

(I’ll be back with my results at a later date—good or bad/head high or tail between my legs. You can’t win if you don’t try.)

Click image below for NYC MIDNIGHT on Instagram:

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