SORROW Theme Short Story Contest Winners

Some interesting facts about this month’s winners for the SORROW theme in our anthology Expressions of Pain:

We received 47 short story entries for the Sorrow theme. Interestingly enough, the theme coming after this one – REGRET – we’ve only received about 22. Sorrow is stronger than regret, it seems.

Twelve stories were submitted where the lead character dies at the end. Three more stories were submitted where it seems the character might have died, but it was left open for the reader to decide if it really happened our not. There was a time when there was a rule: you can’t kill your lead character. So readers didn’t expect it, so the rare times it happened in a story, it was a surprise. It seems most novice writers now are thinking that killing off the lead character is new, novel, unexpected. But it isn’t, as evidenced by fifteen stories that all killed off the lead character. I’m not saying not to ever do it, but if you do it, don’t expect that it’s going to be unexpected or new and innovative as far as writing is concerned. If the death of the lead character is your only writing trick, you might not have a strong enough story to win a contest.

Now, there is one problem with killing off your main character that you need to consider. If you write the story in third person (he/she), you can kill off the lead character. If, however, you’re writing the story in first person–whether its past tense or present tense, you can’t kill the lead character who is telling the story. Four stories all were told in first person and all three ended with the narrator, the first person of the story, telling the story to the reader and then dying. It’s a real shame, because one of these stories was really well done, right up to that point that we realized the lead character was supposed to be dead. The problem with this type of story is: a dead person can’t tell a story in first person, present tense. A dead person can’t tell a story in past tense either, since they are dead. Now, I suppose you could put the person up in heaven, make them be a ghost, something like that, and they could still tell a story, but you cannot just normally have the lead character die at the end if the lead character is the one telling the story. The one exception might be if the story itself was a suicide note, but you’d have to do that really well to pull it off and make that suicide note not obviously a note at the beginning.

Avoid dead narrators.

Another thing that is starting to crop up in our stories again is one of my pet peeves.

Someone is thinking, the thought is properly put in italics like it should be, but then it’s tagged with: , she thought to herself. , I thought to myself. , he thought to himself.

There is no other way to think than to yourself. I read on an agent’s blog that this was one of their signs that a writer is inexperienced and doesn’t understand the aspect of word economy. There are others who don’t understand word economy either, so let me state it here: word economy means that you do not use any word that is not necessary in your writing. It’s tough sometimes to understand what ‘necessary’ means though. That doesn’t mean you take out all your descriptive and things that give you a voice and tone and style all your own, but it does mean that you remove things like, “she thought to herself” and make it simply “She thought”, since there is no other way to think than to yourself. Word economy is true also of overusing the words ‘the’ and ‘that’. Another one that I see frequently in the stories are people who say, “I also wanted to let you know that too.” – ‘too’ and ‘also’ essentially mean the same thing. The ‘too’ is simply unnecessary. When editing your works before submitting, be sure to edit with ‘word economy’ in mind, removing anything that is not necessary to tell your story, no matter how much you might like it.

Everything you write, every word, every sentence, must further your plot or develop your character or setting – if it doesn’t, kill it. I removed an entire amazing sex scene from my first novel, even though it was really hot and steamy and awesome, because it really didn’t do anything to further the story–which was/is not a romance, and wasn’t about the relationship between the two parties having sex. I’ve saved the scene. Someday, in another novel, it’ll be a good fit. It’s hard to cut things you love, but you have to do it for the sake of your stories.

Though I’m not complaining about this, I thought you all might find it very interesting that there were two very prominent themes for the stories for the SORROW theme: divorce & death of a child. When human beings think of sorrow, it seems these two themes are the most sorrowful for many people. Death of a partner/spouse was a close second to the other two, as was not being about to have a child and wanting one. It’s interesting to me that divorce seems more sorrowful than death.  Death in general was a very strong theme throughout all the entries.

The best line of any story came from Linda St. Cyr for: “Already the fog was thick as if God was chain smoking at a party.” It doesn’t get any more… uhm, vivid than that! I made me laugh too.

And the strangest thing of all is that two different stories from two different women used the word: salpingitis. I had never heard of this word prior to this contest. Go figure, huh?

Enough preaching now, let’s get to the contest results.

Horror Anthology offer to Jenny Corvette for her story, To Hurt. It needs just a bit of work to build up some suspense a little more, but it will make a fine addition to the horror anthology when it comes out. Congratulations, and more details will be coming to you via email in the next few weeks about the offer and contract.

DIGITAL DOWNLOADS:

Each of the authors below will receive a contract to sell their stories on our Twin Trinity Media Bookstore’s website and share in the royalties. Authors are under no obligation to accept a digital download offer, but after one year, all rights revert to the author and they will get the story full edited and prepared for selling on the website. Congratulations to the following authors:

The Rains, by Camden Eastman
Without Emma, Elizabeth Grace (would have placed, but the ending doesn’t feel finished–there’s more story here! We need a bit more closure on this one, but everything leading up to it was the makings of a really good story.)
Yesterday, by Robert L. Arend
Broken Hopes, by Linda St. Cyr
Don’t Leave Me, by Rose Gardener

Poems:

We received more poetry submissions for the sorrow them than we have ever received for any other theme! Because of that, some really good poems did not get to be included in this anthology. We had to narrow it down and it was hard–very hard–to do so. Those poems that did not make it, don’t despair yet, because they might still get an offer for our end of year poetry book collection. More details to come on that soon.

Oranges, by Carol Ayer
My Childhood Home, by Michelle Hacker
Loneliest Day, Saddest Hour, by W. Ned Livingston
Extinction, by Laurie Darroch-Meekis
Kindness Reborn, by Laurie Darroch-Meekis
Unexpected Days, by Lisa Lee Smith
Parting, by Lisa Less Smith
Skeleton at the Feast, by Lisa Lee Smith – all I can say about this one is: wow. It is one of the best poems I’ve read in awhile when it comes to the imagery and the use of words. Well done!
Words too Few, by Camden Eastman

SHORT STORIES:

Editor’s Choice:
Happily Ever After, by Rohit Rohan

This story, had it followed all the submission guidelines and had just a bit more proofreading, would have actually placed in the contest. With that said, it was a tragic and poignant story, with an ending that actually managed to surprise me and that rarely happens. Because if this, I am pleased to announce this story–one of love in a time when love was barely possible, with tragic, star-crossed lovers during Kristallnacht–as an editor’s choice. With a bit of editing work, this story is going to make a tragic, sorrowful addition to our anthology, Expressions of Pain.

Short Story Winners:

Angel Unaware, by Nancy Smith Gibson

Nancy does it again with a very unique and interesting take on the Sorrow theme. I really enjoy reading her ideas when it comes to stories, because, when many stories come in well-written and engaging, they usually follow a certain tone or theme to them that is common for human behavior. Nancy always finds a way to approach the thing differently from all our other stories. Good job, Nancy!

Thirty-eight, by Joan H. Young

I knew the first time Joan entered a contest of ours that it was just a matter of time until she was a winner. Her mechanics are better than average, and her stories have shown creative use of the theme. This time, she nailed it. Winking clocks… that’s all I’ll say. You’ll just have to buy a copy and read it to understand. 36, 37… 38.

At a Loss, by Lisa Lee Smith

A dog, coffee, a cool character’s name, and a writer who knows how to put them all together.  I’ve read many of Lisa’s poems, but haven’t had the chance to read much of her fiction writing. This is a well-told story that uses the theme in a way slightly different than the majority of the stories. That plus the quality of the writing scored this one high on the judge’s sheets.

A Knight’s Sorrow, by Cathy Graham

This story is the making of an excellent Lifetime movie! It has so much potential. I read the short story and liked it and it’s complete by itself, but I found myself wishing I knew more about these characters and their pasts that is only hinted at, which is actually appropriate for the story. A young woman sunken in her own sorrow meets a young homeless man on the street…. and you’ll have to buy the book to read the rest. BUT I really want to encourage Cathy to make a novel out of this one. It’s a love story, but not like any one I’ve ever read. Great job, Cathy!

A Lasting Connection, by Richard I. Prescott

This story is a short-short of right at 1000 words or so, which was too short to be a story in our contest — but it was written in an almost poetic style, very prose-y. So I decided it was good enough I couldn’t exclude it – so we’ll call it a poem and a story. It has good imagery and is very sad, yet touching too.

AND OUR FIRST PLACE WINNER, WHO WILL RECEIVE THE FIRST PLACE PRIZE, THEIR NAME ON THE COVER OF THE BOOK, AND A ROYALTY CONTRACT IS:

A Life Well Lived, by L.A. Porter

A newbie to our contests, L.A. Porter is definitely not new to writing. This poignant story of a mother’s love–or perhaps the lack thereof–and how it shaped her daughter, both as a child and as an adult, is sad, definitely sorrowful. However, as sad as it is, the story leaves a realistic hope for the future and a positive way of looking at something that could have been devastating. Having had an interesting relationship with my own mother, and having a good friend who has said his mother was an ‘adequate mother, but a lousy mom’, I saw those things in this story. I must not have been the only one, since three of the four judges choice this one as the top choice and the fourth judge chose it as a tie!

Congratulations!

To all the writers, I want to thank you for entering and allowing us to read your stories. I am honored every time I open a story to read it that so many wonderful writers entrust their important words to our little contest here. Expressions of Pain kicks off with some awesome stories and poems.

Keep writing, everyone!

Love and stuff,
Michy