This Writing Contest is Kind of Cool

It’s been a long time since I’ve paid very much attention to any writing contests, because most of them charge quite a bit of money to enter, and most of them are meant for short stories, and I realized a while ago that I don’t really like short stories. But this contest is for super-short stories (also known as flash fiction), which I do sometimes enjoy, and there’s no entry fee.

So. A couple years ago, Tin House released this book called Plotto: The Master List of All Plots. And that’s basically what it is–a resource for writers, providing 1,462 potential plots. If I remember correctly, there’s something of a mix-and-match component to it, too. It’s weird, but (especially as someone who does well with characters and dialog but chronically struggles with plot) I can also see how it could be helpful.

This year (as they’ve done in the past) Tin House is hosting a contest wherein they provide a Plotto prompt each week and people write a 500-word story based on it. The first week’s prompt has already been posted and closed, but there are four more weeks to go. Prompts are posted on Wednesdays (at TH and OPB, with whom they’re partnering this year) and stories are due the following Monday. This week’s is here:

{B} has taken up her quarters in a vacant house.

The five weekly winners will be published on Tin House’s website and will read their stories on State of Wonder, an OPB radio program. The grand prize winner of those five also gets an expenses-paid weekend stay at the Tin House studio in NW Portland. And, again, entering the contest is free.

As I said before, I’m not really big on short stories–but I did actually write a story based on one of the prompts from the 2012 contest. (500 words, I’ll admit, is a good length for experimentation. Hence the present-tense, first-person plural, narration.) I never did anything with the story at the time (I probably missed the submission deadline), and I can’t really imagine doing anything with it in the future, so I thought I might as well put it up here now. So here it is, untitled, and in all its unedited glory:

{B} finds that the knob and lock on the door of a hotel bedroom are in disrepair; the lock apparently locks itself, and the knob will not turn.

We are stringing things together here. We are stuck. The knob won’t turn and the front desk won’t pick up the phone. Patty has stripped the beds and is knotting the sheets into a makeshift rope. Chloe is in favor of escape via the fire escape, even though it is inaccessible from our window. Debbi is in favor of sit and wait and see.

By cocktail hour, Patty has exhausted the bedclothes but still failed to reach the ground floor—or, apparently, attract any managerial attention to the very visible linen snake dangling halfway down the building wall. Chloe is contemplating 999 to make a production out of it. Debbi is half-zipped in her dress, lamenting the fact that we have somehow, disastrously somehow, got a room that has neither a minibar nor a working door.

“This is why,” we agree, “we should never let a man book the reservations.” Though we didn’t really think Glen himself would make the reservations. We thought his secretary would do it. Obviously one of them is inept.

We remember then that Glen, at least, knows we are here. Hopefully, if days pass and none of us materialize, he will eventually realize something hotel-related has gone amiss and come to check. All we need is to get him in the hall. The door worked fine from the hall.

We wait, and we take baths (Patty first). Intermittently rattle the knob (no success) and check the phone (same) and even examine the hinges. Patty finally gives in and hauls the bedclothes back in, leaving them in a sordid heap in the corner. Debbi is on the floor, drinking water from a bathroom cup. Chloe is fiddling with the radio.

Eventually, Debbi reveals that our night on the town was all a pretense. While we were indulging ourselves over cocktails, she planned to feign a headache and slip back to the room to indulge herself on Glen.

“So Glen is coming here,” we say. “Eventually.”

Debbi shrugs, from her position on the ground. She doesn’t get up.

Twice Patty changes her clothes.

We don’t see Glen often. He lives in a different city—this city, in fact. We all think he’s charming, but he’s also married; the idea of assigning with him— We can’t be blamed if we perhaps doubt Debbi’s veracity. She’s still just lying there.

Finally, there is a knock on the door. It is Glen; we can tell; we’ve crowded around. We can see his crotch through the keyhole. “Let me in,” his voice says.

“Let us out,” we say. We say, “Help.”

His crotch moves back and a moment later is replaced by a gigantic eye, blinking and looking surprised. “Really?” the muffled voice says.

We don’t say anything. We blink back.

The eye disappears and Glen puts a tie tack in the lock. Then the bolt clicks and the door swings open and Glen comes in, licking his lips. His tie flaps. He shuts the door behind him.

Find out more about, and enter, the Plotto contest here.



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