Spontaneous Combustion – Writing a Story in 24 hours

For those that are interested, I thought I’d share a bit about my experience with writing a short story in less than 24 hours.
*** This has some spoilers. If you haven’t read “Forever Portend”, you should, and you should vote for it ASAP so I can get into the Spontaneous Combustion 2 Anthology 🙂 ***
Note: The stories don’t display on mobile or tablet. You’ll need to use a desktop or laptop. You can vote from mobile or tablet, though. You’ll need to create a Patreon account (free to do), and then you can vote for your favorite story.
OK. About writing that story in a day…
I recently did this as a participant in Sic Semper Serpent’s Spontaneous Combustion “Book-in-a-Day” contest. A bunch of authors gathered at a local bookstore to get the rules last Thurs night. After we were given the rules, the ‘gun’ went off, and we all scurried away to go write. We each had to submit a story within 24 hours.
Writing a story in 24 hours was a really fun challenge – especially when, in real world terms – I had a lot less than 24 hours (you know, day job and stuff). It was a good exercise in going with an idea and committing to it. With such a short time frame, there’s no time for take-backs or do-overs.
The rules for the contest required that the stories be spec fiction and that each story have the following three things:
– A balloon sword used in place of a real sword
– Sage advice from a non-human entity
– The line of dialogue, “Uff da. This lutefisk is limp!” (lutefisk is fish soaked in lye. It’s Scandanavian, and just awful. Really, really awful.)
My story starts with a person contemplating all of the colors of a black eye, and wondering why, of all the colors, none are black. I think environment influences ideas, and I’d started writing the story at a bar/arcade that I like a lot. I had a beer, played a couple of video games, like Samurai Showdown and The Walking Dead pinball. I think that’s where the idea of a black eye started, since I’d been virtually punching stuff for about an hour before I sat down to write.
(Yes, after the proverbial gun went off, I went to a bar and played video games. What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time…)
Anyway, with a black eye as a starting point, I felt like I already had conflict. Someone had punched my main character. I just had to figure out why.
The next element I wanted to work with was the ‘sage advice from a non-human entity.’ What to choose? A cantankerous talking cactus? A multi-dimensional spatula? Everything that popped into my head seemed ridiculous and over-the-top. My wife texted to say hi, and I signed off with ‘Love you.’ I had a moment of thinking about the little electronic box conveying my love for my wife, and my brain jumped to those old fashioned carnival machines that ‘measure your love.’ (here’s a video). With that idea, I not only had the second piece of my story – the sage advice from a non-human – but a setting.
One of my favorite books/movies is “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury. The second I thought of an old-fashioned carnival, I wanted to create something that felt like Ray’s carnival.
So. I had conflict. I had a possibly magical machine. I had a setting. I had a dark and ominous tone. The rest of the story started falling into place. After a fast draft, I started to flesh it out. An element here and there to make it other-worldly. Since I started with colors, I made sure to put a lot of visual stuff into the rest of the story. Buttery yellow, brightly striped, wetly gleaming red, etc. A couple of things to better define my characters, like Jan makes casserole, and Nathan scrawls directions by hand instead of using navigation.
The hardest part was coming up with the ‘love notes’ the machine created, but that was also the most fun. I wanted each note to ‘portend’ another part of the story. So Jan’s note suggests two may compete for her heart. Even Nathan’s fake note, “… a love for the ages you’ve found this night,” alludes to his impending fate.
Writing so quickly meant I had to just take ideas as they came and trust my gut, and then make them work. That’s not to say I didn’t toss ideas out. At one point, I started writing that the carny that punches Nathan is actually Loki in disguise. That potential story was WAY too big to write in 24 hours, so I quickly discarded it. But for the most part, once the frame was in place and I had a couple of anchors for the story, I just let the rest fill in around it.
So that was my experience writing a story in 24 hours. If you haven’t tried that particular challenge, I say do it! Get a few friends to do it with you, and then share/critique your stories after. It’s a great exercise and a lot of fun.

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