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

For the past six weeks, we’ve spent every spare moment judging the hundreds of entries submitted for the Summer 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…by being stuck in a stifling room with a hot iron.

The young girl pulled another pair of pants from the pile of laundry. Between the hot black iron and the fireplace, it was stifling in the small kitchen. The only relief she could hope for was a small breeze coming from the window overlooking the distant waves. Her arm started moving methodically once again and, just as she started to fantasize about a forbidden swim, the iron stopped at a bump in the pocket…

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.

* Most of the stories featured slaves, servants or prisoners.

* Many stories featured stones / rocks / shells, many of which were magical.

* Many pockets contained keys, most of those leading to freedom.

* Several characters were interrupted just as they were about to pull the object from the pocket.

* Many characters got burned by their irons.

* Several characters used the hot iron to injure/kill their captor.

* Lots of stories contained lighthouses.

* Many characters walked into the ocean to commit suicide.

* Lots of drownings.

* Lots of references to salt water burning the eyes.

* A few characters walked into the ocean and turned into a fish.

* 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.

* We always gets one or two stories about a writer who is suffering while participating in a short story 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 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 Fall contest is **THIS SATURDAY!**. The Fall competition, which is our most popular, always has a crispy, Fall theme and we announce the winners of that one before Halloween each year.

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: