Comedy. Of all the genres they could assign me, it had to be comedy.
Earlier this week, I found out I broke into the 3rd Round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, meaning I got to advance to the next stage of the competition (a semi-final round, essentially) with the chance to qualify for finals in December. In my year plus of participating in NYC writing competitions, this is the furthest I’ve advanced.
But luck of the draw means a new set of random prompts for each round. And luck decided to stretch my abilities by throwing a genre at me that I’m less than confident in.
Don’t get me wrong–humor is an essential element to most good writing, especially long-form fiction. And I’m not brand new to it. I did have to write a humor piece for last year’s competition. However, as a genre, it is not my go-to. It is not how my storytelling naturally flows.
And yet. Being forced into an unfamiliar landscape has the magical effect of making my brain work in ways it usually doesn’t. Ways it doesn’t want to because it knows what it knows and wants to stick with that. But this–this was a stretch. This was challenging in ways that made me growl at the screen and tug my hair and change my story idea five times in 12 hours (no exaggeration required).
But it was also challenging in ways that made me realize my sense of humor does in fact exist, it is just unique, subtle, and unexpected. That is not wrong. That is me figuring out my style, in a genre I thought I couldn’t write in.
I did what I always do when I feel under-experienced in a subject: I did some research. The Writing Excuses podcasters, in their Element of Humor episode, discuss starting with what you find funny yourself–never removing yourself from your own humor equation. Yes, comedy is about making others find humor in your writing, but since your writing and your stories are inextricably tied to your own thought processes and personality, it makes sense to consider and build on your own sense of humor. This technique has served me well.
So have the contest DEADLINES. You know what I would have done with this comedy story if there had not been a deadline attached? The same thing I would do with non-required boring reading–put it aside and work on something more interesting. But the deadline brought me back to it over and over. I kept at it, brainstormed in bed, in the car, walking the dog, then typed for five hours straight. Six? Maybe six. Daylight savings abandoned us this weekend and I still don’t know which way is up.
While I might not be the first to volunteer to write a comedy story, I feel much more comfortable working elements of comedy into my stories after having been forced to work outside my comfort zone during NYC competitions. This has happened many times and has been valuable each and every time as I ALWAYS grow as a writer in my craft.
I finished my comedy story and submitted it just before midnight. Looking forward to the judges’ feedback on my story, and hopefully the next round. A huge congratulations to all the participants who managed to write a story from random prompts in just 48 hours. And thanks to the dedicated folks at NYC who make all of this possible.
I await the next assignment. 🙂
UPDATE: I took first in my heat with this comedy story (out of about 40 people) which earned me a spot in the finals, where I ended up placing 4th (out of thousands in the overall competition).