Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

Lucky Number 7: Seven Flash Fiction Contests for Fall!

FLASH FICTION IS FUN! Requiring the snap of poetry and the arc of narrative, it challenges us to home in on elements of voice and story that will benefit even longer-form writers’ work.

To learn a bit more about flash fiction, check out my Writing Short post, where you’ll find links to some excellent flash resources. Otherwise, just start flying your crafty little stories off to the following contests. May the micro force be with you!

Flash fiction contests (with deadlines)

1. October 1st: Stories Out of School Flash Fiction Contest, presented by the Academy for Teachers
This annual contest was created to inspire unsentimental stories about teachers and the complex world of schools. The story’s protagonist or narrator must be a K-12 teacher. Max 749 words. First-prize winner will receive $1000 and publication. The second-prize winner will receive $500.

2. October 15th: SMOKELONG QUARTERLY‘s Flash Fellowship

The SMOKELONG Flash Fellowship for Emerging Writers is an award and year-long virtual residency for new and emerging writers. The winner of the 2020 Fellowship will be considered a virtual “writer in residence” at SMOKELONG for four quarterly issues. The winner will also receive $1000.00.

3. October 31st: CRAFT‘s flash fiction contest
Judged by Benjamin Percy, three winners will be awarded $1000 each. (That’s a buck a word, since CRAFT’s word limit is 1000.)

4. November 2nd: Weird Christmas Flash Fiction Contest
350 word max. $50 first prize, $25 second prize. Stories should be weird or strange or odd: They can be “Haha!” weird or “Oh, Jesus, no!” weird. They can be genre weird or just off-kilter. They  must be related to any winter holiday (Christmas, Hannukha, Kwanza, solstice celebrations, etc.).

5. September 30th and December 31st: FLASH 500 Flash Fiction Competition
This quarterly open-themed competition has closing dates of September 30th and December 31st. The results will be announced within six weeks of each closing date and the three winning entries each quarter will be published on this website. Entry fee: £5 for one story, £8 for two stories. Prizes: £300, £200, £100

6. December 31st: FICTION SOUTHEAST‘s Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Prize
Though many writers have helped to shape the history of flash fiction, Ernest Hemingway’s first short-story collection, IN OUR TIME, easily makes him one of the form’s primary pioneers. For this reason, FICTION SOUTHEAST has chosen to honor his accomplishments through the Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Prize. Entries should be 1500 words or less. Entry fee is $10. All entries will be considered for publication in FICTION SOUTHEAST. Winner: $200 and publication.

Lucky Number 7. December 31st: RIVER STYX‘s Microfiction contest
500 words maximum. First, second, and third place winners will be published in Issue 104.

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The image of the Eight of Wands is from the ANNA.K TAROT,  published by Llewellyn Worldwide and used with Llewellyn’s kind permission.

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A Short (Enough) Story with a Literary Moral (and Horses)

ONCE, AT A HORSE SHOW, I watched a pair of judges assess the relative merits of a ring full of huge, glossy Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and other warm-blood hunter-types in a conformation class. Unlike most skill-based horse-show events, conformation ribbons are awarded to those animals who best meet the standards of excellence for the physical characteristics of their breed. (More like the Westminster Dog Show than a canine agility event, in other words.)

On that afternoon, almost hidden in the forest of sixteen- and seventeen-hand-high bay- and chestnut-colored hunters, a tiny, black-and-white Shetland pony arched its short, chunky pony neck. “How cute,” the spectator closest to me murmured, “but how disappointed its little owner will be. There’s no chance for her to get even a look-in with that sort of competition.”

And yet, twenty minutes later, it was exactly that “little owner,” a six-year old girl dressed in black and white to match her pony, who paraded her Shetland around the perimeter of the ring, blue ribbon oh-so-proudly affixed to its bridle.

No sentimental decision, the judges had weighed the equine contestants’ attributes fairly. The Shetland pony, small and unassuming as it seemed amidst the tall, regal company, was in fact a perfect specimen of its type and well-deserving of the win.

So … what about writing?

Recently, I judged a short story contest. In four days, I read fifty-one stories that spanned a myriad of genres. Not Thoroughbreds and Shetlands, but fantasy, suspense, sci-fi, romance, and contemporary/realistic—as well as a single picture-book entry.

As a whole, the stories were competently constructed and smooth-surfaced. No doubt, these were writers who had studied their craft.

Yet, as I read through the three-thousand-words-or-less stories, I noticed some failed to engage my interest because they lacked a distinctive voice. Some delivered a strong voice, but the stories were so predictable I could tell where they were headed before they’d even left the barn. And those that did find a fresh approach did not, for the most part, make it all the way around the course to create a satisfying narrative arc.

But the picture book?!

In a quick, bright voice, the PB writer created an engaging pair of characters—a grandmother and her six-year-old granddaughter—who found themselves in an exciting and unexpected muddle over the destruction of the grandmother’s Sunday-best real-human-hair wig. Together, the characters struggled, they lost, they struggled some more—and then they triumphed!

In less than five hundred words, the lone PB writer managed to incorporate three elements vital for the success of even the shortest of narrative forms: a distinctive voice, a fresh, unexpected story element, and a complete narrative arc.

While the other competitors’ stories—like those big, beautiful Thoroughbreds I admired so many years ago—might have had size on their side, might have boasted weightier topics or more sophisticated story structures than the unassuming little picture book, not one of them made it to the finish line with all of three of those important elements in place.

If this were a horse show, make no mistake, Grandma’s real-hair wig would be sporting a brand-new, bright blue, First Place ribbon the next time she hoisted it atop her head and tottered up the aisle to her favorite pew.

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This post was first published on a former blog, THOSE DARNED RUBY SLIPPERS, in which I wrote about the magic I saw around me—and about writing, a magical craft of its own.

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Tarot Writing Prompt: Character Chess

AS CHESS PLAYERS KNOW, figuring out a strategy takes time. You need to contemplate all your options—and anticipate, as best you can, what will happen as a result of each.

In this way, the Two of Wands is a bit of a chess player. A successful merchant, he is sitting pretty in his villa by the sea, examining the opportunities available to him and evaluating their risks. Since he’s so comfortable, any move he makes must offer enough potential return to make gambling what he’s got worthwhile.

Will he? Make the move? Take the risk?

He doesn’t have to. After examining his alternatives, the Two of Wands could happily turn his back on the possibilities and just retire to his pleasant villa, where, no doubt, a wonderful breakfast has been spread for his enjoyment.

Which is why he’s not actually a chess player. An actual chess player doesn’t have a choice. She has to make her first move, and then another, and another—until checkmate (or stalemate) occurs. In professional chess, there’s even a timer to push the players along. But there’s no timer for the Two of Wands. No real urgency to make a move. Because of this, he’s only banked embers, only stored potential—unless he acts.

So, what will that delicious breakfast cost him? If he turns his back on his opportunities, he may simply never know.

Tarot writing prompt

Put your character in a hard-earned sweet spot. Her life is just right. Describe it. Have her revel in it. Then (because if we’re not growing we’re dying), offer her an option, one that’s almost irresistible, but would require her to move out of her comfort zone. Let her equivocate. Evaluate. Then dial up the pressure. Ratchet up the stakes.

Write about two alternative outcomes:

1) She holds. (What does she lose by not taking the risk? And what cascade of events occur predicated on that loss?)
2) She leaps. (What pushed her to take a chance? And what happens—next and next and next—because she did?)

Novel-writing inspiration

For further ideas on why a character might hesitate to act, check out this blog post on reluctant heroes.

And, even more to the Two-of-Wands point, there’s a fabulous scene in the film STRANGER THAN FICTION, in which the Will Ferrell character locks himself in his apartment trying to avoid his story—a story that finds him, nonetheless.

For an example of high-stakes choice-making, (re-)read the Frank R. Stockton short story “The Lady, or the Tiger.”

You might also enjoy checking out some of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories!

Finally, because the evergreen Lewis Carroll should always have the last word, when possible, I present, for your further inspiration when dealing with dithering characters, “The Mock Turtle’s Song,” from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND.

“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail,
“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle – will you come and join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

“You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!”
But the snail replied “Too far, too far!” and gave a look askance —
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

“What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.
“There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The further off from England the nearer is to France —
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Two of Wands from the RIDER WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

 

Tarot Writing Prompt: Ace(s) Up Your Sleeve

TAROT ACES ARE CONCENTRATED UNITS OF PSYCHIC ROCKET FUEL! The Ace of Wands, for instance, blazes with a fire that impels action. The Ace of Cups drips with the sweet honey of love. The Ace of Swords slices swiftly to the truth, and the Ace of Pentacles fills our bags with the gold of family, health, and financial well being.

And then there’s flash fiction. This super-concentrated form of story-telling could easily be called the “Ace of Drama.” Typically between fifty and a thousand words (depending on your definition), flash fiction propels readers through dramatic situations at warp speed. To do so, it challenges its writers to create characters, setting, conflict, and some sort of resolution all within its super-tight framework.

Want to give this literary form of nitroglycerin a try? Check out the prompt below, inspired by my flash-fiction-writing tarot pal Bonnie Cehovet!

Tarot writing prompt

Pick a card, any card
First, choose your Ace.

If you chose the Ace of Wands, write a hundred-word action/adventure story.
If you chose the Ace of Cups, write a hundred-word romance.
If you chose the Ace of Swords, write a hundred-word story of double-dealing or deceit.
If you chose the Ace of Pentacles, write a hundred-word family drama (add an inheritance to the mix for extra credit!).

I’ll go first. I picked the Ace of Swords.

Thomas watched his brother’s fiancée from the perimeter of a dozen parties. Her gleaming hair. Her ridiculously long neck. The maw of her mouth issuing dark laughter. Whenever he got close enough, he wondered, was she laughing at him? He’d redden, unsure. Then his brother’s brakes failed. And his airbag. (Tragic, right?) When the fiancée was released, Thomas swooped in. Who better? She’d recover. They’d circle those same parties. They’d laugh. And, later, they would wrestle in sweaty pleasure, reviling their evening’s casualties. He woke from dreams of it, dark laughter in his mouth. If only she would stop crying.

My Swords-y idea was that Thomas tampered with his brother’s car. Is that clear? I dunno. Anyway, it’s a hundred words. So there’s that.

Flash fiction inspiration

Need more information or inspiration? Click on the links below for further guidelines and places to “flash” your short-short work.

FLASH FICTION ONLINE offers a ton of resources, from excellent examples, to how-to tips, to submission guidelines. Once you’ve tried this exercise, you might consider submitting the results to them!

NYC Midnight has an annual short story challenge that proceeds in heats: from a 2500-word story, to a 2000-word story, to a 1500-word story (aka, flash fiction!).

For more about writing flash fiction, check out this post: “Writing Short.” 

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Ace of Rods (aka Wands) from the MORGAN GREER TAROT

Thanks also to book shepherd Tia Levings—who placed third in her first heat this year!—for the 4-1-1 on NYC Midnight.

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