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My WRiTE CLUB Champion Tale - Whose Story Is it?

As I do every year, I asked this years WRiTE CLUB winner – Daniel L. Link – to compose a little something about what the experience was like. Here is what he had to say.

I first first attended DFWCon in 2018, and had a great experience. When DL Hammons spoke during one of the lunches and explained WRiTE CLUB to the crowd, I thought it was a brilliant idea, and since I started with short stories before I ever attempted a novel I thought it would be a lot of fun to try it.

I followed WRiTE CLUB last year, and I felt some of the second and third entries felt rushed, and the quality of the writing didn't feel consistent with the author's earlier pieces. That happens when you've only got a few days to write a piece. So I actually wrote all three 500-word pieces and a 1,000 word story ahead of time, knowing which order I wanted to put them out in. I picked Nose for Trouble to go first because I wanted to give the reader a melancholy tale with lots of setting and description. With Navigating the Wilderness I wanted to showcase a character that was all internal monologue, abandon the showy description, and give the reader a white room with nothing but the narrator's thoughts to set the scene. Starlight was a mix of both. A little description, a little more internal monologue, and a lot of emotion. For the thousand-word piece, I ditched my own advice and wrote Falling Off two days before it was due. It reflected a lot of what I'm seeing in the world today, and it resonated more with me than the initial piece I had written. If it felt more rushed, it's because it was.

When I first saw Nose for Trouble pop up I was thrilled. Last year I wrote what I still consider to be the best 500-word piece I've ever written, and I submitted it under the name Cole Rutledge. It didn't make it into the top thirty. Knowing the piece I loved didn't resonate with the slush pile readers (except for one, according to the feedback I got) made me reevaluate my approach to the stories. Seeing that approach pay off was rewarding.

As the contest developed a question formed in my head. Whose story is it?

We ask that question the whole time we compete in WRiTE CLUB. The first level is the guessing game. I recognized my mother’s voice right away, and I thought for sure I knew who Dovey Grimm was. It turns out I was dead wrong, but that’s the beauty of writing anonymously. But there’s another level. There’s what happens to the story once you click send and it goes live for everyone to read. What I took from Write Club this year is that as writers, the story we put out there doesn’t even belong to us anymore once it’s in the readers’ hands.

My bout with Peace and Quiet is an obvious case in point. I wanted to show I could do something different than I had with my original piece, and boy did I. The character I wrote struck some as insecure and nervous, and others as aggressive to the point where violence might be an issue. Peace and Quiet gave us a woman who couldn’t bear to live without her child. Some readers found it powerful, but some were offended that she would leave a husband behind. Whether we did it intentionally or inadvertently, we put people off with the characters we wrote.

Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way. If my character is funny to some and scary to others, don’t we all know someone who’s checked both of those boxes? If Peace and Quiet had left out the phone call with the husband, would that make the decision to end her life more palatable? People who make the decision to end their own lives do leave people behind; glossing over that wouldn’t have changed the fact. It’s just interesting to me to see what people do with the characters we give them, and the lives they take on in the readers’ eyes.

The comment I saw pop up the most for everyone’s stories was, I want to know what happens next. At first I thought, nothing happens next. It’s a five-hundred word piece, and that’s all we’ve got. But that’s not true. All these stories took on a life of their own, if only for a moment, in the reader’s mind. I’ve heard it described as a form of telepathy, the ability to put your thoughts on a page and hand it to someone else and make them think the same thing, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the ability to plant a seed of emotion in someone and throw in a drop of imagination. We might not be there to see it grow, and we have no idea what might blossom, but no matter what emotion it sparks, it’s a beautiful thing.

I look forward to coming back next year as a slush pile reader.

1 comment

  1. Great post! I like the idea of writing all the pieces in advance. It seems like a good way to achieve continuity, and if you happen to be in a cage bout, it would help to feel less rushed! I really like the idea of setting mini challenges for yourself of what you'd like to accomplish.




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