Writing a novel in three days

How a writing competition generated a new series and kickstarted my writing

Each week on Story Cauldron I share some insights about storytelling or where you can find stories. This week I’m going to discuss a little about how I write my own stories, and how I plan to draft book 3 of The Favor Faeries series next weekend (Labor Day weekend) as part of a Three Day Novel competition.

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The insanity of an insane year

Last year, as the world remained firmly in the grip of the pandemic, a friend in my writing group said, “I’m going to do this Three Day Novel Contest. Does anyone want to join me?”

(Yes, Virginia, there really is such a contest, and yes, a bunch of us signed up for the contest that started four days later over Labor Day weekend.)

I’m not completely sure why I signed up. When I heard about it, I had zero ideas for a new novel and had been struggling to finish multiple projects.

Having done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where you write a 50K word novel in November) a bunch of times, I thought I had an inkling of what I was about to do.

But as I would discover, a 50K-word novel in 30 days is a very different thing than a 25K-word novella written in three days.

All I could think of was how writing a novel in three days sounded like an absolutely bonkers kind of challenge that would be perfect for an absolutely bonkers kind of year.

The Girl Behind the Camera

Before the contest, I’m not sure if I’d ever written more than about 3,000 words in a day. I honestly didn’t think it was even possible for me to write 5,000 words in a day. But to complete a full novella, I’d have to write about 7,000 words a day, give or take, to stay on track. What was I thinking?

Before the contest started, I needed a plan. My story needed to be lightweight and simple (I tend to overcomplicate plots) and I wanted to set it within the faerie world that I’ve been creating since about 2017.

Quickly, a rough concept developed: I’d tell the story of Jenny, a plus-size teenager in St. Louis who has to deal with a classmate who takes credit for her photos. Jenny goes to the Favor Faeries to make wishes to help her navigate her teenage problems, and her wishes are granted in ways she couldn’t have anticipated.

The contest began at midnight Saturday morning. I tried to get a good start by writing as much as I could after midnight. After some sleep, I was back at the computer after breakfast.

I won’t lie: writing so much in such a short amount of time is tough, and it’s easy to lose track of everything around you. I did take some breaks from time to time, and my writer group provided motivation and comradery via Zoom and the Marco Polo app, but that clock was ticking.

I managed to write over 10K on the first day (a new record for me), and a total of 26,000 words for the weekend. And somehow, I completed The Girl Behind the Camera before time ran out. I had just enough time to read through the novel and correct mistakes, and then I submitted it to the contest. And that was that.

For me, it was a huge accomplishment. I had never written so many words so quickly in my entire life. And it was the first novel I had completed since 2015 (all the way to “the end”), so it did a lot to boost my confidence.

Once I submitted it, I didn’t look at that novel again for a long time. Only after they announced the winners this summer (I wasn’t one of them) did I have the courage to re-read it. When I did review it, I discovered that I really liked it, and thought it had a lot of promise.

But what could I do with it? I was pondering my options when I discovered the new Amazon platform Kindle Vella. It seemed like a perfect home for it, so I decided to polish it up for publication there (I also published it as a serial here on Substack).

The Boy Who Can Taste Color

As soon as I finished The Girl Behind the Camera I knew it wouldn’t be a stand-alone story. The world and the characters were just too much fun!

For NaNoWriMo, I generated a draft of a full-length novel that follows Holden, the boy Jenny meets in the first book. Holden is tired of being bullied by his stepbrother Travis, so he goes to the Favor Faeries to solve his problem—and then Travis vanishes without a trace. That sends Jenny and Holden on a number of adventures to figure out what the Favor Faeries really are before the authorities blame Holden for his brother’s disappearance.

That book, The Boy Who Can Taste Color, will be available for paid subscribers to this Substack coming this fall.

The new three-day novel contest

Labor Day is rapidly approaching, and following the success of last year, I’ve carved out the weekend to do a bunch of writing. I’ve decided that book 3 will explore the fate of Holden’s annoying stepbrother Travis.

Tentatively titled The Boy Who Danced with Faeries, this story will be about Holden’s irresponsible stepbrother Travis in the faerie world, and Holden and Jenny’s efforts to rescue him.

But what happens to Travis when he’s with the faeries? That part is still a complete mystery to me.

What do you think? What would you do if you found yourself in the faerie world? Would you panic and try to escape, or would it be a grand adventure? Keep in mind, these faeries aren’t like Tinker Bell—some are friendly or helpful, but others can be downright nasty, and they’re all pranksters.

As I put an outline together, I’d love for you to help me brainstorm Travis’s time with the faeries. What mischief could a 20-year-old boy cause? If you have ideas—the crazier the better!—let me know in the comments.

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Thanks for joining me on my writing journey. If you’re interested in reading The Girl Behind the Camera, there’s still time! The story will conclude in a couple of weeks but will remain here on Substack for you to read at your leisure. I’m also considering making it available for download for the Kindle—let me know if that appeals to you!

Meanwhile, I will start publishing
The Boy Who Can Taste Color here beginning in October. To read these stories, subscribe now and you can get 20% off.

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