When one of our writing meetup members—I’ll call him Rafe*—mentioned that he was planning to participate in an Ink & Blood writing duel, my first question was “what’s that?” followed closely by my second: “why would you ever do it?”
Answer the First: Ink & Blood/Chicago holds writing duels at G-Mart Comic Books on the third Saturday of most—if not all—months. Writers are paired off and given a writing prompt and ten minutes to write something based on it. At the end, the winner is decided by audience vote. Heckling, Rafe said, is encouraged.
Answer the Second: Why, I asked Rafe, would anyone volunteer to write something off the top of their heads in front of other people, only to be heckled? And how does the “loser” feel once the winner is declared? He shrugged. “It’s a good exercise.” He’d done it before, and had not been declared the winner; he still planned to do it again. I decided I had to see this for myself.
BK keeps one eye on the TV schedule during college football season (the Vols were on TV the night of October 18), so I begged Cookie to go with me. As she’s the definition of a good sport, she not only agreed, she drove. The duels started at 8 p.m. There were costumes (because, you know, October). There were also masks. I got the impression there might be masks even if it wasn’t October. Writers were identified by such catchy monikers as Writer A, Writer B, Writer C, etc.
There was also beer, which was pretty much free, though they did accept contributions for it. I’ve discovered a stout I like: New Holland Brewing Company’s Oatmeal Stout. But that’s beside the point. The point is: writing duels. You’re still wondering how they work.
Two writers sat at laptops behind a large screen so the audience couldn’t see them. In front of this masking screen were two monitors, each linked to one of the writers’ laptops. Also in front of the screen stood the evening’s emcee. The emcee’s job was to get the audience riled up and to elicit writing prompts from the crowd. It being the Halloween-themed event, there were many prompts along the lines of blood and graveyards and ghosts. The emcee would choose one, and the writing would commence.
Three preliminary match-ups ran, after which we drank (more) beer and voted for the writers we wanted to see in the final round. Then there was a costume contest. The winner was ghost in a white tuxedo and top hat, wearing a monocle. (S)he looked fabulous!
One of the writers who made it to the final round had written a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style narrative in the first round, which simply begged for audience response. Great tactic. The other writer did an excellent job sticking to the topic and finished her writing with a flourish which tied everything together in a satisfying way.
For this final round, each writer ran true to form. The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure writer wrote in that style again, while the other writer went for unity and stuck the landing.
The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style was fun, but when the same writer did it again, it felt gimmicky to me. If the second writer had a gimmick, it was artistic unity. I always like that, so she got my vote. I know this writer was a woman because in the end she won and came out front to claim her accolades. All the writers were good, though. She might have been the named winner, but I wouldn’t call any of the others losers.
On the topic of heckling
When Rafe first described the event, I told him I couldn’t imagine participating in a writer’s duel on account of the heckling. He said it didn’t bother him and afterwards I understood why. The audience behavior didn’t seem exactly like heckling. It was more like egging the writers on and offering “helpful” suggestions, like “don’t correct your typos!”
The advice not to correct typos came in particularly handy in one instance. The writer had one character offer another character a cup of cider and then wrote that there was a strange odder coming from the cup.
A few people called out variations of “don’t drink the cider!” (assuming the writer meant odor rather than odder), but some more ironic audience members said things like “What kind of otter? River or sea? That must be one big cup of cider, if it’ll hold an otter!”
The writer used these comments to advantage, explaining in subsequent paragraphs that the creature in the cup was a miniature sea otter, and so adorable that many people preferred to call it an “awwwder.”
I can now see how heckling, if you’d call it that, could energize a writer. I’m thinking of giving writers’ duels a try. After November. Because as we all know, November is National Writing Month, and I’m woefully underprepared.
However, events like Ink & Blood duels have really pumped some writing energy into me lately. I’m definitely writing more than I have for a while.
I’ll talk about my other writing energy boosts in upcoming posts. We’ll need that because, you know. November.