The NYC 250 Microfiction Challenge 2021: Did I Make It Past the First Round?
The Results of Round 1
Back in October 2021, I entered the 250 Word Microfiction Challenge for the second time.
Unlike the first time around, I had difficulty coming up with a story that would work well with the restrictions I was given. Not overthinking my story, I turned it in with a few hours to spare.
Then, I had to sit and wait.
The results would take over a month and a half meaning December 15th couldn't come soon enough. Would I get past the first round where I completed against 49 other writers in the same category? Or would I end up getting honorable mention again?
Time would only tell.
A month and a half past, and December 15th finally arrived. My inbox held the judge's critiques and the results. But before we get to the judge's results, here's my short story for you to critique beforehand.
My 250 Word Microfiction Challenge Story 'Welcome to The Clink'
“Welcome to The Clink," the guard smirked with a shove of my shoulder. The twist of skeleton keys in the rough metal indicated the beginning of my incarceration.
From the dim light illuminating through the bars, I got a quick sense of my new home. Cracked, dingy, with a lingering smell of musk floating on the cold air. Squinting, the outline of a large man splayed on the top bunk. He shifted slightly giving no recollection to my presence. Taking note, I settled.
I woke sometime later, the sound of chains echoing as they drug closer…clink…clink…clink.
In the dark corner, my cellmate curled slowly rocking back and forth, his lips mumbling hushed words. With every metal grazed clink, his motion quickened with fright. The noise, now on top of us, suddenly came to a halt, but to my surprise no one was there. The thought didn’t linger long as the rocking man let out a wailing scream. I shot back in my bunk, my mouth to dry to let out a scream of my own.
He rose scratching at his face and arms. Through his painfull cries he began ducking and weaving like an abused dog avoiding being pat on the head.
But, just as quickly as it began, it stopped.
With tired eyes and blood dripping down his face he crawled back to his bunk, the bed creaking under his weight. His raspy voice crackled as he spoke, “Welcome to The Clink, boy.”
What The Judges Liked About Your Story
This is a disturbing tale. What could make a tough criminal cringe and cry like that? Hopefully our narrator will not find out!
The description of the cellmate's reactions to the arrival of the ghost is well done. Showing someone else reaction, rather than trying to describe the terror is a great choice. Our imaginations are going to come up with something possibly more terrible than words could describe. And the fact that he's such a big, tough man really raises the fear level. Nice job!
An intriguing piece that plays upon the fears of incarceration and confined spaces. The writer does a good job is setting the scene and tone. The tension grows nicely throughout.
What an eerie premise: the protagonist surveys his new living quarters in 'the clink,' noting his larger cellmate, and then a strange clinking noise approaches, though nothing's in sight. The attention to sensory details in this piece is working well to pull the reader into the setting. I especially like the way you describe the smell of the place as being musky. The sound of chains makes for an ominous signal of the ghost's approach. The larger inmate's greeting echoing the guard's makes for an ominous, full-circle ending. Thanks for sharing!
What The Judges Feel Needs Work
First off, a technical note. There are several spelling, grammar and word choice errors. Be sure to give a quick proofread.
I like the title and phrase, 'the clink', however a dragging chain is more of a metallic scraping sound. I suppose if the chains were dangling and hitting each other, like Jacob Marley in "A Christmas Carol", that would be more of a clink.
Why is the narrator in this prison? It sounds like a maximum-security prison. I would expect the narrator to have a tougher persona and not be so meek. It would be a more powerful story because when he sees his even bigger, tougher cellmate act so terrified, it would really scare him, too.
The cellmate's reactions are a bit odd. Why does he climb out of his bunk and sit on the floor where he gets attacked? And then he seems suddenly quite calm after it's over, as if this is a common occurrence. And if it is, why isn't his face all scarred from all the scratching?
It's a spooky story with nice horror elements. There are just a few small details that don't quite fit. I hope these suggestions are helpful. Nice job!
The writer doesn't let on what the prisoner is incarcerated for, which isn't particularly necessary, but could help to develop his character if his crime is hinted at. The ending is decent but feels a little anti-climactic as it is not clear what is happening and whether the protagonist is really in danger from the ghost.
I wasn't quite sure what the invisible figure was doing to the larger cell mate. What would cause the larger man scratching at his own face and arms? Why is the protagonist safe from assault? Is he next? These are questions I had as I read. A future version might trim some prose to make room for these developmental details.
The Final Results
One reason I enjoy this challenge so much is because unlike other writing challenges, this gives feedback which I highly appreciate. Unlike last year's critique, I felt the person who judged my story did not get the overall concept and contradicted themselves.
Rereading the overall piece, I ultimately did not find "several" spelling or grammatical errors. I can also note the judge did not realize the term, the clink, is a stand in nick name for a prison where dragging chains made a clinking noise, thus giving it the name, Welcome to The Clink.
When writing the piece, I made the choice to describe the environment more as to set the scene then give details about the characters since these did not seem important for the ghost story genre. In the end, I wanted to leave it up to the reader's imagination as to what was happening as, like the judge mentioned, our own minds play out worse scenarios than what is actually taking place.
So, did I make it past the first round?
The answer is no. I didn't even get honorable mention this year. I do agree my piece, The Love of a Hunter, from 2020 was better which is why it placed higher but for the genre, Ghost Story, and with the restrictions given, I'm happy overall with this piece.
What do you think? Do you agree with the judge? Tell me in the comments below! Also let me know what writing challenges you have participated in as I might want to check them out!