Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Fall 2010 24-Hour Short Story Contest!

For the past six weeks, we’ve spent every spare moment judging the hundreds of entries submitted for the Fall 2010 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.

So, sit back, relax, and take a break from your busy day to indulge in the sights and smells of a brisk Fall evening…


He stood on his tiptoes at the small cabin’s rear window, staring out at the deepening dusk, sensing the excitement in the town’s air. The cold wind seeped through an old crack, tickling his chubby cheek, and a whirlwind of red and orange leaves made him laugh. The corn stalks rustled in the brisk breeze, waving to him. He waved back.

Behind him, Mommy was busy in the small kitchen and delicious smells wafted his way, making his tiny tummy grumble with glee. She was making lots of treats to tempt the town’s children. After all, she’d promised him a new brother or sister…

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

Here are our notes about common themes that emerged from the last

* The vast majority of stories were about a mother cooking up tempting treats designed to tempt/kidnap a neighborhood child.

* Many stories featured treats that would later be sold/displayed at a fair/festival.

* We received many Hansel and Gretel stories.

* Lots of moms in the stories were making oatmeal raisin cookies.

* Lots of dead fathers and many of them died in fires.

* Many stories included cabins getting burned.

* Most of the mothers in the stories were witches.

* We received a few stories about orphan trains.

* Several stories featured children who were homeschooled.

* Despite the rule specifying otherwise, we always get a handful of stories where a character is named Angela or Angie.

* Also despite the rule specifying otherwise, we always get several stories where the main character is a writer or a journalist of some sort.

* We always gets one or two stories about a writer who is suffering while participating in a short story contest.

As with all contests, some common themes come back again and again, no matter what the topic is. These include:

* We find out at the end that the entire story was just a movie/TV scene/play or we find out the first scene of the story (usually the topic itself) is from a movie/TV show/play.

* The reader finds out at the very end that the main character is actually dead (is a ghost or spirit of some sort), or that the main character has dementia. We always get several retirement home stories.

* The story is dramatic but you find out at the end that the characters are really children playing make-believe or that the main characters are actually animals, not people.

* A common fairy tale or other well-known tale is the basis of the story.

* Well-known fairy tale or cartoon characters are featured in the story.

* The story either starts with a dream or the reader finds out at the end that it was all a dream.

Links to the winning stories appear here:

The Winter, 2011 contest will be held in January.

Each contest is limited to 500 entrants and they usually fill up so don’t delay if you want to enter.

You can see the complete list of 85 prizes, and sign up, here: