Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Fall 2008 24-Hour Short Story Contest! By Angela Hoy

After the Summer contest, I posted a missive about the common themes in entries submitted for the Summer 24-Hour Short Story Contest. We received lots of positive feedback so I’m doing it again this quarter.

For the past month, I’ve spent every spare moment judging the hundreds of entries submitted for the Fall 2008 24-Hour Short Story Contest. In case you’re not familiar with our quarterly contest, this is how it works. On the date of the contest, at start-time, we send out the topic for that specific contest to all registered entrants. We also post it online. Entrants then have 24 hours to write and submit their stories. The stories “must deal with the topic in some way to qualify” and they must not exceed the pre-assigned word count.

After reading the entries for each contest, we can see how difficult it is to come up with a unique plot when working with an assigned topic. But, inevitably, a few writers do manage to successfully break away from the pack.

Here was the topic for the Fall ’08 contest:


The cast iron pot was blackened and warped, but had provided years of delicious concoctions. Movement caught her eye through the cracked window. She turned her head, but saw only red, orange, yellow and brown leaves racing by in the fierce wind. She shivered as cold air leaked through the window’s cracks, and leaned down to stoke the fire.

Squinting at her recipe book, she scratched the mole on her nose. The fourth ingredient was always the hardest to find…


Before you continue reading, take a moment to consider where you would take that story…

Here are my notes about common themes that emerged from the Fall ’08 24-Hour Short Story Contest:

  • The most popular theme for this contest was the Salem witch trials
  • Several stories had a Hansel and Gretel theme
  • Lots of cannibalism…of children
  • Several stories had an “end of the world” theme
  • Numerous witches in stories were cooking up a concoction to make themselves more attractive or immortal
  • Lots of stories described witches brewing something to attract a man
  • A couple of stories featured actual moles (the mammal) that were the witches’ pets. Those were cute.
  • A few stories started out with scary witches chasing children, but ended with the reader learning it was a mom and her children pretending at Halloween
  • A common theme in many contests returned with this one as well – the main character is elderly and missing their dead loved one. The loved one returns to get them, with the main character dying at the end.
  • We always have a few recycled fairy tales (writers using old fairy tale characters in their stories)
  • A recurring theme in the contests is when the reader learns at the end that the main character is actually dead (is a ghost)
  • Another recurring theme in the contests is when readers learn at the end that the main character is actually participating in a movie/TV show/commercial/reality TV show
  • And, finally, more stories than we could count were named “The Fourth Ingredient”


The winners of the Fall 2008 24-Hour Short Story Contest have been posted! See the contest topic and the entire list of winners (and their prizes), and read the top three winning stories,


Congrats to the Top Three Winners!

1st Place – Trick or Treat by Gina Padilla, Waterford, MI

2nd Place – Bring Your Daughter to Work Day by Ann Kimbrough Pashak, Las Vegas, NV

3rd Place – Stew by Lucinda Gunnin, Carbondale, IL

The Winter 2009 contest is scheduled for January. You can enter that contest by registering here: