Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Winter 2009 24-Hour Short Story Contest!

Over the past few months, I’ve been posting a missive about the common themes in entries submitted for the previous 24-Hour Short Story Contest. We 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 Winter 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 step into…a mysterious wedding scene?

The small wood stove kept the tiny chapel warm and their snowy footprints had already melted by the door. The dim light from the candle nubs played on the faces of the minister and his wife, and made the bride and groom’s shadows dance on the empty pews.

The minister’s monotone continued, “If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else for ever hold your peace.”

All four turned abruptly when they heard a cough by the door…

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 Winter ’09 24-Hour Short Story Contest:

* You wouldn’t BELIEVE how many people brought guns to that church! Lots of shootings of the groom, the bride, the preacher, the preacher’s wife, and even of the intruder. In fact, the grooms seemed to be the most pistol packin’ of the bunch.

* Several stories featured a girl being forced into marriage.

* As with every contest, you find out while reading that the characters were actually in a movie / TV Show / Reality TV Show. There was an unusually high number of soap opera episodes for this topic.

* As with every contest, despite my warning in the rules, there were lots of main characters who were writers and who were named Angela / Angie.

* As with every contest, you find out at the end it was all a dream…or it all starts out with a dream.

* Lots of jilted lovers showed up to interrupt the weddings

* Long lost lover who was believed dead shows up

* Lots of “forbidden” weddings because of mixed-race couples

* Lots of pregnant brides / shotgun weddings without the knowledge of Dad and Mom. As you can imagine, lots of dads interrupted the weddings.

* A few startled brides/grooms were alerted by the last-minute intruder that they were about to unknowingly marry their sibling. Too bad none of those were pregnant brides! Ha ha.

* We were pretty surprised how many people had a police officer, sheriff, FBI agent, etc. showing up to arrest someone in the wedding party (usually the groom)

* We were also surprised that, in so many stories, the coughing person simply coughed (is just ill) and then apologized for the interruption

* A few stories featured old folks who had “escaped” from a retirement home or hospital

* There were lots of vampires this time around

* As with every contest, some people made the topic part of a well-known fairy tale

* A few stories had an evil twin trading places with a good twin in an attempt to fool the bride-to-be. Of course, the good sibling shows up to save the day.

* A few stories had the bride/groom traveling through time to warn their younger self about what they were about to do.

* And, finally, lots of stories were titled “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace.”


The winners of the Winter 2009 24-Hour Short Story Contest have been posted! See the contest topic and the entire list of winners (and their prizes), and read the top three winning stories, here:

Congrats to the Top Three Winners!

1st Place – Desert Light by Eric Wallace, Boise ID

2nd Place – Same Time Next Year by Carol Bryant, Forty Fort, PA

3rd Place – A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words by Shelagh McNally, Pincourt, QB, Canada

The Spring 2009 contest is scheduled for April. You can enter that contest by registering here: