Topic, Common Themes, and Winners of the Winter 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 Winter, 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, put on your footie pajamas…and step outside.


The feet of her pajamas offered no protection as she trudged through the deep drifts. She had been crying throughout her ordeal and, when she lowered her head for protection from the wind, she almost missed a light piercing through the trees. As she instinctively turned in that direction, she heard a train whistle…

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.

Many stories mentioned frozen tears, Christmas, and/or frostbite. We were pleased that some writers did adequate research to describe the symptoms as well.

Other common themes included:

  • SPLATS! (Lots of characters got hit by trains.)

  • The train was a tool for running away.

  • Many characters were trying to either beat the train or catch the train.

  • More stories than we could count had trains taking Jewish victims to concentration camps, or other similar WWII and/or Holocaust themes.

  • There were lots of train wreck stories.

  • Many of the fleeing characters were victims of abuse and/or assault.

  • Lots of characters were forced out into the cold because of a home break-in or a car accident.

  • 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 were 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 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 Spring, 2011 contest will be held on April 30, 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:


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