A Guide To Actually Completing A Contest Storygame

by Mystic_Warrior

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Today, I stand at the edge of the cliff, watching as the Pit of Shame feeds on more despondent souls. Though the atmosphere here is bleak, I can’t help but notice the new victor being crowned just a few strides away.  What a stark contrast there is between the celebrations and the captivities! Yet, there is still a shiver in my bones as I think about how close I was to being consumed by the darkness. Had I been just a few steps behind or even a second slower, wouldn’t I be on the other side of the border?

Therefore, I decided to write a guide for anyone who may need it. Having escaped the Pit of Shame six times now, I notice several patterns each time a contest occurs. They are written here, along with some observations and tips. It is my hope that this would somehow get to you, dear reader, and it would guide you out of the bottomless Pit.

To Join Or Not To Join?

It is, by no means, necessary to join every contest that appears on the forum. Some of you may prefer writing your storygames over the course of several months or a year, and that’s completely alright. However, contests do have their benefits: if you’re the type of person who is motivated by deadlines or just wants a way to earn some pointless points, contests could be rather useful. I, for one, cannot bring myself to complete a storygame without procrastinating unless I’m faced with the threat of being publicly named and shamed on the CYS Pit of Shame.

While there are no prerequisites required for joining a contest, here is a list of questions to ask yourself before joining. If your answer to every single question is ‘no’, I strongly suggest you steer clear of contests for a while.

  1. Have you read at least 1 high-ranked storygame on CYS?
  2. Have you used/ tested out the CYS editor before?
  3. Do you have any experience in writing?
  4. Do you know what a storygame is?

Chances are, most of you answered ‘yes’ to the above questions. Despite the aforementioned questions' usefulness in determining whether you are capable of writing a contest storygame, it does not leave much room for personal preferences. If you’re still contemplating whether or not you should join a contest, here are some questions to ask yourself.

  1. Would you realistically be able to set aside enough time for writing?
  2. Are you willing to write a whole storygame on this theme?
  3. Do you have any ideas for storygames you can write for this contest?
  4. Do you honestly want to join this contest?

Hopefully, you’ll now have a better idea of whether you ought to join an upcoming contest. But of course, if you want to enter a contest in spite of your answers or throw caution to the wind, by all means, do as you prefer. This is merely a guide, not an instruction manual. There is also the option of writing your storygame before entering the contest, although I'll advise you not to use that technique more than once.

The next segments would only be useful if you’ve decided to join the contest (or were forced by a mod to do so), so read on if you desire.

After Joining

While it may not seem like it, the first few days are crucial. Yes, it may be tempting to forget about the contest until a closer date, but if you truly want to do well, here are a few tips that could help.

The ‘Free Trial Run’ period
There are two points in every contest where my motivation levels are the highest—the beginning, and the end. The reason for the latter is obvious. As for the former? Thrilled by your brand-new plot concept and fuelled by the prospect of beating your competitors to pulp, you will have more than enough motivation to keep you going. Your fingers would frantically tap against the keyboard as you weave a web of words. Make the most of these inspired moments and use them to the best of your ability. After all, motivation isn’t always easy to come by.

Mini Deadlines
Another tip is to create a list of short deadlines. Most of the time, people scramble to the finish line with a rushed storygame at the last moment due to lack of self control and an uncontrollable urge to procrastinate. Try to avoid this if possible. If you're the type to outline, separate your story into segments: for a longer gauntlet/ bottleneck story, this could be aiming to complete chapter 1 by the second week; for a cave-of-time storygame, your goal could be finishing one of the main paths within the first month. By setting closer deadlines, you can track your progress easily and ensure that you’re writing consistently. If you can’t be sure you’ll keep them, ask CYS members to hold you accountable. Maybe even ask a mod to take your points away if you fail: I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to do so. (Now that I have the power to do so, if you'd like to, reach out to me and I'll steal your points if you don't reach your mini deadlines).

Write Consistently
You've probably heard this before, but this is perhaps the most important tip here. Don’t underestimate the power of forming a consistent writing habit. Even if all you can manage is one paragraph, one line, or even one word on a bad day, write it down. Think of this as a marathon where you’re trying to outrun the Pit of Shame. Though the Pit moves slowly, it gets closer everyday. The only way to win is to run. So, keep running. Some of us may take longer, more ambitious roads, and others prefer to sprint through shortcuts, yet the main goal we are all aiming towards is to not get swallowed whole. Therefore, take at least one step each day. That’s one step further from the Pit, and one step closer to a completed storygame.

The Halfway Mark

After some time, your interest in your storygame would begin to dwindle. Maybe you think that you’re ahead and therefore, you can allow yourself a long break. Stop that train of thought at once! Unless you’re busy, burnt out or really, really sure you can afford to take that break, it is not advisable to do so. A one-day rest would lead to two, and before you know it, weeks would slip by without a single word being added to your storygame. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. Keep going, even if it seems tiresome.

For every storygame I’ve written, I noticed a pattern somewhere around this halfway mark. There’s always bound to be a time when I’m so inextricably bored with my storygame that every line feels trite, every word seems uninspired. Maybe this stage might happen earlier than the halfway mark if you're spreading yourself too thin. At this point, I start to question myself: Was this story even good to begin with? Why am I putting myself through this torture when it’ll only lead to a incomprehensible vomit of words, not even fit to be called a storygame? Should I feed this utter garbage to readers and shred what’s left of my dignity?

At times like these, there are several things that keep me going and replenish my stock of motivation. I’ve written them here in the hopes that they may one day help you when you’ve reached this stage.

Take a break
Yes, I know I’ve made my stance on breaks rather clear. If you’ve truly begun to hate your storygame, however, I’m sure you’re beginning to feel a little burnt out. This fullfils one of the above requirements, so go take that break! Rest for a while—schedule a day or two where you do not spare a thought for your storygame—then return to it with fresh eyes. I’m sure that the original spark of excitement you get when reading the first few lines would be instilled in you once more.

Think of the worst-case scenarios
Back when I wrote Dreamtruder (that's how you can tell this article has been sitting in my drafts for a really long time), there were days where I considered giving up completely. I even started to dread my writing sessions. Thus, I begun to think of the worst possible things that could happen:

  1. I publish the storygame and it’s so detestable that I’m banished from this site, my storygame is deleted, and my passion for writing is vanquished once and for all.
  2. My storygame gets deleted and I’m forced to rewrite every single page.
  3. I publish a mediocre game but get the timezones mixed up, thus ending up in the Pit of Shame.

From this exercise, I realized that I didn’t really despise my storygame as I listed it being deleted as a worst-case scenario. I noticed the first scenario wasn't realistic either, while the third could easily be prevented. If you want to assess what’s stopping you from writing, it might be helpful to try this exercise.

Assess the competition
Some people are motivated by being better than others. If this is you, then use this tip to your advantage. Dedicate some time to scoping out the competition: look at their profiles, their points history, their published and unpublished storygames, etc. Then, decide on one of them (or more, if you’re extremely ambitious) to be your competition. If there’s a site member you particularly loathe, tell yourself that no matter what happens, you’ll be better than that person. Go work on your storygame to make that desire come true. Perhaps spite may work as a motivator. 

Remember why you joined
Did you enter the contest with the intention of finally finishing a storygame? Or did you join to prove to yourself that you are still capable of writing a 100k+ epic after taking an extended break from writing? (The latter was part of the reason why I wrote ‘A Haunted and Hunted Halloween’ for End Master’s Manifest Destiny contest). If you had a reason for joining, even if the reason was to get out of the Pit of Shame, then go forth and fulfill it! Be inspired by the very thing that inspired you at the start.

Read old reviews
Lastly, for those of you who begin to doubt yourselves, look back at old reviews. This tip is great for overcoming impostor syndrome. After you’ve read your own storygame for the thousandth time, it’s inevitable that your eyes will glaze over the text and every plot twist screams the word ‘predictable’. This doesn’t actually reflect the quality of your storygame. Maybe you need a pair of fresh eyes. Read old reviews to remind yourself that no matter what your fatigued mind says, you are capable of writing (unless you’ve only gotten bad feedback, which may say something about your abilities). Besides, this tip has the added positive of giving you the opportunity to look through writing advice you were given in the past, which can help as you write your contest entry.

The Final Week

If you have followed my advice and consistently added to your storygame throughout the previous weeks, you’ll be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy some popcorn as you watch your competitors panic. While most people would be stressing out and hitting their keyboards at random in the hopes that their game would complete itself, you would get to tie up the loose ends and finalize a few epilogues. Continue writing, make those last edits, and hit publish.

Oh, and don’t forget to play through it at least once if getting a contest trophy is something you yearn for.

Now, you may be one of those last minute scramblers, clicking on this article in a state of desperation. Even though I cannot offer you a miracle or any form of time-travelling device, I can offer you a few options. Like reading any storygame, make a choice and stick with it.

(Pro tip: if you have to resort to these techniques, start your story before the final day, as storygames cannot be published within 24 hours after being created).

Become a woodcutter
Unless you’re a newer member of CYS, you’ve probably already thought of this one. Eliminate some choices within your storygame and stick to a few endings. Remove some pages. Link different parts over to the same epilogue. The final product may not live up to your grand expectations, yet if you have sufficient material already written down, it is better to just publish it as it is. You can always go back and edit it once the contest is over (just remember to wait until judging is complete).

Speed-write some nonsense
This isn’t going to be good. Unless you have a hidden skill up your sleeve, for the most part, this tactic would result in you placing last and you’ll probably just squeak past the minimum expectations. Before you decide whether this choice is for you, answer this question: Which is more important, your reputation on CYS as a competent writer or not getting into the Pit of Shame? Your answer determines your next move. 

Search up for bits of old writing
This is probably the only ‘new’ advice that I could give you. It sounds a bit illegal since it goes against the purpose of contests, but I’ve secretly had this as a last resort whenever I join a contest. Although I’ve never had to do this before, I have old documents of abandoned WIPs and other pieces of writing that are sitting around and collecting dust. If you have an imagination, ingenuity and a willingness to bend the rules, choose a few of your favourite pre-written works and string them together to create a coherent story. Change names, settings and any other relevant details to fit what you’ve already written.

Bribe someone for a storygame
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. I won’t go into further details.

Give up
I truly hope that you wouldn’t pick this option because it means that, as the author of this guide, I’ve failed. Despite that, there may be times when giving up is the most reasonable option. If you choose this, I guess there’s no stopping you although I sincerely hope you’ve at least considered other alternatives.

The Deadline

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. At long last, the day for all contest entries to be submitted has arrived. The Pit of Shame is lurking at the door, consuming all who’ve succumbed to the ancient art known as ‘giving up’. Don’t let it take you away. We’ve lost too many to its dark abyss of despair.

Remember to actually click submit. Otherwise, all your hard work will have been in vain. Double-check the deadline well in advance and google up timezones if you happen to be in a different part of the world from the person hosting the contest. These would ensure you submit your entry before the time is up.

Once your storygame has been published, you can send a link in the contest thread to make it easier for the judges. Alternatively, you can ignore the previous line and shut off your device. It is quite a feat if you have finished a storygame, so take that well deserved break! You don’t even have to be busy or burnt out because you can now afford to rest.

As a final word of advice, perhaps it is better to resist the urge to read your storygame a last time if you’re cutting it really close to the deadline. Spending even a few additional minutes changing the spelling of one word could be the difference between submitting a valid contest entry and a late one.

I sit back in my chair, satisfied at last. It may be foolish to hope so soon, but now that I’ve written my guide, perhaps future casualties may be prevented. But alas, a new thought soon materializes in my mind. By helping my potential competitors avoid the Pit, wouldn’t that mean I would face more competition? Does this not decrease my chances of winning upcoming contests?

Nevertheless, it shall certainly be a while before the next contest arrives. I would have sufficient time to prepare my mind and refine my skill until then.