Challenges

Each month a regular challenge is set to give Alpha Writers a chance to flex their writing muscles and engage in some friendly competition. Read on for details of present and previous challenges, entries and results!

Season XIV

Open Page 3

Brief for Open Page 3:

As you will know by now: there isn’t one!

This is our last ‘challenge’ of the season and what better way to finish it than with a wide open brief?

We’ve written seven challenges while trying to adhere as best we could to the constraints of a set brief. And very useful that is, too, when we suddenly discover that we actually can write something worthwhile even when our first impulse was ‘can’t’!

The pleasure we get from reading the Open Page collations is partly because of the variety of genres and styles. The unrestricted (up to a point!) length of contributions is another bonus as we can immerse ourselves in a full experience in one piece and then enjoy a crisp short shot in the next.

By all means try something new out. Mix poetry and prose; fiction and non-fiction; cross the genres. Recipes, lists, reviews, letters and rants are as welcome as novel chapters and regular short stories.

Surprise us!

Challenge 8

Challenge 8 brief

The challenge is to write an ode. An ode is a poem written in tribute to a person, a place, a thing or even an idea. Odes are an approachable poetic form as they do not have to rhyme, nor do they have to maintain any format for meter or structure. The poem’s theme is what defines it. If you choose to adopt a formal structure for your ode, the Horatian ode is the easiest to write. The Horatian ode has a more reflective tone, and is written to be read rather than performed. The only rule for writing a Horatian ode is that it must have repeating stanzas. The format for those stanzas is up to you. Therefore, if you choose a rhyme scheme of abab and a meter of iambic pentameter, you must try to repeat that rhyme and meter in each stanza you write. You can include as many stanzas as you like but the poem must be limited to 40 lines and/or 300 words.

The challenge deadline is midnight 24th April.

1st Christine 13 marks, 2nd Ros 12 marks, joint 3rd Morgen and Jackie with 8 marks each

The Leaderboard after Challenge 8:

Morgen:                     28 points
Christine:                   23
Suzanne:                   20***
Rosemary:                 16
Phil:                          15*
Stephen:                   15

Challenge 7

Please write the LAST page of a novel, which should feature the main character(s). It can be any genre or subject, but the ending should at least provide a hint of the character(s) and their place in the story. Your ending can be neat and “all tied up”*, or it can be ambiguous – as long as it is clearly an ending.

Just as when writing an opening, it is not essential to have the whole novel in mind – you are simply concerned with writing an ‘ending’.

(* it goes without saying that this shouldn’t be merely “what happened to (X Y Z)” which would really only be a reverse synopsis).

Obviously, having just done Challenge 6, you can – if you wish – use that and provide the ending to what you began there. Bear in mind that if you use the same names in both, you will lose anonymity when all Challenge 7 entries are sent out.

As it is the last page, you can even start mid-sentence if you wish. Please provide a title (which can be different from Challenge 6 if you use that story) which will not be included in the 300 word limit.

1st Suzanne 10 marks, 2nd Zena and Phil 9 marks each, 3rd Sarah with 8 marks

The Leaderboard after Challenge 7:

Morgen:                      26 points
Suzanne:                    19**
Christine:                    19
Phil:                            14*
Stephen :                    14
Sally :                         13***
Rosemary :                 13

Challenge 6

The Brief for Challenge 6

This challenge requires you to use the literary device hamartia. Hamartia is a literary term that refers to a tragic flaw or error that leads to a character’s downfall. For example, in the story, Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara’s arrogant conviction that Ashley Wilkes loves her unconditionally, directly has ruinous consequences for her, making it an example of hamartia.

A character’s tragic flaw isn’t necessarily a morally reprehensible one. It could be what on the surface is a positive quality, such as trusting or blind faith.

Hamartia derives from the Greek word meaning “to miss the mark” or “to err.”

There are two aspects to this challenge:

  • Write the opening of a new story in 300 words. It should start with the following paragraph:

 

‘There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not black at all. It was red, like blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt winds from the sea.’ *

Your opening has to introduce character and conflict. Also, it should make your reader desperate to read the rest of the story. Or even better, you will end up with something that you want to continue writing after this challenge.

  • Before you begin to write you need to decide upon a flaw or error that will lead to a character’s downfall before the imaginary end of the story and make sure that within your 300 words there’s some indication of this flaw.

In other words: we’re looking for a 300-word story about a flawed main character with a cliff-hanger ending.

Note: Title and excerpt will not count as part of your 300 wds.

Have fun and send off your entries to me by midnight of 13th March.

* The excerpt you may know already, taken from the final paragraph of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

1st place equally Christine and Rosemary with 9 points each, 2nd place Suzanne with 7 points

The Leaderboard after Challenge 6:

Morgen:                      25 points
Christine:                    18
Suzanne:                     15**
Sally:                           13***
Stephen:                      13
Rosemary:                  12

Open Page 2

This is an invitation to contribute a piece of your writing to the 2nd edition of our Open Book experiment.

I know we happily and humbly comply with the strict constraints of our usual challenge briefs. For the Open Book, however, we throw all that to the winds and let ourselves enjoy the delicious freedom of being able to present a piece of writing that would never fit a brief – unless, of course that’s what you fancy!

There is no word limit; anything goes from the Haiku to the novel chapter. All I’d like you to bear in mind is the average Alpha’s attention span which might not be up to chomping through an entire novel. It’s also a matter of courtesy towards other writers to keep within a reasonable length and I leave the rest to you (around the 2000 word mark – give or take?).

The genre is totally up to you. By all means surprise us with a cookery recipe or a steam-punk-gothic-humorous-post-apocalyptic-romantic mystery. Poetry, fiction, non-fiction. Reviews are welcome and not just about books. This is your chance to present an experimental piece of writing and get some feedback on it.

To help the reader you’re asked to write an introduction that sets out why you wrote your piece and what you’re trying to do. You can ask for comments on specific points.

Please, indicate the word count of your piece after the introduction.

This is a feast for the reader and a treat for the writer. With such a diverse group as ours the variety of entries to the Open Book will undoubtedly be stunning – as indeed it was last time.

There will be one more Open Book edition towards the end of the season.

1st place equally – Christine and Sally with 6 nominations each

Morgen:                     24 points
Christine:                    14
Sally:                           13***
Suzanne:                     12**
Stephen:                      12
Cath:                           10*

Challenge 5

The brief for Challenge 5 is simple… a nostalgic piece of writing.

You are revisiting a childhood haunt, maybe a favourite holiday destination or a place where you went frequently as a youngster. Convey the sense of anticipation as you approach this destination. On arrival, maybe you are delighted to find that nothing much has changed. Or, on the contrary, you are disappointed with what you see and find there. This can be a true memoir type piece of writing from your own experience or it can be completely fictitious. It’s up to you.

300 words maximum of prose, no poetry. The closing date is midnight GMT Tuesday 30th January.

1st place Morgen 13 points, 2nd place Stephen 11 points, 3rd Gloria, Christine and Sally with 8 points each

The Leaderboard after Challenge 5:
Morgen:                      22 points
Suzanne:                     11**
Sally:                           10***
Stephen:                      10
Christine:                    10
Cath:                           9*
Gloria:                        9

Challenge 4

This challenge invites you to shrug on your gabardine coat, grab a notebook and a stub of pencil and liberate your inner journalist. You are working for a newspaper and your editor has commissioned you to write a news story: the attached photograph will illustrate the item. Your job is to find out what the story is and deliver an article with no more than 300 words; your editor has given you the strict (if somewhat generous) deadline of midnight on Tuesday 9th January 2018.

The newspaper can be local or national, modern-day or from history, up to you: your imagination should come up with the rest!

1st Morgen 17 points, 2nd Zena and Stephen 11 points, 3rd Phil 7 points

The Leaderboard after Challenge 4:
Morgen:                     18 points
Suzanne:                     10**
Sally:                           8***
Cath:                           8*
Christine:                    8
Gloria:                        7
Stephen:                     7

Challenge 3

Write a letter to your 21 year old self.

There – what could be simpler? However, already I can hear the barrage of queries, so I’ll try to head some off at the pass.

1.  The letter writer is YOU, but doesn’t have to be the actual you. It can be a fictional you. It can be another you, from another point in space or time.

2. If some Alphas haven’t actually made it to the mythical milestone of ‘one score years and one’…then make it up! You’re a writer.

Have fun.

Entries to me by midnight GMT Tuesday, November 28th. Oh – and of course – do not exceed 300 words.

First place with 9 points each – Suzanne, Morgen and Cath, 2nd place with 8 points each – Christine and Chris, 3rd place with 7 points each – Sally and Sarah

The Leaderboard after Challenge 3:
Morgen:                     14 points
Suzanne:                     9*
Sally:                           7***
Cath:                           7*
Christine:                    7
Gloria:                        6

Open Page 1

There’s no regular challenge brief this Alphaday. Your task this time is to submit a piece of your writing to our new Open Page slot. Open Page means just that: there are no restrictions of any kind. No theme, no word limit, no genre, no style specification. You’re invited to enter a piece of writing of your own choice: an extract from a work in progress; your latest short story, something from your files, or you can write a new piece for the Open Page slot… fiction, non-fiction, poetry; anything goes.

Please introduce your entry with a short explanatory paragraph (incl. word count). If it’s experimental, tell us what you’re trying to do. If it’s part of a longer work, outline the context. You can ask for advice on specific points. In fact this can be seen as your personal brief for your entry.

As for the absence of a word limit, I’d like you to bear in mind the number of entries we’ll be looking at and the estimated concentration span of your fellow Alphas. Personally I’d discourage people from submitting the first draft of a complete novel. Somewhere around 2,000 words (+ or –) seems a reasonable top limit to me. You might like to try exactly 100 words, a haiku, or – why not? – 140 characters… up to you.

There were two very clear favourites: Gloria and Morgen were both shortlisted 7 times; they get 3 points each. There’s quite a gap before the rest come huddled together. Olaf with 4 listings; he gets 2 points. Sarah, Suzanne and Christine with 3 listings get 1 point each.

The Leaderboard after Open Page 1:
Morgen:                     11 points
Sally:                           6**
Suzanne:                     6*
Gloria:                        5
Olaf:                           5

Challenge 2

Illustrate the deadly Sin of Pride in writing, using not more than 300 words. Prose, poetry, story, fact or fiction, definition (true or false): it matters not. The only thing is: Everyone should please begin with the sentence “The Bible says that those who exalt themselves will be humbled.” AND, include within your challenge the words “perfectly justified satisfaction.” Neither of those inclusions will be counted within your word count.

1st place Morgen 15 points, 2nd Cath 8 points, joint 3rd Sally and Suzanne 7 ponts each

The Leaderboard after Challenge 2:

Morgen:                      7 points
Sally:                           5**
Suzanne:                     4*
Cath:                           3*
Richard:                      3*

Challenge 1

In a maximum of 300 words (not a single one more) write a complete story. The title is not included in the word count.

When we come to assess the entries, being a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end which is satisfying to the reader should be the key. A story should have a complete arc so that if you set out to tell us about Joe’s redundancy you don’t end with Jane going shopping, but you tell us what happens to Joe. It is up to you whether you use dialogue and how much you show and tell, the key is to ensure the story is both complete and satisfying.

Whilst a cameo or piece of description writing might be well written they rarely constitute a story, nor for that matter does a recollection or reporting of an event necessarily qualify as such. I’ve deliberately set this, as so much ‘flash’ fiction that I see, whilst beautifully written does not constitute a story, so I thought it would be good practice for us all. It’s actually quite difficult to do and within this level of word count you really do have to make every word count in order to succeed.

1st place – Sally – 30 marks, 2nd place Morgen – 9 marks, 3rd place Suzanne – 8 marks

The Leaderboard after Ch. 1:
Sally:               4 points and a *
Morgen:          3 points
Suzanne:         2 points
Phil:                 1 point and a *

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