First, you have to recreate the sea.
To do that, you can take some putty and craft a few frothy waves, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy: You have to do it all through the opening of a bottle. And it only gets harder from there. You have to build the ship, tediously crafting every piece to scale. Cut. Sand. Shellac. Thread wire and string, and so on, until finally you have a jumbled little pile that you carefully—carefully—wedge into the opening of the bottle.
Then, if you did everything right, you can pull the thread and, mysteriously, almost magically, it happens: A sea vessel emerges from the wreckage.
All that cutting, planning, dedication and piecemeal perfection—even though she’s never tried to build a ship in a bottle, Wendi Christner imagines it’s a lot like writing the shortest of stories.
“I like the challenge of trying to fit all the story pieces into only a few words,” Christner says.
In that challenge, she succeeded: As the grand-prize winner of the 10th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition, judges selected her piece “Throwing Stones”— “the story of a young grieving mother who lets go of her deceased child the only way she can”—from 8,050 entries for its descriptive style, original voice and tight Southern narrative. And, of course, the full-time writer and Florida native pulled off the winning tale in fewer than 1,500 words, flash-fiction style.
As legend William Faulkner said of the form, “Almost every word has got to be almost exactly right. In the novel you can be careless but in the short story you can’t. … It demands a nearer absolute exactitude.”
In other words, ships aside, putting a message in a bottle is no small feat, either.
The Short List
The 10th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition featured some 8,050 entries. Judges Gina Ochsner, Debby Mayne and Raymond Benson helped narrow down the pool, and the WD editorial staff selected and ranked the finalists.
1. Throwing Stones by WENDI CHRISTNER Tampa, Fla.
2. I Don’t Have to Tell Her by PAIGE WAEHNER Glen Ellyn, Ill.
3. Fatso by CHLOË MAYER Glendale, Calif.
4. Therapy by RACHEL KANN Los Angeles
5. The Wind Chime by JARED RUNYON Portland, Ore.
6. My Lion by KIMBERLY E. SANDERS Lexington, S.C.
7. Blue Tape by ALARIC LEJANO Jersey City, N.J.
8. The Briar House Detectives by A.W. PARKER Laurel, Md.
9. Labyrinth by TERESA STORES Newfane, Vt.
10. Land of the Lost by CAROLYN DAUGHTERS Golden, Colo.
Do You Have What it Takes?
You could be next. Enter your bold, brilliant and brief fiction (1,500 words or fewer) in the 11th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. The deadline is Dec. 1, 2010, and the entry fee is $20 per story. Mail yours to: Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition, 4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236. For more information or to enter online, visit writersdigest.com/short.