Regular readers of this blog may (or may not) remember that several weeks ago, I made a rather impromptu decision to take part in a very short screenwriting competition. A friend of mine was doing it, so I figured what the heck. The gist is that it’s a 48-hour contest, where you need to write a five-page screenplay, and you get assigned a genre a location and an element you need to incorporate.

I’ve dabbled in screenwring for decades and do truly enjoy the form, so I figured it would be a good creative exercise. And let me say, five pages in screenwriting terms is very, very tight. Part of the challenge is to tell an entire story in what amounts to five minutes of screen time. As anyone who reads this blog knows, brevity and economy are not my areas of strength, so it is an excellent challenge to be forced to tell a story efficiently and quickly.

Back then, I got my assignment group, and the genre was horror, the location was the mountains and the element was a birdbath.

I actually laughed out loud when I read it, because you honestly couldn’t choose a worse genre for me than horror. I don’t watch horror movies, I don’t like horror movies, and it’s nowhere near my sensibilities. But hey, a challenge is a challenge, so I dove in. I came up with a ghost story involving a family with an autistic son and worked in a real (and surprising) story about the fact that Ted Bundy actually committed a murder and got caught near Aspen way back in the day.

In the end, I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I was pleased with how it turned out overall and submitted it. The title was “Elope.”

The way the contest works after that is submissions are judged, and the top 5 in each category get a number of points. Everyone gets to participate in a second challenge, and those who score enough points between the first two challenges get to move on to a third and final challenge.

Well, on Wednesday night they finally released the results from the first challenge.  I didn’t have high hopes, but I admit I was a little disappointed to find out I didn’t place at all. But it was ultimately a minor bummer, and I couldn’t feel all that bad about writing a subpar horror story. I’ve developed a pretty thick writer’s callous over the years and was over it in less than 15 minutes.

On Thursday, I was going about my day when I got the judges’ feedback from my submission. I have to say, I was really happy to read the notes, because they were overall very encouraging and had good things to say about the things I really did work hard to get across. The criticism had more to do with pacing and the fact that it was probably a little too much story to cram into 5 pages, which I totally agreed with. The notes were constructive and I actually felt really good about it.

For anyone interested in reading my submission, you can check it out here. And since I’m posting screenwriting, I’ll also put up a link to the one I submitted to a different contest earlier this year, calling for 10 page screenplays on the topic of climate change. This one I was a finalist for, but didn’t end up in the top five. That one is called Extended Outlook and it is here.

Now the next round is this weekend, so we’ll see what oddball genre I end up with this time. Horror was tough, but I’m really hoping that I don’t end up with fantasy or something. I don’t do dragons and elves and stuff.

But hey, if things like this have taught me anything it’s good to get outside your comfort zone and try your hand at something totally different now and then. I suggest everyone try it with something. And the good thing is, much like my foray into horror, if it doesn’t pan out, you can shrug and just say, “Yeah, I don’t like that stuff anyway.” Delightfully low pressure.