Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Summer 2009 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 month, I’ve spent every spare moment judging the hundreds of entries submitted for the Summer 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 come to the fair!

She was licking the cotton candy crystals from her fingertips when she felt the first raindrops. She joined the other visitors in racing for shelter as the drops turned into a summer afternoon torrent. She ducked into the nearest red-and-white striped tent, almost running into a woman with caked make-up and large rings on every finger. As the girl started to offer an apologetic smile, the woman looked up. Her wrinkled face registered instant recognition and she screamed, “It’s you!”

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 Summer ’09 24-Hour Short Story Contest:

* The child/woman who entered the tent was a long-lost child

* The woman was a long-lost mother/grandmother or another loved one who’d been separated from the family (or who’d left the family purposely for one reason or another)

* Most of the “psychics” appearing in the stories admitted, through their thoughts in the story, that they were frauds (saying what the customer wants to hear). Very few were actually really psychic. We thought that was interesting.

* “It’s You!” indicated the character in the story was a celebrity.

* Lots of car lots / car sales (indicated by the red and white tent)

There are common themes in almost every contest that popped up in this one as well. I’ll list them below:

* We find out at the end that the entire story was just a movie/TV scene.

* As with most contests, it either starts with a dream or the reader finds out at the end that it was all a dream.

* The reader finding out the main character is actually dead (is a ghost or spirit of some sort).

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

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

Links to the winning stories appear here:

The Fall contest is only three weeks away! It’s our most popular because it always has a crispy Fall theme. Each contest is limited to 500 entrants. The Fall contest always fills up so don’t delay if you want to participate. You can see the complete list of 85 prizes and sign up here: