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Articles > Short Story Challenge 2008 > Angelinos Take on the Short Story Challenge

 

Angelinos Take on the Short Story Challenge

by Liz Shannon Miller (Los Angeles, CA)

 

Los Angeles, despite its reputation for having a less-than-literary scene, is a city full of writers.  Struggling writers, that is.  In between day jobs or classes or other paid writing gigs, nearly everyone's trying to find the time, energy, and motivation to hammer out that great new idea. 

 

It's those internal struggles that cause most writers to choke creatively, and those same struggles that participants in the 2008 Short Story Challenge were able to overcome.  Signing up for the competition meant paying an entry fee and writing a 2500-word short story in one week, using an assigned genre and writing prompt.  The irony is that for most of the writers, the elements that were the most inspiring were the restrictions of the contest itself. 

 

"I knew, because it cost money, that I would see it through.  Because if I didn't, I would feel like such a fool," writer Meredith Jennings-Offen said.  "I'm a tremendous slacker -- I get really hung up in follow-through, and half the time lose interest three-quarters of the way.  But I wanted this to kick off a period of doing short stories for me, and so I wanted to see this idea through to completion." 

 

Motivation was a huge factor for Joseph Baleto as well.  While in college, Baleto studied English literature and wrote profusely -- but as a real estate agent, the bulk of his writing output has been business-related.  The competition was the first time in years when he had a chance to write, as he put it, "something of real importance." 

 

And for Vivian Martinez, a Torrance native who just received her BA in theater, the deadline had the biggest appeal.  "I write better under pressure and since I graduated, I don't have that little fire under my ass," she said.  "This competition was a real nice way to get me back into writing mode." 

 

Rather than be flummoxed by genre assignments outside of their comfort zones, most of the writers in the competition enjoyed the experience of tackling a new subject matter.  Although most of Jennings-Offen's work is heavily fantasy-based -- "I pretty much only like writing about non-reality and created worlds" -- she came to romantic comedy with a fresh take on the subject matter.  "I like raw text, I like misspeech in dialogue. So I chose to write about awkwardness.  The subtopic was jealousy. and my approach is definitely not quite an obvious conflict, but it fits." 

 

Bill Wilbur, a novelist and professional photographer who focuses on horror, mystery and western fiction, was assigned a fantasy involving an ATM.  "At first I groaned, and then I complained, and then I groaned some more," he said. "But, considering the genre is not one I typically visit, nor would I choose to write about an ATM (though I visit them regularly), I feel that the story is pretty strong. "

 

East coast transplant Tiara Rea's initial reaction to being assigned science fiction was "a very emphatic 'UGH'.  I have nothing against sci-fi -- it's just the furthest from my personal comfort zone that I could think of."  However, she awoke early the next morning with her characters and an opening sentence locked in her head, and was able to complete three drafts over the course of the week.  "I always tend to gravitate to the same genres and subject matter," she said, "And this helped me take a subject and a genre Iím very uncomfortable with and adhere my own style within it. Itís been amazing!"

 

Writer/director Murphy Gilson's genre of preference is comedy, so when assigned science fiction he also had some concerns.  But he was able to find a way to make his assignment work for him: "Sci-fi is usually just so ridiculous. So I went with something more sensible: anal probe jokes." 

 

Meanwhile, since Baleto's previous fiction "always has a little tinge of sadness," he had some difficulties with the assignment of comedy.  "I think I have a really funny streak in me personally, but I don't know if I've really been able to portray that," he said.  "And the prompt was text messaging -- I don't think that's a very funny subject either.  So I don't think my story ended up being very funny, but I made my best attempt.  We'll just have to wait and see what the judges think." 

 

Time was an issue for most, but not tremendously -- most of the writers involved had a completed first draft within the first few days.  The greatest challenge for Baleto was finishing his story on Saturday.  He not only had to contend with a ticking clock, but also the distractions caused by a party his wife was throwing that night.  "She had a bunch of her girlfriends over, and they were all drinking and making a lot of noise, so it was a bit of a difficulty trying to maintain focus and send everything out on time.  That was a comedy in itself.  That's probably what I should have written about."

 

Whether these writers make it to the next heat of the competition is yet to be determined, but for most the sheer act of participating was reward enough.  A professional screenwriter, Jennings-Offen signed up for the competition hoping that it would re-ignite her college passion for short fiction.  "I've  been miserable as a screenwriter recently, even though I've had a modicum of success, because my original work never gets into production. I would prefer to be a short story writer, or incorporate that into my work, because I'm trying to channel more of my authentic voice." 

 

And for Stephen Gabriel, an actor living in North Hollywood, finishing his short story means the beginning of a new writing streak. "I have some ideas that have been setting in the brain pan for some time now, that are finally starting to develop into something more," he said. 

 

USC student Mary Overbey is eager to find out if she'll be moving forward, but determined to be patient.  "I have over a month to wait, so right now I'm just trying to be happy and proud of the fact that I did finish before the deadline.  And I definitely loved the chance to explore a genre I hadn't previously written in, to see what I could do with it.  Even if I don't move onto the next round, I have accomplished something.  And so I feel great about that." 

 

"I'm sure this is drawing some people who are taking it very, very seriously," Gilson reflected.  "I just think it's a great excuse to write."

 

The act of writing is filled with obstacles for any writer, but participating in NYC Midnight's Short Story Challenge became a way of eliminating them.  "Anything that can help stretch the imagination, and hopefully keep writers writing, is a good thing," said Wilbur.  "Perhaps the best thing."

 

 

 

Liz Shannon Miller is a mild-mannered freelancer living in Los Angeles, where she works as a filmmaker and writer of various different media.  A graduate of the USC Screenwriting program, she is also a produced playwright and published fiction writer, and her reviews and essays have appeared in Variety, Bookslut, The Daily Reel, and Ostrich Ink.  By day, she knits her own iPod cozies, blogs at lizlet.com and enjoys a nice vodka tonic.  At night, she fights crime!

 

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This article is part of a series of articles on writers participating in the 2nd Annual Short Story Challenge.  In 2008, over 550 writers from around the world were challenged to write an original short story (2,500 words max.)  based on a genre and subject assignment.  Click here to view the 1st Round Assignments.  The winners advance to compete for thousands in cash and prizes by writing a short story in just 24 hours.

 

 

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