A challenge, a challenge: my kingdom for a challenge
Whether it’s growing out a ‘stache for Movember or taking part in a sponsored run, walk or bike ride, November is all about taking up a challenge. And writers are no exception.
Every year writers the world over take part National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. The idea is quite simple: write 50,000 words in thirty days and finish November with a brand new novel. It’s a great challenge for budding novelists and seasoned pros alike. Plus, with so many people taking part each year, there’s no shortage of support from fellow writers.
But what if you don’t write novels?
The long and short of it
I’m Chris Ovenden and I’m predominantly a flash fiction writer: I like my stories mercifully short (for both for me and my readers!) and the idea of writing something over 4000 words makes my head spin and my hands race for those metaphorical scissors to ‘cut, cut, cut!’ As a result, NaNoWriMo doesn’t really appeal. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let the verbose have all the fun.
This year, fellow Manchester Speculative Fiction writer Gary Leeming and I decided to set ourselves our own November challenge: write a piece of flash fiction every day. No story too short, but definitely some stories too long! We call it: No-More-Than-A-Thousand-Words-Vember or NoMoThaThWoV for short. And, yes, that is a mouthful, and, yes, we do realize it sounds like we’re trying to commune with Cthulhu, but that’s just the way we roll.
Being the generous types we are, Gary and I wanted to share NoMoThaThWoV with all of you. We thought the best way to do that would be to interview one another about how we’ve been getting on.
So, scroll down for my interview with Gary about his first fifteen days of NoMoThaThWoV. Then read a little further to read some of Gary’s brand new flash fiction, written this month!
So, what’s it all about?
CDO: Hi, Gary! What made you want to give a flash fiction challenge a go?
GL: It sounded fun, and it was nice to know I would not be trying to meet the standard NaNoWriMo daily word count of over 1,660 words a day.
CDO: What length do you usually write?
GL: Mostly, I enjoy writing short stories, between 3,000 and 8,000.
CDO: Why not just write a novel?
GL: I have finished a couple of NaNoWriMos, but I’ve always been a bit dissatisfied with the end result. The last couple of times I tried, I failed to get past a week, whether due to lack of time or just getting stuck. I also wanted to have the freedom to try out different ideas and styles rather than be stuck with one thing for the whole time.
CDO: Did you set yourself any rules for the challenge? Min or max length, or subject, for instance?
GL: Originally, I thought I’d aim for a max of 2,000 and a minimum of 1,000, but once I’d started (and following your suggestion) I decided not to have a minimum. My main rule is the piece must be a self-contained story, and if that’s only fifty words, I’m okay with that. There have been many days where I’ve been glad of that lack of lower limit due to a lack of energy or time, and still ended up pleased with the story.
CDO: Thirty stories sounds like such a tall order! Where do you get your ideas from?
GL: Knowing I have to write a story every day means I am more aware than I have been for years of the need to capture ideas. Dreams, news articles, daydreaming, listening to songs: All have been an inspiration in the last couple of weeks. But mainly, as the cliché says, it’s the sitting down and writing the story. More than once I’ve tried writing an idea I had earlier in the day, or culled from an old notebook, only to struggle to a stop. Then, with a few words written in desperation, I’ve found myself writing a completely different story straight after.
CDO: Do you have a process for writing flash? I know some people start with a longer idea and cut it down, whilst others start with just a single sentence and then build it up.
GL: I tend to start with an opening and then try to work out what happens next, what could happen that would make this interesting. Often I have a direction in mind, but then the story goes in a different direction anyway.
CDO: How has this challenge impacted on your life, and how has life impacted on the challenge?
GL: I’m writing again. That has been really fun, even if it was a little scary at first. And, while normal life has gotten in the way at times, knowing I have an obligation to you means I’ve always found a way to do something, even if it was a bit shorter than I wanted, or isn’t a great story in its own right (yet!).
CDO: We are now half-way through November. What have you enjoyed most about NoMoThaThWoV?
GL: Getting to the end of the day and knowing I have managed to get another story written. And reading your daily story as a reward.
CDO: What have you least enjoyed?
GL: Worrying about how to come up with thirty stories in thirty days, when I’ve only written one story in the last five years.
CDO: Do you think you’ve learned anything from it?
GL: I feel like I’ve learnt so much in terms of my own writing. Being able to play with different styles, and just having fun. But mainly this exercise has really made me think about what a story is: what moment turns an idea or a brief description into something that happens?
CDO: Would you do it again?
CDO: Well, that’s a wrap. Thanks, Gary! And best of luck for the rest of the month.
For all you readers, scroll down for one of Gary’s flash pieces written this NoMoThaThWoV. Maybe it will inspire you to give flash fiction a go, or perhaps come up with a challenge of your own. contact us and let us know.
Flash Fiction Story: Daisy
‘I can’t let you do that, Dave.’
Every time. I wish I had never shown the shipboard computer that damn movie. Every time for the last three months I go to the loo, the computer locks the door before I can open it.
‘I can’t let you do that, Dave,’ it laughs, before finally letting me in.
And there’s six months of travel to Jupiter Station left to go.
I complained to the captain, but he just shrugged with a smirk and a “What can I do?” look.
The way I see it, I had no choice. Turns out the door locks are wired through a separate connection to the main CPU, bypassing the main security barriers. I prepped the virus and loaded it into the door controls while on the toilet, and then I just needed to wait until my next trip.
‘I can’t let you do that, Dave,’ it says.
We’ve spent the last three days spinning out of control, and the only thing the computer can say any more is ‘Daisy, Daisy.’
But I am not sorry.