This year NYC Midnight introduced a new challenge. The Rhyming Story Challenge. So, armed with the knowledge I am terrible at poetry, I thought, why not have a crack at it anyway. All feedback is good feedback, right? I ended up getting one of my favourite genres, but I was unable to flip the theme and emotion into something left of centre enough to stand out from from the crowd to place in the named top 12 for this one, but I did get some awesome, useful feedback.
I was handed, Science Fiction, with the theme of 'adrift' and the emotion 'insignificant'. I was not having the greatest week when this challenge came around, so I was struggling to think of any other ideas that would fit with the theme of adrift. Normally I can come up with three or four ideas and knock off the most obvious ones to eliminate what became probably the most harsh part of the negatively judged aspects of the story—having a 'ship adrift' was so overdone they got sick of it and story choice was judged as well as how well it was written.
When the email comes out with the group you're in and what you've been given, they clarify the expectations for each of the criteria. The theme had to use the dictionary definition of the word. So...
so as to float without being either moored or steered.
so as to be without purpose, direction, or guidance.
so as to be no longer fixed in position.
1. floating without being either moored or steered.
2. failing to reach a target or winning position.
Although my story has elements of all these definitions, I should have stayed all the way away from the first one in this case because it made the judges feel unwell. The brief for the emotion was only that we had to have the emotion expressed/experienced in the narrative somewhere, it didn't need to be a core feature of the whole piece. It didn't need to be explicitly mentioned it could be inferred (I didn't use the word insignificant in mine, but it's implied). This was trickier than the other ones I've done, that's for sure, it took a lot more thinking about how to interpret the criteria, as well as how to write for this unusual format. And now add to that the importance of avoiding the obvious story choices!
I'll make more of an effort NOT to pick the obvious choice in future now I know for sure they mark you down for it. But, that is another thing I like about these challenges, they're like mini-deadlines. You don't pick when they happen or when they are due. You just have to write in the window you're given, to the topics you're given, regardless of how you're feeling at the time or what other stuff is going on. It's good practice for writing more consistently and being able to hit real deadlines.
The other aspect that was commented on needing improvement was that the characters actions didn't impact the situation, good or bad, and I should have made them more active in acting on their goals and ideas. I guess this was a mistake in my execution because I had done that deliberately, the emotion was insignificant, so I kind of went further and made all of the actions of the character... also insignificant. Because I figured everyone would be doing a ship adrift in space, I thought that might be a point of difference. Next time, I will think further from the box!
Of all the NYC Midnight challenges, this is the first time I've not been listed in the first round results. I thought the feedback was going to be brutal, but it was really only the two things above. Everything else was incredibly positive and I didn't do half as bad as I expected to do. I found it really hard to come up with a story with a plot, while also trying to have it rhyme with a decent cadence that I was happy with. In the end I had to submit something, it would have taken forever to have something I was 'happy' with! There are so many extra parameters you have to work within for a rhyming story, I'm not sure how people write children's books! It's not just about making the last word rhyme, line sets need to have a cadence/rhythm that flows otherwise it just doesn't feel right. It's almost like writing song lyrics. Anyway, this was really, really, really hard to do! But I had a go. I might even enter the rhyming challenge again next year. *gasp* If I do though, I will definitely not pick the obvious idea again. Lesson learnt.
Anyway, here's my story. Sorry, it's a bit dark, but it was supposed to have the theme 'adrift' and the emotion 'insignificant'. Not sure how it's going to be anything other than dark. :P
The dying sun still burns with an intensity,
From through the airlock, I forget it’s low-density.
I blink away the tears that threaten my eyes,
And tell myself they are not because of Earth’s demise.
When we sought refuge in this ship full of rust,
We evaded our own extinction—but only just.
This coffin that managed to launch from the dock,
Now floats through space like a useless rock.
It was early in our journey when the meteor connected,
Unfortunately, the hull impact had been neglected.
Engineers said space storm turbulence was fine,
That is, until it somehow ruptured our main fuel line.
The engine stuttered, spluttered, and then stopped,
And if in a gravity well, the ship would have dropped.
Now we drift this vast nothingness with no control,
In a thrift shop coffin that holds every human soul.
But a fleck in the vastness of these billions of stars,
Humans got too caught up writing their own memoires.
I hope other beings don’t make these mistakes though,
And they’re smarter than us with more capacity to grow.
When the burning rock hit us, it had done so with purpose,
Unlike us humans, where we lack—it had it in surplus.
I don’t know if our lives ever had any real meaning,
Perhaps things happen for a reason—even this gleaning.
They made me do the repairs because I was unskilled,
To make it easier for blame when we are all killed.
I made my way through the airlock and out into the void.
I inched toward the hull fracture, still slightly annoyed.
My mind became caught in an uncomfortable wrestle,
As the fresh welding scars appeared on our makeshift vessel.
This ship and I are not so different, or so it would seem,
We’re both broken and discarded in a failing regime.
I’m just like the others—not short, fat, or tall.
Why do I let them make me feel like I’m nothing at all?
When the repairs were finished, I reentered the ship,
And they still ignored me, no dispositional flip.
If only there was some way to make them all see,
That existentially, they matter as little as me.
We’ve come to the juncture, the clutch—the end.
And we lived without purpose, so sorry my friend.
Instead of working hard to build any kind of future,
We chose to exist in a deeply profound stupor.
To drift through our lives as if they were holidays,
Enjoying life with no focus, caught in complete daze.
Even though all along we knew the sun was eroding,
and told a chilling story of a deep dark foreboding.
Until the very last moment finally did come,
That could be a sign that humans are indeed dumb.
With the end so close, I have nothing left to lose,
It’s about time I confront the others of this ruse.
With time running out so quickly for us all,
I have one last opportunity to make them feel small.
To shatter their hopes and crush all their dreams,
and for once tear their reality apart at the seams.
The courage it fades as dizziness overwhelms me,
The life support systems must be failing finally.
The vacuum of space replacing our air,
And with it the truth of humanity laid bare.
We exist for but a moment in the scale of time,
Making no difference, not even in our prime.
Now we’ve exhausted the little time that we had,
What have we to show for it? Nothing, so sad.