The Winner of The First Annual John Shore 10-Word Short Story Contest


First of all, let me just say that if you submitted a story to our contest, you are a winner. Yes, your story not winning means that technically you’re a loser. But just the fact that you entered at all means that you’re someone who is entirely confident they can count to ten. Not everyone can say that about themselves. A lot of people get stuck around six. I myself couldn’t count past eight until I was thirty-two. Even now I have to get naked to count past twenty.

Oh, sure—usually you like it when I’m funny! But I see how it is now. Fine. That’s just fine. I’ll just stop being entertaining. No problem.

Princess had to choose. Frankly, she knew the dragon better.

Submitted by the person who runs this blog here, that’s the story that I and my co-judge, the famous, bestselling, Oprah-ordained novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard, knew pretty much right away was our winner. We both loved it. It’s got … well, everything.

If you scrolled through the submitted stories, you know we had a lot of stories that could have won. I’ll paste below the list of Honorable Mentionables, any one of which could have been chosen winner. Seriously: one’s better than the next. They’re extraordinary.

If you read through the stories, you’ll know I’m not lying when I say I was amazed by their quality. So many were soooooo good.

You know what, though? You wouldn’t believe how many of the stories were, like, one punctuation mark, or one simple tense choice away, from being good enough to win. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to change out a semicolon for a period (or visa-versa), or alter the tense of one verb, or drop one comma. So many of the stories were one little thing like that away from at the very least making the list below. It was pretty agonizing sometimes.

Person who won: I’ll be emailing you. Congratulations!

If your submission didn’t win or make the list below, and you’d like to know why, I’ll be happy to share with you my thinking on the matter. In a comment box to this post, list up to five of your submissions that you’d like (publicly) critiqued. Number them so it’s easier for me to refer back to each one, and I’ll get all editor on your … computer screen.

A hearty and deeply felt thanks to everyone who submitted, read the entries, or in any way encouraged this contest along. I had a surprisingly great time with it. We’ll do it again next year.

Here are this year’s Could Have Won Ones. These are just … perfect.

“No antidote?”


“How long?”

“An hour.”

“Pray with me?”

A real pony? That pickle was magic! Thanks, Miss O’Magicalnannywhoewardsgoodlittlechildrenwiththeirheartsdesire!”

So, there is an upside to a nuclear holocaust.

And that’s when she realized her husband was gay.

She required a head with long flowing hair.

It was a dark and stormy night. I stayed inside.

He embraced her. Kissed her. Buzzards gathered.

Trapped by the avalanche, I finally rued bringing the trombone.

By the third take, the TV preacher wept convincingly.

Stumbling on the village of pygmies, I plotted my revenge.

In the blizzard, Rudolf regretted his plastic surgery.

Having finished his opus, Herbert realized he had no friends.

After much deliberation, he decided he would become a nun.

With the mime lying dead, Beatrice thought: “Not again.”

Once, at church, Dad cried; my eight-year reality shifted.

The girl known as Pinky began dancing to the uilleann pipes.

Martin was so shocked he dropped his martini overboard.

Foster lived in the attic with his iguana and ferret.

Beatrice’s murder spree began with a clear goal: Olympic gold!

The jury convicted Mother. Now I’m free to kill again.

The alien in my belly returned to the unknown.

She lifted her suitcase, dropped the burning match, and left.






"The whole thing about wives submitting to husbands opens the door for these kind of ..."

Why Pastors Struggle With Confronting Domestic ..."
"I have a stupid question for you:If you are asking someone else what to say ..."

What should I tell my child ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Liz

    I can't believe how much I wanted to win 🙂 But I made it to "the list" – yaaaaay!!!!! Am very honored.

    Here is the thing though. I went over to the winner's blog. While reading through one of the posts I had an epiphany. So I guess I won too 🙂

    What can I say, until next the contest John Shore!

  • My deviated septum was better than all of these (at least to me)

    I don't get the winner. Guess I'm too dense.

  • Brian: Your entry was: "The jasmine scent disappeared when George's fist deviated my septum." You didn't ask, but the reason I bounced it was it was because it's too easy to at least initially intuit that it was about a man beating a woman. Appreciating the scent of jasmine feels like a female sensibility. So … I can't have as a winner a story about a man breaking a woman's nose. Or anyone breaking anyone's nose, really. Too … harsh.

  • John… you're projecting here. This had nothing to do with a woman. The piece took you on a journey from appreciating something delicate (men can appreciate delicate things, you know) to losing that ability because of an act of violence. If violence wasn't allowed in your contest, that should have been in the rules, it seems to me.

    I still think the winning line only makes sense if read in the context her other five entries. Which makes it a 60 word story, not a ten word one.

    But like I said, your contest, your rules, your result.

  • Latoya

    I thought the choices were great! When i had read the winning one when the contest was going on I laughed. I find it hilarious. Dont know how you made these choices though, it must have been VERY hard

  • Brian: Yes, as you say, it wasn't clear whether the jasmine-sniffer is a man or a woman. That means there's a 50% chance it IS a woman. Throw in the jasmine appreciation, and for 99% of readers, that mystery person just became a woman. But ignoring that—that it DOES read as if a man just smashed a woman in the nose—as much as anything it's the fact that we don't KNOW whether it's a man or woman who got punched that kills this "story." You can't leave ambiguous something so huge to the narrative, so necessary for the story to instantly come alive in the imagination of your reader. You can't be so detailed about the violence, yet so vague about who it's actually happening to. Right? That can't work for people, if you see why.

  • Darn! As far as I can tell, I didn't even make the list. But I'm sure if brian's was that not okay- mine fell into the same category. I haven't read the winner's other sentences- but it made perfect sense to me as a stand alone 10 words. Not sure I'd go so far to say it's the best- but I do like it alot over some of the entries. I didn't even see it as an entry.

    Congratulations to the winner! John… what's the next contest?

  • "deviated MY septum"

    The jasmine sniffer is me. It reads as if someone punched me in the nose. If you think there's a 50-50 chance I'm a woman… well…

    And getting punched in the nose (the pov is from the victim, not from a gloating attacker) is clearly much harsher than murder sprees, nuclear holocaust, and the unjust conviction of Mother. Right.

    BTW, I think the Mother was convicted of murder was clearly one of the best entries and I wouldn't be disappointed to be ignored if that had won. But something vague about knowing dragons that again only makes sense if you've read the other four posts about the same dragon doesn't make any sense to me. Not that it needs to. Your contest, your capricious rules.

  • Brian: Okay, well, of course, there was no way for us to know this was an AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL anecdote.


    And for what it's worth, please do recall that I wasn't the only judge. It wasn't my "capricious" rules. I judged in tandem with one of our country's most celebrated novelists. When I submitted the stories to Jackie, I had two or three favorites in my mind—one of which is the current winner. With zero input from me that's the one Jackie immediately declared her favorite. Done.

    Relax, now. It's art. Art is subjective. While clearly identifying the attacker, you failed to identify the gender of his victim, and the violence you described had a personal, intimate immediacy to it not present in the other stories you referenced. You don't have to agree that those two reasons are enough for your story not to make the final cut, but I'm hopeful that at least you can respect them as legitimate. At least you know I have reasons—that I wasn't, in fact, just being capricious. You know me better than that. Like them or not, those are real reasons.

  • Don't take it personally Brian- we just write harsher stuff. Doesn't mean that it's not good (it's damned good) just means our niches aren't as popular or sought after than children- fantasy things. Lots of writers have this problem.

  • Using 10% of my allotted words to include the word "my" didn't tip you off that it was an autobiographical anecdote? I still think the presumption that a male author using the first person means the narrator is male makes the most sense. In 10 words, you don't have the space to be as specific as what you're apparently requiring.

    I am relaxed. Just saying, your stated reason for rejecting my entry out of hand doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. I'm not complaining because I didn't win. I didn't expect to win, having submitted only one entry.

    So I what I'm saying is the opposite of what you're allegedly hopeful about… I don't mind that I didn't make the cut but I do not think your reasons for culling it are legitimate.

    And I disagree with the subjective decision you made. But that's neither here nor there.

  • Liz

    I also found the Stockholm syndrome the same person submitted funny.

    "Princess had to choose. Dragon smirked. Yeah, Stockholm Syndrome"

  • Liz: Yeah, I liked that one! You know what? If she had left out that "Yeah," it would have made the HM list.

  • Brian: Sigh. "My" indicates that it's a narrative done in the first-person voice. It's no indicator whatsoever of the GENDER of the narrator.

    But … what's with the nastiness? Why would you take follow my profession that I'm hopeful you can at least respect my reasoning on this matter with a stab about me being "allegedly" hopeful? If I tell you I'm hopeful (which was a nice, respectful thing to say to you), then I'm hopeful. Why the snarky personal jab?

    And maybe you could stop with the emails you're sending me on the side, where you're further excoriating me?

    Dude. You have got to relax about this. You're one of my best e-friends! I'm sorry you didn't win or place. I'll be happy to mail you a copy of my book, if that would help. But you can't be that serious about this. I mean … I guess you are. But … yikes, dude. You're a creative person. Caring that much about this just doesn't seem … well, reasonable.

  • Okay John, I apologize if you think I'm being nasty. And you're right, it's not worth the aggravation. And I was sending you e-mails so that you could know my point of view without filling up your comments section with my opinions.

    So here's my bottom line.

    If only I had known that it was the "50 Word Essay made up of Five 10-Word Sentences Contest", we could have avoided all of this confusion. Because in four other sentences it would have been clear to you the gender of the players, the motivation for the attack, and much more.

    Personally I think the winner should have been eliminated for submitting five sentences at the same time on the same subject. Obviously there's no confusion about the gender of the dragon or what choice the narrator is making by knowing the dragon because there's an essay of context. I was eliminated for following the spirit of the rules. That does seem capricious to me.

    It's not about my not winning or getting a book. It's about rewarding someone who cheated (my perception, at least) or penalizing someone who played by the spirit of the rules.

    But like I said, it's your contest and your rules and I still value our e-friendship.

  • I thought the winning entry was very good. It made me laugh. And thanks for the honorable mention. It was a fun contest. I rewrote my ten words many times. It was challenging to try to get a plot of any kind across in so few words. I remember thinking "cool" the first time I read the Baby Shoes story.

  • Wow. This was actually quite a surprise. Thanks so much for enjoying my abbreviated fairy tale.

    My different versions of the common fairy tale were submitted in the spirit of playfulness and fun; they were never meant to offend anyone. I am glad that they brought laughs to some.

    Brian: Sorry that you feel that you have been slighted. In all honesty, I wrote them for the fun of writing them.

  • Skin Horse: Congratulations on the win. My complaints are not personal towards you. But you said it, you wrote "them". I wrote "it" because I thought the rules called for an "it", not a "them." Obviously I was wrong.

  • Janelle: which one did you write?

    Brian: I love you, but "I apologize if you think I'm being nasty," is not even close to an apology. You either WERE being nasty, or you weren't. If you were, apologize for that. If you weren't, then don't apologize at all. But the ever-typical "I'm sorry if you think I acted badly" is just … useless as an apology.

    But the point is: You love me, and I'm awesome. I think those are two things we can both agree on.

    Hey, and QUIT ACTING LIKE THE WINNING "STORY" DOESN'T STAND ON ITS OWN. I have no concept of it existing in relationship to anything else. That's not how I read it; that's not how it was presented. Lots of people submitted many stories at once. This girl did, too. But I only ever understood each of her submissions in the same way she presented them, which was autonomous from anything else. And Jackie hadn't even SEEN the others that writer submitted at the same time she chose the winner as her favorite. Okay? SO STOP SAYING THE WINNER IS ONLY PART OF A COLLECTION. It's not. It stands alone. That's how it was read, understood, processed and judged. That's it. Alone. By itself. Unconnected. Autonomous. Discrete. I forgot about her other entries as I moved this one into contention—because I never understood them as connected at all. And JACKIE NEVER CONSIDERED AT ALL THE OTHER STORIES THE WINNING WRITER SUBMITTED. Okay, already? Dang, due. Gimme a little credit.

  • John:

    I love you and you're awesome. You're wrong about the way this contest was conducted but still lovable and awesome. So I will just leave it at that.

  • Brian: I believe that they can all stand alone given the common fairy tale; everyone has a context for the Princess and the Knight and the Dragon without additional information. None of the entries actually make sense as a larger story. I can understand why you would not think that they are separate entities, but all were designed to be independent statements. I had decided before composing the sentences that whatever submissions I was planning on making would all be submitted at once.

  • Thanks for the props, John.

    My last comment was being written as others were apparently. I think we can let this one rest now.

  • Brian: Okay, I'm going to let slide your assertion that I'm "wrong" about the way my own contest was conducted. Apparently my sharing with you ever last detail of my reasoning relative to every last one of your accusations and complaints left you feeling, still, that I'm simply "wrong."

    So. Okay. Enough. (Sorry the rest of you all had to sit through this. Win a few, few a few, as they say….)

    (On a happier note, this morning I finished work on this editing/ghosting job I've been on for a couple of months. Oh, but yay.)

  • John: I love you and you're awesome.

  • Latoya

    No need to apologize John. Maybe I'm weird, but i actually found it entertaining

  • Brian: Given how open you are about being a loyal devotee of Le Chronic, I hope you don't mind my asking: Are you off work today? Because in the past you've told us how you never get stoned at work. And you know that throughout our little dance here there's no way for me to avoid the thought that at the very least you're acting pretty exactly like someone who's stoned.

    So, do tell. If I say, "Brian You're stoned! Oh, my gosh!" will you but smile and answer, "Tosh, tosh?"

  • I'm at work.

    I'm not stoned.

    I'm trying as hard as I can to end this feud peacefully and respectfully by repeating that I love you and you're awesome.

    I'm not sure why you seem to be trying to keep this spat alive.

    I love you and you're awesome, even when you SHOUT AT ME or suggest that because I disagree with you that I'm somehow impaired.

    I love you. You're awesome.

  • Brian: Yeah, yeah … good! What you said! I swear I'm not meaning to keep any "spat" alive. I honestly didn't think you'd mind my asking if you're stoned, because you've always been so articulate on this blog (and elsewhere, I know) about expressing the reasons why you don't think being stoned represents any kind of problem, or hindrance, or … anything like that. You know how you always say weed's no problem; you'd be the LAST guy I would expect to equate (as you have) "stoned" with "impaired." So I felt free to ask. (And you could see why I might assume you're not at work.) That's all. It was just for fun. I thought you might ENJOY saying you were having a bongo of a Friday, or whatever. Honestly. My mistake. Thanks very much for your graciousness.

  • I love you too, Brian. (You know what? If I thought ANYBODY but us was still reading this—well, and Latoya, maybe, if she's still there–I'd tell them what you once, out of the goodness of your heart, did for me. Man, talk about permanently winning a place in a poor writer's heart…!)

  • What a great winner. Love it.

    Lots of the entries seem like the beginnings of great stories (stories I'd want to read, in most cases) with less feeling like they capture a more full dramatic arc in their ten words. Was that a thought in the process of choosing?

  • Man oh Man! I just read the drama above my last post. I think, John, this contest has turned into one of your greatest hits….drama and all! I really loved the exercise….think the winning novelito was great and am kind of interested in working on this technique. I got pretty good at paring down my writing in college, but if you've ever read my blog, I've really gotten wordy. I think my brain is too cluttered. One of my fellow writers in my writing group told me that he uses index cards to write down things that come to mind, and it declutters his mind. His writing is clean and concise. His name is Dwayne, and believe it or not, he is walking to Alabama right now…yes, he started in VA., and he's writing about it. Anyway, thank you for taking time out of your writing time and away from your wife to judge our ten words! Thank you for asking another professional to do so as well. What an honor it is to have our writing considered by the two of you! God bless you both for your generosity.

  • Judy

    That was a lot of fun, John. Congratulations Theskinhorse. And, i'm honored to have a few of mine get the honorable mention nod.

  • Latoya


  • I love you. You’re awesome.

    That said, I don’t think I equated being stoned with impairment. I interpreted your statement as suggesting that I seemed impaired because I thought the contest was fundamentally unfair.

    I also think you have mischaracterized my position on marijuana and other entheogens. I don’t think Ive ever suggested that being stoned doesn’t represent any kind of hinderance. If I felt that way, I would be stoned at work. The fact that I don’t get stoned at work suggests that I do recognize that there are times and places where THC use is inappropriate and detrimental to the task at hand. I do believe there are other times and places where its use can be relaxing, helpful, fun, and restorative.

    Very much like posting on a Christian blog. Sometimes inappropriate. Sometimes quite enjoyable.

    All that said, thanks for your graciousness as well.

    I love you. You’re awesome.

  • Ok…here are mine….minus one I can’t find. Jerri

    Posted by Jerri Harrington on September 22, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    He was born into poverty, but that was not all!

    Posted by Jerri Harrington on September 22, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    To look at her face, you’d never know she’d gone.

    Posted by Jerri Harrington on September 22, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    In the midst of the mayhem, a butterfly paused, hovering.

    Posted by Jerri Harrington on September 22, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Who would reckon a simple touch could heal so deeply?

    Posted by Jerri Harrington on September 22, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    If he couldn’t behave better, then why did he apologize?

  • John, mine was:

    She lifted her suitcase, dropped the burning match, and left.

    Thanks, again. It was fun. And the follow-up has been … fun.

  • Hey, guys. Sorry to be late responding.

    Lucas: Yes!

    Jerri: That's so extremely sweet of you to say!

    So lemme do the quick, brutal, full-on Editorial Call on your stories:

    He was born into poverty, but that was not all! (Too vague at end. Not clear to what "all" refers)

    To look at her face, you’d never know she’d gone. (I like this one! But not clear to whom the second "she" refers. No place in this format for ambiguity.)

    In the midst of the mayhem, a butterfly paused, hovering. (Beautiful PICTURE, but not a story.)

    Who would reckon a simple touch could heal so deeply? (Too flaccid; too … broad.)

    If he couldn’t behave better, then why did he apologize? (This one's quite good; it almost made the HM cut. But in the end it wasn't individualistic enough, if you see what I mean. It's too …. typical, common, almost cliche. But I DID like this one.)

  • Judy: Which were yours?

    Janelle: Yours was, "She lifted her suitcase, dropped the burning match, and left." Oh, this one was so close to making the final cut it could have. This is a very good one. We ultimately dropped it because it felt just a SMIDGE formulaic, you know? Maybe just SLIGHTLY too … done before. Too EASY, might be a better way of saying it. If instead of lifting a suitcase she had done about anything else, this would have been gold. But it was missing … enough of a surprising/odd/unique TWIST. It wasn't … well, unique enough. We've too often seen a woman picking up her suitcase to leave.

  • Gwen meacham

    I really en-joyed reading all the titles. Most of them made me laugh. I felt compelled to use my imagination.

    A Fun contest . Thanks John.

  • onemansbeliefs

    Thanks for the contest!!! I enjoyed reading all the entries and am happy with the outcome. I was not expecting to win, so I was not disappointed. The Mrs. liked my offerings and in my book that makes me a winner. Please critique the following entry of mine. Thanks!!!

    Doing His work thither. Waiting to hear, “Come up hither.”

  • donna

    Well, I am no longer curious as to why mine didn't make it to the list, I just want to know what in the world Brian did for you that was so special. Maybe it will lessen the blow of having to read through his rant to get to the other posts…..

  • Donna: The day I put up my PayPal donations button, Brian sent me $50.

    OneMan's: What a lovely thing to say. Thank you. So, as to your entry: Doing His work thither. Waiting to hear, “Come up hither.” You know, I really love this one. it's got the great little wordplay, the wonderful Christian sentiment (or what I assume you meant as a Christian … thing.) It's great. It didn't make the cut, though, because it falls a little short in the TENSION department. It's very … soft. The only tension it offers comes from the word "waiting," if you see what I mean. As I say, I like this one a great deal—but, alas, it lacks any substantial narrative friction. Make sense?

  • onemansbeliefs

    John: It makes sense… In addition to the creative genius a little edgyness or (in the case of the winner) some hinted at bestiality was required. Just kidding. Putting this in memory for future contests. And THERE WILL BE future contests. Thanks for the gentle analysis…

  • chris conkling

    Just found this sight. Is this what you have in mind?

    “So . . . you’ve never cheated before?” She whispered, arching her back.


    “To find God!” hiker answered.

    In Death Valley.

    In August.


    Was watching Emanuelle with Mike’s wife. Then we stopped watching.

    (apologies, Dante)


    “I’m Shwenty-tchwo,” said Michelle, 15.

    Hellooo, Attica!





    “No! Pass the banana mustard elephant. Amsterdam!”


    “Trash pickup called.”

    “ ’Tsah blow up doll, officer.”

    “That bleeds?”


    “Cool. Goin’ sky diving!”

    “Craaap! What was I . . . !”



  • Chris: Dude, you've got some serious contenders here. But you're WAY too late!! This is the post where we actually announced the WINNERS already.