The Pleas of the Leaves (or how writing fiction is just improv on the page)

Image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto from Pixabay

Last November, in an attempt to push myself to try new creative things, I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest.

This is a fiction contest where, at the designated start time, participants are sent their assignment, which includes the genre they are supposed to write in, an action that has to take place, and a word they must include in the story, and they all write a story. The top writers in their groups move on for two more rounds, until a winner is crowned.

Oh, and did I mention participants have 24 hours to write their story?

Here’s the thing. I don’t write fiction. OK, well, I do, sort of. As part of my “write like a mad scientist for the first draft” practice, I often will ask friends for three random words, set a timer, and then use those words as prompts to write anything that comes to mind during the designated free writing time.

Often, it’s some weird story that comes from out of nowhere, something that if I was trying to write it would never appear. I just “Yes And” whatever comes out (improv has improved my writing as well as my life), and I rarely edit those mad scientist drafts. They go into a file I pull the out once in a while and think, “This would make a great story,” panic at the thought of having to actually write the story, and promptly put it all back in a drawer. I do, however, share them with my besties and creative cheerleaders Roberta Gore and Carrie Anne Noble, two accomplished fiction writers.

“You do write fiction, Joanne,” they keep telling me, but I still disagree.  To me, a fiction writer plots story lines and crafts characters and pays attention to themes and irony and other literary devices. I just splash something on the page and leave it to fend for itself.

My non-fiction career? Not a problem. I can pen a fabulous feature story, spin a delightful humor column, muse poetically in an essay. I have a few awards to prove I’m pretty good at that.

But making stuff up and creating worlds? Not really my thing. (Except on the improv stage. Are you noticing a theme here?)

So anyway, back to the contest.

The contest entry fee was $25, and every participant receives feedback on their piece, whether they move on to the next round or not. That sounded like a good deal to me.

Here’s the wrinkle: I thought I had entered the Flash Fiction contest, where entries had to be 500 words or less. When I saw the assignment I realized I actually entered was the Micro Flash Fiction contest, where entries were limited to 250 words.

Oh boy. Continue reading “The Pleas of the Leaves (or how writing fiction is just improv on the page)”

Shelter rescue Princess Abby named World’s Ugliest Dog

Princess Abby takes home the title of World's Ugliest Dog. (Photo credit Grace Chon/Shine Pet Photos, http://www.shinepetphotos.com)

A shelter rescue named Princess Abby took home the title of 2010 World’s Ugliest Dog at the Sonoma Marin Fair in Petaluma, CA this weekend. 

Princess Abby, a Chihuahua mix with a squinty eye and leg deformities that cause her to have a sway back, won the mutt division before advancing to the finals to face the 2009 winner, Pabst, a boxer mix. She and her owner, Kathleen Francis took home a $1,600 prize.

The contest was judged by television celebrity and vet Karen “Doc” Halligan, HawthoRNe television star Christina Moore, Vertical Horizon lead singer Matt Scannell. Comedian Jon Reep emceed.

This wasn’t a contest to mock or shame dogs and their owners.

The dogs in the competition often had stories of difficult lives, from illness to scars gotten during Hurricane Katrina, and were celebrated for overcoming those obstacles. And rescue dogs were praised for the happiness they brought to their owners, when sometimes it’s difficult to tell who actually rescued who.

You can read all about the contest on the World’s Ugliest Dog website.

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