Nothing Like a Deadline to Get Things Going - Potentially Useless Tips from the Toronto Fringe 25 Hour Playwriting Contest

Friday July 5, 2013

At noon today I was in a panicked battle with Google Docs, being taunted by the site's astonishingly stubborn refusal to save any edits, even though everything on the wifi front was running perfectly. This could have easily been a blog post full of a sleep-deprived writer's regret, but by 1pm we'd settled the terms of our truce so I was able to send off my submission for the Toronto Fringe Festival's 25 Hour Playwriting Contest in time for the 2pm deadline.

The Fringe holds this contest every year (it's usually 24 hours, but 2013 is the Fringe's 25th anniversary), and I've entered it and similar contests a handful of times. I never go in expecting to win; I simply like being motivated to hammer out a full draft of something brand new in a very short time.

The way these things generally work is that writers register in advance and, at the designated start time, a list of things which much be included in the final script are announced. Then the clock starts ticking. This year the Fringe called for four things to be in all competition scripts:
  • Silver
  • 25 Candles
  • A Kerfuffle
  • A Moment of Song
The themes were announced live at the Fringe Club at 1pm on Thursday, but since I was at work until 5pm I had to find out what the four things were after they were also posted online. I did sneak out of my shift for a few minutes to check the Toronto Fringe Facebook page around 3pm, but aside from trying to think up ideas at work I got off to a pretty late start.

Nonetheless, I'm pleased with what I came up with by this afternoon (of course my opinion may change when I've had more sleep and go back to re-read it!). The scripts are meant to be judged blind (meaning the jury doesn't know the name of the playwright), so I won't say anything yet about what I chose to do with the themes. What I can talk about is that I find I'm handling the whole 24/25 hour contest thing better the more times I do it.

Marilyn's 24 Hour Playwriting Contest Tips

So, keeping in mind that I've never won one of these contests, here are a few things that I've discovered work well for me:
  • Healthy snacks. Yes, coffee and chocolate and candy can be great temporary boosts, but having a giant salad ready to go seems to be more of a real help.

  • No pre-planning before the contest. Actually, I suspect the people who win usually do the opposite of this, with a selection of characters and situations ready to go the moment they hear the themes. But I've had the most fun when I try not to think about what I'm going to write AT ALL until I hear those special, magic ingredients.

  • But "yes" to planning before you start writing. Typing too soon is the biggest mistake I've made in the past. This time, I worked all kinds of things out on paper and note cards before I even turned on the computer. This made me less likely to get distracted by incredibly brilliant dialogue that didn't fit with the final story.

  • Breaks are good for solving problems. A shower is especially useful.

  • Yes to sleep, at least a little. Complete exhaustion doesn't make for good story-decisions. Or any decisions for that matter.

  • Make sure the tools you're using are familiar to you, and good to go (see the Google Docs frustration mentioned above).
In the past when I've participated in this kind of contest I looked at it as an exercise and didn't do much else with the end result. Recently however a reworking of one script from a 24 hour contest was accepted for production this September!

I'll write more about that soon, but in general this already has me thinking about possible futures for this new script that didn't even exist as an idea a little over 25 hours ago.

One of these days, I'm going to give the 3 Day Novel Contest a go...