Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Spring, 2012 24-Hour Short Story Contest!

For the past six weeks, we’ve spent every spare moment judging the hundreds of entries submitted for the Spring, 2012 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, taste the salt on your lips and feel the sun baking your skin…


With blistered, salty skin and matted hair, they were down to their last sips of fresh water. A recreational day at sea had turned into a fight for continued existence. Slumped on the bow, searching for any hint of a breeze to soothe her burning face, her eyes widened when she noticed something fast approaching in the distance…

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

Here are our notes about common themes that emerged –

* Most of the boats ran out of gas.

* Many survivors were in rafts after their boat sank.

* Some boat trips were to save a marriage while some others were to end a marriage.

* Several stories featured characters taking boats out without permission.

* Many boaters were drunk.

* Several stories featured searches for gold or other treasure.

* Many characters were too dehydrated to talk.

* A few stories featured sea junk from the Japan tsunami.

* Most stories took place off the coast of Florida while several others mentioned the Bermuda Triangle.

* Common things approaching the survivor(s):

other boats/ships
pirates / drug runners
Coast Guard
helicopters / planes
rogue waves

* 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 a few 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 well-known tale is the basis of 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 Summer, 2012 contest will be held on July 14, 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:

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