By hour two, Amy Schellenberg had her story idea. By hour seven, she knew how it would end.
Of course, that still left her 17 hours to write a suspense tale about a protagonist who killed her attacker but was now once again being pursued.
Spoiler alert: “She’s going to die,” said Schellenberg, who was wearing pyjamas and sitting hunched over her story in a darkened part of the L.V. Rogers library that on this night included sleeping bags, an elaborate blanket fort and the pecking of keyboards among the stacks of books.
Schellenberg was one of 25 students participating in the school’s annual 24-hour writing contest this month. The competition required students to write while being sequestered in the high school without phone or internet access.
LVR English teacher Kari Kroker said the contest originated eight years ago with an idea from Nelson librarian Anne DeGrace.
“Writing is pretty solitary, so it’s nice to have a community of writers,” said Kroker. “I don’t think kids have that opportunity as much as they would like, so we try to build that writing community here.”
The contest is popular at LVR. Kroker said there’s a wait list of eager wordsmiths, many of whom don’t understand the challenge they are signing up for.
“Staying up for 24 hours is really hard and I don’t recommend it,” said Kroker. “They tend to nod off on their computer. A few kids have hit the delete button while they are sleeping and erased their entire story. Every year someone loses their whole story and has to start again the next morning.”
Kroker also adds a number of twists to make the writing more than just a literary endurance race.
This year, students in grades 9 and 10 had to end their 1,000-word stories with the final line from Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, while Grade 11 to 12 students were required to write 1,500 words and conclude with the last sentence from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Selkirk College creative writing students then visited the school at 7 p.m. to provide editing suggestions. The LVR writers were surprised yet again later in the evening by another visitor who made them add in a specific object to their plots.
Once it’s all done, the stories are critiqued and a few are selected to be judged by local author Roz Nay. There are $100 prizes for first-place winners, and $50 for second place.
Jaime Lord, who teaches Grade 9-10 English, said she is always surprised by the quality of the finished stories.
“Every year, I’m just amazed at what they come up with,” she said. “They are beautiful stories, better than I could write myself. Sometimes I’m intimidated when I read their stories at the end because they are so thoughtful and insightful and beautiful.”
But at this point, Schellenberg wasn’t finished writing. A Selkirk student had advised her to cut down on a particular pronoun and to make her writing more direct.
At some point, she also needed to sleep.
“I’m tired,” she said. “There’s a lot more coming, so it’s going to be fun.”