Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Fall, 2011 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, 2011 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, while also posting 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, today, feel the brisk fall breeze outside a cozy (or creepy?) cabin…


She was standing on the porch of a sagging cabin with bright yellow leaves collecting around her feet. As the cold wind billowed her skirt, she shivered and wondered if the owner of the purse really lived here. She knocked timidly and the door quickly opened, revealing a tiny girl holding a hideous, bald doll…

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 contest.

  • Several stories featured the child leaving the door open and the good samaritan following the child inside.
  • Many stories described the road to the cabin being narrow, muddy, and/or rutted.
  • Several purses were expensive, not matching the dilapidated cabin.
  • Many cabins were lit by candles or firelight.
  • Several characters stole money from the purse.
  • A few returned the purse, expecting or asking for a reward.
  • Many stories featured the purse coming alive.
  • Several good samaritans were made into dolls by the cabin’s owner.
  • A handful of stories were about 9-11.

Here is a list of common things found in the cabin:

  • cancer patient (the bald doll was an homage to the victim)
  • biological mother or child of good samaritan
  • kidnapped children
  • ghosts
  • witches
  • vampires
  • a terrible stench

* 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 and some of them are dealing with writing for a short story contest. Those stories are particularly disappointing because we see so many of them during each 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 or other senior citizen stories.

* The main character dies at the end, and is met by a loved one or an angel of some sort.

* 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 other well-known tale is the basis of the story.

* Well-known historical, fairy tale or cartoon character is featured in the story.

* The story either begins with a dream or you find out at the end that the story was all a dream.

Links to the winning stories appear HERE.

The Winter, 2012 contest will be held on January 21, 2012.

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.

Angela Hoy is the co-owner of and is the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, is: “As close to perfection as you’re going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I’ve ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can’t go wrong here. Plus, they’re selective and won’t publish any manuscript just because it’s accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors’ books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know.”


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