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

Over the past few months at I’ve been posting a missive 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 six weeks, we’ve spent every spare moment judging the hundreds of entries submitted for the Spring 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…watch death and greed collide.

He’d had a lifelong weakness for football, golf, and younger women but none of that mattered anymore. The vultures were just outside, already fighting over the best morsels. He hadn’t moved or spoken in weeks but, as she reached over to touch the thin vein slowly pulsating in his hand, his eyes flashed open and he said…

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 Spring 2010 24-Hour Short Story Contest:

  • We received lots of references to vampires.

  • Lots of men in the stories had a love for motorcycles.

  • Many writers referenced an uncomfortable bedside chair.

  • More stories than we can count mentioned Vegas.

  • 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.

  • If we have to read one more (fictional?) short story about a writer who is suffering while participating in a short story contest, we’re going to scream!

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 Summer contest is scheduled for July, 2010. Each contest is limited to 500 entrants and they usually fill up. You can see the complete list of 85 prizes, and sign up, here: