24 Hour Story

Second maybe to the “Reveal” the 24 Hour Story must be the most famous (or infamous) part of the workshop week. The name more or less says it all, right? Write a story in 24 hours, that’s the task. And, though it wasn’t immediately evident, the lesson as well.

Tim Powers, the mad wizard that led us on this journey, handed out Items of No Material Significance. One person received an empty .45 cal. casing, another a length of flexible metal tubing, someone else a hunk of wood. I received a single $1.00 bill. The experience was already paying for itself.

Items of Ordinary Significance - Small

The object only needed to spark some kind of inspiration. I didn’t have to tell a bank heist story, or the tale of a king’s coin engraver, but something about the dollar needed to get the thought process going.

Library - Small

Tim then led us off to the Will and Ariel Durant Library where we were to grab books, do research, color in inspiration and verisimilitude into whatever idea we were working with. I read about Ancient Etruscan art and the Bronze Age Collapse, because I’m cool like that.

Lastly, and perhaps as infamous as the 24 Hour Story itself, we had to talk to a stranger. It’s awful and there’s not really any sugarcoating it. We’re on Hollywood Blvd. (the part with all the tourists). People are there in groups–with their friends and family. People are not particularly interested in talking to strangers. Add in the fact that here is about where the surreal nature of what’s going on and the fact that photographers have been nipping at your heels since you landed in LA may catch up with you (it did for me). I wandered until I found someone who was alone, separated from the herd, talked for a minute, and got it over with. Just like ripping off a band-aid.

Now, if that paragraph sounds harsh, it kind of was intended to be. But that doesn’t mean that the lesson of the exercise was lost on me. People can be an incredible source of stories and inspiration. Listening to what they say might spark a creative fire, and there’s value to that lesson. In practice, in the moment, I was just glad it was over.

So now, armed with our item, our research, and whatever we gleaned from the interview, we met back together where our mad wizard sent us forth at 5:00 p.m. to write one complete story and have it submitted by 5:00 p.m. the next day. We couldn’t submit an opening and an outline, we couldn’t write write write then… uh… the end. It had to be a complete story (quality not being a requirement above completeness).

So we dispersed, we wrote, and a little less than 24 hours later I had… something. It had a beginning a middle and an end. The prose was rough, the concept rough (but one I may revisit and try to polish in the future), but it was done, and it was submitted, and that was that.

So the big question, of course, is WHY DO THIS?

Well, the lesson really goes hand in hand with the point of the conference. The conference isn’t to teach how to write. The conference starts from the perspective that everyone there can write, knows how to write, and has demonstrated an ability to do so well. What everyone has *not* done, is demonstrate the ability to do so for a living, as a professional.

The point of the exercise is not to write a story in 24 hours, but rather to force everyone to prove to themselves that they can.


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