A couple of weeks ago, I detailed the first part of the tale of how a happy-go-lucky, sweet-and-innocent archetype, YA-writer channeled her inner dark side into a budding horror writer. What happened after I advanced to the second round of that short story contest, nightmares of mangled tennis stars and all?
As I mentioned last time, the terms of the contest are such that both the allotted time and the allotted word count decrease with each successive round. The first round, we were given a week and 2,500 words. For the second round, we would be given three days– from midnight Friday morning to midnight Monday morning– and the word count was now capped at 2,000.
Being a naturally verbose individual, a planner, and a chronic overthinker, I was a little concerned. It wasn’t like I hadn’t known the terms of advancing when I went in. And it also wasn’t like I truly believed I had a snowball’s chance in Hades of advancing. No, I knew there was a chance, albeit slim, and I’d emotionally prepared for that. But now, I was faced with these difficult limitations, in addition to endeavoring into a whole new genre.
Or so I thought.
In order to express how shocking this next part is, allow me to present the odds. I can’t remember the exact details, but approximately 3,000 people began the competition, divided evenly into 100 heats. There are 17 possible genres. Assuming even distribution, that leaves a 5.88% chance of drawing any given genre. Around 176 people probably were assigned horror for round 1.
The top 5 from each heat advanced, leaving 500 writers in round 2. Writers were re-randomized. The genres remained the same. Given that same 5.88% chance, around 30 people could be expected to get horror. But the chances of drawing horror in round two after having drawn it in round one come out to roughly 0.3%. That’s 1.5 people still remaining in the competition.
Not sure if I was supposed to be the full person or the half person, but yep, the great randomization gods selected me. I now had a weekend to draft a horror story concerning a door-to-door salesman and a 40-year-old unemployed man.
I won’t belabor my process any more than I already have. I could do an entire post over how this story came to fruition, and I may in the future, considering it’s the first short story I’ve ever wanted to surf out for publication. I will say two things about my reaction, however. Firstly, I was actually a little excited this time. Although horror had scared me a couple months prior, I had done it successfully now. It had been fun and interesting. Instead of a new, confusing adventure, I could actually get more practice in something I’d just proven I liked. Secondly, I recognized that I’d still been holding back a little with my last story. I was still a little afraid of how I’d be seen. Writing gore and terror was awkward, since I’d never done it before. But people had liked that story. My writing friends liked this creepy new side of my writing. I really could do this if I dove in headfirst, no holds barred.
At the end of a long weekend, I had a nice little composition about creepy voodoo dolls, stolen lovers, and glass eyes. Still to this day, it’s my favorite short story that I’ve ever written.
I placed second in my heat and advanced to the final, 80-person round.
For the sake of a post that’s already been too long, I’ll spare the details of that third round. It was a 24-hour, 1,500-word, seat-of-my-pants writing adventure. The genre for that round is always left open, because writers don’t really have time to research other genres in 24 hours. Why mess with a good thing? I wrote another horror story, just to drive it all home. My protagonist buried her abusive husband alive while coyotes howled in the background. Super fun.
I didn’t place in the final round (the top 20 were ranked), but I felt quite accomplished, nonetheless. The top 80 out of 3,000 is nothing to sneer at. And I never would have tried horror if not for this contest. Last year, I wanted to enter again, but it was poorly timed in relation to other life things. This year, registration closes Thursday, and I’m still on the fence. The contest was a blast, but I’m also terrified to get another new genre– perhaps one I won’t end up loving? Silly, yes, especially in light of this post.
I’ll keep you posted on my decision. Convince me!