I just completed a short story for a contest over at Zizek Press. Normally I don’t do contests, but frankly, it’s about the same as trying to get a story published – one lucky winner gets paid, the rest walk away empty-handed. Of course some contests publish all submissions, which might prevent you from subbing the piece to other markets for a sale, but if that’s the case here, I really don’t care.
My story is terrible. They can have it.
Of course, that’s the point. The contest is to see who can write the worst possible story, yet keep it entertaining, funny and somehow readable. Given my crit group’s recent Bad Movie Nights, I felt like a prize fighter on the verge of a title contention. I’d already run the bleachers, stood exalted, arms spread to the gods of failed plots and nonsensical dialogue. All I needed to do was get in the ring.
Every few months our Crit Group gets together and watches the worst movies ever made. They can’t just be bad movies, like say, the recent Superman flick. They have to be so utterly terri-bad that they’re good. They have to spawn cult followings, be ripe for commentary, and it doesn’t hurt if they are written, directed and produced by the same person. (A starring role by the egocentric genius is just icing on the cake.)
It was destiny when I ran across the submission call.
In the course of an afternoon I cranked out about two thousands words of utter garbage titled “Grandpa in a Box.” The attached query letter explains that it is part of the “In a Box” trilogy. I gleefully dusted off the thesaurus, added a mirror scene (which was woefully incomplete), managed not to “show” a single freaking thing, and made it convincing enough that it didn’t look like someone had simply puked on a page. There’s ridiculous action, a few dangling plot threads haphazardly tied into knots and not once is the protagonist named, physically described or given any depth.
As I wrote it, I was convinced that my maniacal laughter was due to sleep deprivation or maybe the amount of caffeine and sugar I was sucking down. Surely, I was the only one who would see the humor in a nameless Gary Stu character with an enormous package, boatloads of money and a grandfather lost to a freak accident. So, I took a break from getting feedback on my fantasy novel and instead floated this horrific turd at crit group.
Humor is hard to do. It doesn’t always translate and can be fairly audience specific. In fact, I have a humor piece right now I’ve been struggling to finish for months. But not only that, it turns out being intentionally horrible is also pretty damn tricky. You have to create something which is both readable and unreadable at the same time. It has to carry the reader along its convoluted and ridiculous journey while making them laugh so hard they’re about to pee their pants.
While we didn’t have any incontinence at Crit Group that night, the constant stream of chuckles, snorts and hearty belly laughs confirmed it was a success. Along with that, some great suggestions were offered to clean up (without actually cleaning up) a few places and some more hilarious ideas bounced around. But even if they’d rolled their eyes and told me I was nuts, the entire exercise was still worth the time spent.
I found the process incredibly instructive. It felt great to not give a flying f#$% about what I was writing. To intentionally ignore and twist the craft into a terror-ific spectacle. When I dove into edits (yep, I edited), it also required a look back at those rules of bad writing we all try to avoid – intentionally making something terrible required knowledge of how to make something good in the first place.
I’ll sumbit “Grandpa in a Box” and see where it goes. That’ll bump my limbo pieces up to seven, so hopefully I have some publication news soon. Until then, I highly recommend taking the time to write horribly, at least once. Whether you enter the contest or not, you’ll at least get a refresher on how not to write and maybe get a break from the pressure of writing good…or well…