Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Winter 2010 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 six weeks, we’ve spent every spare moment judging the hundreds of entries submitted for the Winter 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. Only registered entrants can submit stories and the contests usually fill up before “start time.” Entrants then have 24 hours to write and submit their stories by email. 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 rest from your busy day. Hey, are you feelin’ crafty?

From her lap, his shiny black eyes stared up at her as she admired his permanent red smile. Fingering his tiny overalls, she pictured the little ones’ faces, pressed against the icy windowpanes, waiting for her to arrive with another basket of her lifelike, homemade gifts. The last strand of hair was finally in place. As she gently inserted the needle to tie a knot, he lurched in her hand and a high-pitched voice said…

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 2010 24-Hour Short Story Contest:

  • We received lots of references to Santa and the North Pole.
  • Many of the women in the stories couldn’t have children.
  • There were lots of kidnappings by childless women.
  • There were also lots of evil dolls that took over the women’s lives.
  • Several stories featured the woman making the doll out of the parts of a dead human, or pretending the doll was a dead loved one.
  • There were countless severely mentally ill women, obsessively making dolls, talking to them, living with them, taking them places, etc.
  • There were several stories that mentioned Haiti or that took place in Haiti. When a major news event happens, it isn’t uncommon to receive several stories that mention it.
  • We had lots of witches and other twisted characters making voodoo dolls and fun things like that.
  • And, many of the dolls were souls of dead loved ones, brought back to life through the doll.

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.
  • 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. While one of the winners of this contest features a dead character, the reader knows up front she’s dead.
  • The story is dramatic but you find out at the end that the characters are really children playing make-believe.
  • 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.

Links to the winning stories appear here:

The Spring contest is scheduled for April, 2010. Each contest is limited to 500 entrants. You can see the complete list of 85 prizes and sign up here: