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“You have to finish things — you learn by finishing things.” ~Neil Gaiman


How to rise to the top of Fiction War?


We sincerely hope to find the very BEST short stories ever told under pressure. From novice writers to seasoned authors.

But, we want something NEW. We want BETTER stories than what you’ve already read.

We want openings that draw us in, and endings that stay with us long after we've finished reading.


Amazing stories are everywhere. But where are the surprises? Where are the risk takers?


You have THREE DAYS. Do NOT submit uninspired retreads. Bring your best.



Take your prompt.


Shut the door.


Stay hydrated.


Do not wait for “inspiration.”


GO. Write a horrible draft — whatever starts you stringing words together.


Break whichever “rules” stall your momentum.


Steal from your memories, your lucid dreams, the lexicon of every writer and every story you’ve ever read.

Believe this moment is why you’ve read them.


Write. Edit. Rewrite. Repeat.


Of course, a perfect polish won’t disguise weak narrative.

Just as clumsily executed, otherwise wonderful stories may fall flat.


Drop the clichés. Cut any words that don’t move the reader in the direction you intend.


Don’t be a slave to “proper” grammar, but don’t take your readers for granted.



“If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.” ~Elmore Leonard



Totally submit a FINISHED product.


We can handle a small amount of editing — indeed expect it if your work is chosen for publication — but don’t test that limit.


Your audience is anyone who reads literary or mainstream fiction.

Falling somewhere between those two (over) simplifications is your target.

Regarding story length, ideal entries are between 500 and 1000 words. 1000 words is an arbitrary constraint — a practical maximum for our competition and publication.

Shorter works may indeed have certain advantages over longer works, as they are less likely to contain unnecessary filler, and if they happen to have a slow start, their redemptive elements come to the rescue probably sooner.

Generally speaking, do not consider 1000 words as a compulsory target if your shorter work is already complete — although whittling down a larger work is a different animal entirely


Believe in your craft.

Tell YOUR story — in your voice, your style.


Surprise us.


Thrill us.


Blow us away.


Release the Fiction.




One season down, the next quickly approaches.

The following should only be read by folks who wish to write the best story, win Fiction War, and (possibly) win at life.


Information may be repeated for dramatic impact. For purposes of this article, judge and editor are synonymous with “reader.”


There are many online resources that have writing contest tips. Google “how to win a writing contest” and you’ll get over 5 million results. Sure, read those first, and then come back here for what we think.


If you want even the slightest chance to engage a reader, you must convince them that your story is going to be good (great? even better — it goes without saying, great is better than good — but save your miracles, you’re going to need them).

Again, convince the reader that your story is going to be good.

And you must do this before they begin reading it.


Recap: you must convince the reader that your story is going to be good before they begin reading it (otherwise you may have to rely upon trickery).


It’s true! Your rockstar, earth-shattering prose won’t save you, if nobody sticks around to find it.


Everyone should know by now that yes, your published book will absolutely be judged by its cover. Before the first word is read, its cover, title, author, etc., together have a conjoined power to start your book’s journey of being seen, chosen, and read (hopefully enjoyed).



With writing competitions it’s a little different: your work doesn’t have a cover and nobody knows who wrote it.


(Yes, it does have a title, but that isn’t a deal-breaker or maker as far as we can tell — don’t focus on the title. Seriously, it’s the last and least-considered asset of your work — any of the winning selections could have been titled “story number two” and would have fared exactly the same — do not title your next submission “story number two.”)


What you do have is an opening — your opening is your surrogate book cover. Your opening might be two words or eleven; it might be two sentences or two paragraphs — those are numbers.


The number you need to remember is FIFTEEN.


Fifteen is how many seconds you have to convince a reader your work will be worth reading.


For an email, it’s 3 seconds; your resume, 6 seconds; advertising is 8; websites 10.


As a judge, obligated to hold your page in hand, with dozens of submissions already considered, and dozens more in the stack beneath, you're getting 15 quality seconds to make me want to read until the end — the difference between wanting to and having to is profound.


If you’re fortunate, and I’m a slow reader, you‘ll be safe around 30.


If you’re saying “screw safe,” and want to crush the competition, do it in about 7.


For the love of God, don’t get too far beyond 30 seconds before telling what you’re on about.


Bring all of your black powder, and set it ablaze at the start. Your opening should be powerful and intriguing.


It can be a shout or a whisper, but it must draw the reader close — appeal to their senses.


Once you have them hooked, then you can begin to work your miracles. Of course, it's no secret that the meat of your story must also be pretty good. A killer, twist ending won’t hurt either.


That's the Chicago way. And that’s how you win Fiction War.


Release the Fiction.

Top Secret
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