Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Spring 2009 24-Hour Short Story Contest

Over the past few months, after each quarterly short story contest, I’ve been posting missives about the common themes in entries submitted for the previous 24-Hour Short Story Contest. We’ve received lots of positive feedback so I’ll continue to do this for future contests.

For the past month, I’ve spent every spare moment judging the hundreds of entries submitted for the Spring 2009 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, take a rest from your busy day. Sit back, relax, and step into…a serene Spring garden.


“Silly Scilla, silly Scilla,” the young girl sang, as she pushed another tiny blue flower into her hair. She knew she would have to remove these adornments before they returned to the house. When Mamm gently cleared her throat, the girl remembered the tiny celery seeds that had been spilling out of her apron all morning.

She sighed and settled down in an empty row, digging her bare toes into the cool soil. She froze when her foot bumped something hard. Scooping the dirt aside with her fingers, she found a tiny, tattered purse. Glancing at her mother to ensure her secret treasure was still a secret, she opened the clasp…


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 Spring ’09 24-Hour Short Story Contest:

* Lots of stories had a genie popping out of the purse, and granting the child three wishes.

* I couldn’t even count how many of the stories revealed a dead body buried near the purse.

* While the “Scilla” in the topic, in my mind, was the tiny blue Spring flower, Scilla, most of the main characters ended up with the name Scilla, Priscilla, Cecilia or something very similar. Of course, there was nothing wrong with that but it was fun to see who or what Scilla revealed herself/itself as in the stories!

* As in most contests, some stories end with the reader finding out the main character is dead (is a ghost or spirit of some sort).

* As with many contests, many stories started with a dream sequence, or the reader finds out at the end that it was all a dream.

* Because of one particular line in the topic, lots of stories featured an abusive father at home.

* In several stories, the dead person in the garden is someone the parent or another character killed and hid.

* The most common items found in the purse were money (which often saved the day for the poor family), a ring, a locket, a faded photograph, magic seeds, and, oddly enough, a small creature, like a gnome.

* As in most contests, the story is dramatic but you find out at the end that the characters are really children playing make-believe.

* Several child characters actually entered the purse, immersing themselves in a miniature, magical world.

* In a few of the stories, the child finds out from the contents of the purse that she’s adopted or that her “parents” aren’t really her biological parents.

* As with most contests, several characters had dementia and/or are elderly and being cared for by others.

* Many stories had a note in the purse from a dead or missing person.

* As with most contests, some writers used a common fairy tale as the basis of their story.

* Several purses were drawstring pouches. There were also a few treasure boxes.

* There were quite a few slave stories but one stood out and ended up winning second place!

* And, in a few stories, the reader learns the purse was purposely hidden by a loved one for the girl to find.

Links to the winning stories appear here:

The Summer ’09 contest is open for entrants. See entry information and a list of the prizes here: