This past July, I entered the NYC Midnight Fiction competition. This is a 48-hour fiction challenge. Participants are divided into groups and given a genre, location for the story, and a random item that the story must include.
It's similar to the cooking show "Chopped" where would-be chefs are given a mystery basket of ingredients and told to create something using every ingredient. There's always one ingredient or odd combination that truly challenges the creator and the audience.
When my writing mystery was revealed, I learned that I had to write a historical story that took place in a seminary and included shampoo. And as this was the flash fiction challenge, I had to create something in 1,000 words or less.
Step one, learn everything I needed to know about historical fiction without getting caught in the over research trap.
Step two, find a suitable time in history and a subject.
Step three, write.
Historical fiction is any story that is 50 years or older - ok got it!
Because my story needed to take place in a seminary, it needed a religious theme. Maybe...
Shampoo, my must-include element was first introduced in 1927.
One of the charms of this type of writing is how you can bend the rules, extend your creativity, and still not blow it.
I settled on the historical figure/myth of Pope Joan. The story is that a young, possibly German woman devoted to education, study, and God dresses as a man and ascends through the ranks of religious life to eventually become Pope. Some scholars say there are clues that this happened. Others say it's pure myth. Either way, it was great material and I went with it. After the competition is over, I'll post it.
This was an intense writing exercise and I was fortunate to share the experience with two of my writing friends. It was great to have feedback on the story and to laugh about the different challenges we all had.
Did I write a great story? Ah, honestly, no. But I did learn a lot about speed, details, and what I can do with proper motivation. It was hard, it was fun, and my family stayed out of my office while I frantically read, wrote, read, edited, and fretted as the minutes ticked away.
I will not get my score until mid September. Then, there is round two where I do it all over again. The scores of my two stories will be combined and if they are high enough, I'll advance to round three where it starts all over again. A round three advance would be a win for me.
If this challenge sounds interesting to you, I've learned of another similar contest:
The Great Flash Fiction War. Here's the link: http://www.fictionwar.com
This contest runs October 21-24.
Go for the flash, you'll learn something - I promise.