Short Short Story Guidelines
O. Henry Short Story Competition Rules
The First Ever O. Henry Short Story Competition for Young Writers (2006)
"Silverware" by Sara D., New Haven, CT
Neither could remember a time before the other, or, for that matter, a
time before the spoon. The fork and the knife crossed paths almost daily,
"accidentally" brushing against each other every time. They had carried on
like this for years, admiring each other in silence and telling themselves they
could've had something together if the knife wasn't already married. The knife, for his part, felt bound to the spoon solely by duty, bored and a little repulsed by the curves he once thought so luscious. Those curves had
become a symbol of his wife's moral softness, a reminder of her weakness for ice
cream and puddings eaten in secret and alone. The spoon, in the knife's
eyes, was now dumpy and matronly; the fork, on the other hand, was still edgy and dangerous.
The fork, of course, would've been shocked to learn that the knife's
attraction to her had any physical basis. She assumed their relationship was
of a more cosmic nature, that her own features were much too pointy and
sharp to be beautiful. For a long time the fork was consumed by her jealousy
of the spoon, seething as she watched her and the knife sleeping next to each
other on nights when the knife stayed home. Finally, though, the fork's rage
was replaced by smug satisfaction when she noticed that the knife slept
with his back to his wife. The fork's confidence grew further when she realized
that two of them never did anything but sleep. For all the times she'd
spied on them, she'd never once found them making love, never heard them
discussing books or current events, never even seen them squabbling about the
hired help or cost of beef. Concluding that the knife's marriage had lost its
spark, the fork felt herself filled with a deeper faith in fate and the mysterious hands that seemed to guide their intersecting lives.
"High School Memoir, Notes" by Maria A., Sussex, NJ
9/99. Learn that in high school homework is not allowed to be late. Recite ABCs in Spanish in front of entire class; get stomachache, throw up in bathroom.
10/99. Finish homework on time. Join after-school activities; believe in their mission statements.
11/99. Notice beehive-whine of students in hallways between periods. Notice "marking periods" means periods where you will be marked.
12/99. Worry about getting marked; get marked; notice parents like your markings but don't like each other; notice parents like your markings but not your brother's markings.
1/00. Wake up each morning in the dark and imagine four years of waking up each morning in the dark.
2/00. Wake up each morning in the dark.
3/00. Listen to brother play For the Longest Time for the longest time on his old stereo; tell him to shut up; let him tackle you; wonder if you'll miss him if he goes to college next year.
4/00. Notice after-school activities have corny names like PRIDE, Peers Rejoicing in a Drug-and-alcohol-free Environment; notice cheap hyphens; go home and get drunk.
5/00. Develop crush on brown-haired boy; become obsessed; tell him; cry. Go to party; sit by yourself; do not go to another party.
6/00. Get marked; notice you have only As; notice teachers like you; notice teachers and parents like words like conscientious and self-motivated but do nothing to promote them.
7/00. Listen to parents argue about brother's future. Watch television marathons. Read Catcher in the Rye; commiserate with Holden.
8/00. Sell cheesefries at county fair. Cringe when brother joins the ROTC; watch him march away with a stone face. Read The Red Badge of Courage.
9/00. Receive B+ on essay about The Red Badge of Courage; think of how it ruins your collection; draw a pencil across your skin, draw blood.
10/00. Draw more blood with different tools.
11/00. Listen for parents arguing; hear nothing; feel chill rest over house like December fog.
12/00. Continue having crush on the boy; tell him again; cry. Read The Scarlet Letter; think about your accumulation of As.
1/01. Notice dad sleeps all day in the guestroom; notice pink pills in bathroom.
2/01. Write playful suicide note with no intentions; realize others do not think suicide notes are playful with or without intentions; realize others do not think of drawn blood lightly.
3/01. Feel the hands of your father in your sleeves, looking for valleys where you have drawn blood; feel the blood rise from your valleys to your cheeks; promise to stop drawing blood.
4/01. Listen to your mother say that your dad is moving to an apartment in another town; tell her you don't care; don't draw blood to prove you don't care.
5/01. Draw blood.
6/01. Notice how your hand sticks to your desk like to the back of a post-it note; notice how the leg of your chair sticks to the floor then squeals in pain when you try to get up; notice how even the air in the hallway is sticky like spilled juice or drying blood.
7/01. Read The Perks of Being a Wallflower; fall in love; don't cry because books cannot love back.
8/01. Sell cheesefries at county fair; realize you don't want to be working class.
9/01. Watch buildings; watch teacher say, "We're going to war;" think of brother, almost cry; watch NYC cousins come stay with you; watch NYC cousins watch the buildings again and again; watch the buildings again and again.
10/01. Print out names of the dead; look for matching last names. Notice you haven't talked to your brother in the longest time; wonder if he'll go to war; wonder if he'll be different because of it.
11/01. Wait for driver's test like on death row; pass; let your dad drive home because you don't like driving.
12/01. Observe new kid with black hair and mystery and head full of Nietzsche; fall in love again; read Nietzsche, do not fall in love but wish you would; realize you are not as intelligent as people think.
1/02. Watch grandmother's funeral; realize you can only cry for boys who do not like you.
2/02. Visit your father at his apartment; realize it is neither his nor an apartment but a single room in a home where an elderly couple live; watch father help the old woman on the toilet; wonder if you will be like your father in forty years or like the old lady in seventy years. Forget to study for a math test.
3/02. Accidentally start dating boy you find boring; tell him not to touch you; try hard to scare him off. Think about boy with black hair and mystery.
4/02. While sitting at school desk imagine you are sitting in an old rabbit snare with big metal jaws; imagine it closing and snapping around you, biting off bits and pieces of hair and skin as it chomps.
5/02. Scratch skin off during boring classes. Break up with boy you find boring.
6/02. Bite your pencil so hard the yellow comes off in your mouth; bite your hand so hard blood pops up on your skin.
7/02. Go to a party; recall why you don't go to parties.
8/02. Sell cheesefries at county fair. Visit colleges; worry about the future.
9/02. Start essays like this a;lkfdh;alsjdf;laksdahiosdf; then sigh, then backspace, then start again. Read cliffnotes for Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
10/02. Promise your mother you will stop drawing blood.
11/02. Think about boy with black hair and mystery; converse with him; realize he would never date you; like him more because of it.
12/02. School, homework, bed. School, homework, bed. Schoolhomeworkbed.
4/03. Get accepted to good college; wonder about it.
5/03. Notice you have not decorated your locker.
6/03. Try to ignore dull summer heat; fold graduation program into fortune teller; leave fortunes empty; listen to pomp and circumstance. Watch television marathons. Draw blood. Wait.
"Cumulonimbus" by Rhiannon Admidas C., Grand Forks, ND
"You know how I don't like J.D. Salinger?"
"Well, I don't like J.D. Salinger. I hate him, he's so overrated. But
"How can you hate Salinger?"
"He's so goddamn overrated and everybody loves him like he's some
amazing writer. It makes me sick."
"That's it? He's overrated and a lot of people like him? That's your
basis for disliking him? Have you ever read anything by
"Yes, I have. But that's not the only reason why I don't like him. His
stories are ridiculous. Snotty rich kids who have
emotional problems and shitty relationships with their parents? God,
could you be more pretentious? Anyway, I just don't
like him... But did you read Franny and Zooey?"
"Yeah, well, no. I read Franny but not Zooey."
"Well I just finished it. The Franny part, not Zooey. I think I'm like
"You shouldn't do that."
"Compare yourself to another person."
"I think Franny's like me."
She put a cigarette between her lips and began striking her lighter.
"This damned wind," she muttered. “There’s this really big storm coming
in... I love storms... If only I could light this
A strand of lighting flitted across the sky. She finally lit the singed
"I think we're Salinger-esque."
"I don't know... It just seems like one of his stories, you know? Very
rambling and pointless."
"I don't think we're pointless."
"You know what I mean."
"No, I don't."
He was exhaling smoke between sentences. She was glad that he, unlike
her boyfriend, didn't make a sucking noise
when he inhaled.
"I just mean...never mind."
Once he saw her naked. They had stayed up drinking gin and discussing
her constant need to date boys that he deemed
useless and lazy.
"You're just as useless and lazy, though!"
"Yes, but you're not in love with me. That's the difference."
He stretched his arms behind his head. They were long and thick but not
muscular. She thought about the time that he
hugged her and how warm he felt.
"I think I'm going to sleep on the couch."
"I'll take the other one."
"You're sleeping here, too?"
Once she told him it was impossible for her to sleep with anything on.
It had been this way since she was a baby. She
had rarely attended slumber parties as a girl.
"You're not going to sleep naked, are you?"
If she were to make an effort to sleep with him, she would smirk and
look at him with doe eyes and, as coy as she could,
say, "Yes, but you're not going to look, are you?" She would let that
smirk curl into a smile. Perhaps raise one eyebrow
slightly or wink, but not both.
"Yes. I'll wait until you're asleep to undress... I just can't sleep with
"I know, I know... Do what you've got to do." He rose and stumbled toward
the sofa, collapsing onto it facing inward. With
her calves against the couch opposite him she began unzipping the jeans
he said were too tight.
He rolled over looked up at her through the darkness. He stared up at
her body as she first stepped out of her jeans then
pulled up her cardigan. The sweater rose over her soft stomach and
small waist. She looked into his eyes as she pulled
it off of her arms.
She unhooked her bra and let it fall to the floor. Her thumbs hooked in
the waistband of her panties and slid them down.
She stood anticipating his touch.
He shifted and rolled away from her.
For hours she lied breathless, hoping he might crawl toward her. As she
fell asleep she kept her mouth open, aching
and presented perfectly for his kiss.
"So what did you do today?"
"Nothing special. We ate lunch at this little diner downtown and went
"What did you get?"
"A pair of brown loafers and--"
"Loafers? The kind you put pennies in?"
"Well, no... They're more like moccasins, I guess. I also got some slacks
and this amazing silk top. It's black makes my
breasts look amazing."
"I'm going to wear it when I get back. I have a date with Dylan and
he's going to die. Just die. I'll have been gone for a
whole month and when I get back we'll be out with me in this sexy top
and he won't be able to do anything except drool."
"You're such a sadist."
"You know, it's the strangest thing. The other clothes I bought, I
brought them home and immediately snipped the tags off
and packed them away. But this blouse, I can't seem to cut the tags off
or put it away. I just leave it draped around things
in my room to keep it from wrinkling."
"I don't know... Like, I'm trying to save it special for our date. I'm
really excited to wear it, but I want to keep it fresh and
brand new for Dylan. Like, I'm saving this blouse's virginity for him.
"It's not silly." He yawned as he said this. "Although, from how you
described it, that top hardly sounds virginal..."
"Sometimes I do the same thing when I see you."
"Oh... I think you just really enjoy preparing for things. It's
disgusting, really, a girl of your age always being so ready for
everything. You should relax. Amazing things happen when you relax."
"Amazing things never happen to me."
"You sound bored."
"I'm not, I'm really not."
"Oh please! I know when you're bored. I know you don't want to listen
to me talk about clothes or Dylan."
"Definitely not Dylan."
"I'll let you go."
She picked up another cigarette and noticed the storm was moving now:
blowing away from the mountains and back toward where it came from. The thick clouds that had once promised a storm had separated to reveal the cool sky. The lightning had completely subsided. In fact, it hardly started.
Short Short Story Guidelines
Short shorts have been written for centuries, even if they haven't been called by that name. Writers--Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, Katherine Anne Porter, Ursula LeGuin, Yukio Mishima--turned to the form when a story demanded compression and intensity rather than expansion and development. For as long as there have been stories, there have been short shorts.
To write a short short, find a story that wants to be told.
Strip it down to what's needed.
Use language to give it life: Simple and direct. Or suggestive and metaphorical. Give it a voice all its own.
How can a short short hold so much--a whole story, a whole world--and end so swiftly? The short short is packed with the same necessities as any other story--characters, place, plot, time, something to be revealed--but the short short is carry-on luggage, not a steamer trunk.
Write your story. Cut it. Write it again. Cut it. Add, if you like. Write it again.
It's your story. It's your one thousand words.
By the way, you just read 179 words.
To summarize, the short short for the O.Henry competition contains:
- Something to be revealed
- Place. Setting. Time.
- 1000 words or less
Rules for the O. Henry Short Story Competition
for Young Writers
- This contest runs from May 15, 2006 through September 22, 2006. To enter, you must submit an original short short story of your own creation via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and provide your name, phone number, address, and age. The story must be a maximum of 1,000 words long, double-spaced; previously unpublished; and written in English. Entries longer than 1,000 words will not be eligible for the contest. Only entries submitted via e-mail will be accepted. Entries must be in the body of the e-mail; no attachments will be accepted. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. on September 22, 2006. Only one entry per person.
- One winner and two runners-up will be chosen. The winner will receive a cash prize of $100 (U.S.). In addition, the winning story will be sent along with a letter of introduction by O. Henry series editor Laura Furman to the editors of the magazines which are represented in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006.
The winning and runners-up short short stories will be published online on the official O. Henry Prize Stories Web site (www.ohenryprizestories.com).
The winner and runners-up will also each receive a copy of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006 signed by Laura Furman.
- Winners will be chosen by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc. ("Anchor Books"), and Laura Furman, editor of The O. Henry Prize Stories, whose decisions are final on all matters related to this contest. Finalists will be chosen from received entries by Anchor Books editorial staff, and Laura Furman will select the first prize winner and three runners-up based on their literary quality. For Laura Furman's description of a short short story, click here. The odds of winning depend on the number of eligible entries received. Anchor is not responsible for lost, interrupted, garbled or jumbled entries or transmissions, or unavailable network, server, or other connections, or other errors of any kind, whether human, mechanical or electronic. Please note that entries will not be acknowledged or returned, so please keep a copy of your work.
- This contest is only open to residents of the United States between the ages of 14 and 22. Employees, and their immediate family members, of Random House Inc., including its affiliates and subsidiaries, are not eligible to enter. This contest is subject to all federal, state, and local regulations. Random House, Inc. will not be responsible for payment of taxes on the value of any prize awarded hereunder.
- By entering, entrants agree to abide by these rules and the decisions of Anchor Books, and release Anchor Books, its parent companies, subsidiaries, affiliates, suppliers and agents from any and all liability for injuries, losses, or damages of any kind caused by participation in the contest or the acceptance, possession, or use/misuse of a prize.
- The winner and the two runners-up will be notified by phone on or about November 6, 2006. Any winner or runner-up who is less than 18 years old will be required to furnish consent to this use by a parent or legal guardian.
- Anchor Books reserves the right to use the winner's and runner-up's full names for promotional purposes in all forms of media without notice, review, approval, or compensation, except where prohibited by law. By entering, the winner and runners-up agree to the publication of their entries on the official O. Henry Prize Stories Web site (www.ohenryprizestories.com) without any approval or compensation.
- Offer void where restricted or prohibited. No purchase necessary to enter.