Quick — you have to write a novel in three days. What do you do? What do you do? Jennifer K. Chung knows: She wrote her novel Terroryaki! for the 3-Day Novel Contest that takes place each year — and won the contest. Along the way Chung learned what writing under intense pressure can do to your story (and to your brain). What does it do? And what does it mean for the tale you’re trying to tell? Come find out!
The International 3-Day Novel Contest has been called many things, and it probably deserves all of them — “bizarre”, “the world’s most notorious literary marathon”, “a fad”. Held annually over Labor Day weekend, it’s exactly what it sounds like — you write a novel in three days. It’s like National Novel Writing Month, without the month.
Going into the weekend, I knew two things: I wanted to write about family, and I wanted to write about chicken teriyaki.
Coming out of the weekend, I learned that three days and no outline may produce unexpected results.
Chicken teriyaki is near-ubiquitous in Seattle. It’s still got nothing on coffee, but there’s more teriyaki than Italian. There’s more teriyaki than seafood. There’s more teriyaki than sushi. In Seattle, chicken teriyaki is unavoidable, but few people have written about it. Yet, its omnipresence can make one… obsessive. Noticing. Wondering, “How can that intersection possibly support three teriyaki joints?” They’re as bad as Starbuckses.
Minor detail: I’m a vegetarian. Perhaps it’s its forbidden nature that consumed me. So I puked it out of my system — I wrote a character who could obsess about chicken teriyaki on my behalf. Teriyaki by proxy, I suppose.
She’s a sister with a sister, like me. It’s a relationship I know quite well, though we’re on opposite sides of the dynamic (Daisy is a younger sister; I’m an older sister). I’ve lived with my own sister for most of my life, and I wanted Daisy to feel that mixture of affection and baggage that you get from growing up with someone so closely.
She’s Taiwanese-American, like me. She didn’t have to be, but it made the family easier — not because Daisy’s parents are my parents, nor Daisy’s sister my sister, but so I could start with a cultural baseline for experiences. Besides, it’s not like the literary world has a glut of Taiwanese-American protagonists.
She’s obsessive (like me..?). When she’s not slinging chicken at her part-time teriyaki gig, Daisy is on the lookout for new restaurants to try. Daisy’s eaten at most of the teriyaki joints in Seattle, and she has an opinion on every single one. She’s a teriyaki specialist with a blog full of detailed restaurant reviews. After a chance meeting in a suburban parking lot, Daisy is obsessed with finding a certain teriyaki truck — a ghostly truck, operated by a cursed soul. Think the Flying Dutchman, except he’s running a Seattle food truck staffed by the damned. It’s not so outlandish; food trucks are gaining traction in the city, and everyone knows Jesus Christ made Seattle under protest (as the street mnemonic goes).
Okay, maybe a little outlandish. Daisy reacts the only way she can, the same way any other young female slacker would — by asking out loud, “Is this guy for real?” And, of course, by trying to visit the truck enough times to write a thorough review.
Sometime during the contest, I also discovered a plot about Daisy’s sister getting married — much to my chagrin. I’m an unmarried, ambitious, thirtysomething woman, and that wasn’t the story I’d meant to write. Still, it kept the sisters busy when they weren’t chasing down a damned (but tasty) food truck which had been forsaken by God, and it let me explore the family relationships further. So it goes.
But let this be a lesson about writing freely under intense pressure — you might be dismayed by what you find. Or maybe you’ll just make yourself hungry.
Learn more about the 3-Day Novel Contest.