Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Summer 2011 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, 2011 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, today, join two newlyweds embraced on the beach, and learn what he’s been keeping from her…


Strong waves pounded the dark sand just a few yards away. Hidden by beach grass, they embraced, relieved to finally escape their wedding guests. His poetic whispers suddenly ceased as he leaned back, and said, “There’s something I need to tell you…”

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.

* The titles of many stories were lines from traditional wedding vows (“Til Death Do Us Part”, “For Better or Worse”, etc.).

* The most common theme featured the man revealing he was a lottery winner.

* Like large wedding announcements in newspapers, many stories went into too much deetail in describing the wedding details (the dress, the food), which took away from the story itself.

* Lots of stories featured drunk brides, grooms, and/or wedding guests.

* Many couples were having s_x in the sand.

* Several stories detailed the bride’s stream of thoughts after the groom said, “There’s something I have to tell you.”

* In many stories, the bride stops the groom from telling her his secret because it might ruin her wedding day.

* More common “secrets” grooms told their brides in the stories:

– He’s an alien
– Past affairs
– Having an affair with the mother of the bride
– Does not want children
– Has previously undisclosed children
– Has a terminal illness
– He’s a murderer / professional killer / spy / terrorist
– He’s a millionaire
– He’s a werewolf/vampire/zombie
– The bride has food stuck in her teeth

* Some entrants switched the stories up and had the bride telling the groom a secret. Two common themes along those lines were: She pads her bra She has tattoos

* 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 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.

* Well-known historical, fairy tale or cartoon character is featured in the story.

* You find out at the end that the story was all a dream.

Links to the winning stories appear here.

The Fall, 2011 contest will be held on September 10, 2011.

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.