Category: flash fiction

Last month, we challenged our Young Writers to submit a 400 word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novels. From over 500 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and four Runners-Up. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“About Tea” by Noelle H. — Grand Prize Winner (14-18 age group)

On Tea Henshaw’s second day, she hit Calvin in the jaw. I don’t know what he said to her to make her do it, but I saw her knuckles connect with his skin. I saw him take it like a dog: first shocked and timid, but then bouncing back at her with big eyes.

You wouldn’t hit a girl, we said. You wouldn’t. Not with all these adults around, with all these authoritative eyes watching. Oh, but look—they’re not. They never are. We’re beyond their jurisdiction here, outside, on the edge of schoolyard and town. (And of course Calvin would hit a girl, we reminded ourselves, drawing our jackets tighter around blue autumn arms.)

We said all this from behind the fence. Chain-link. Along the rough line between grass and gravel.

They fought in the road.

She was wearing overalls, like a contractor or something, and they were cuffed all the way down at the ankles even though it was still eighty degrees out. Her work boots were gone, but that fringe remained. (When did she do it? Was it freshman year, maybe, that she cut her bangs?) It was an enduring mark of childish impulse.

She was no rabbit; she was slow and strong. Later when she stood beside me, she made me a dandelion beside an oak tree. She wasn’t really that tall. She just seemed it, because she hit Calvin.

We wanted her to hit him again. We wanted her to pummel him, to knee him in the nuts. We wanted to see him vomit on the ground. We wanted to breathe him in when he crumbled. We wanted to stand in her shade.

When Calvin hit her back, she shrank six inches.

He jabbed her in the stomach and she keeled over. He stood over her with his auburn hair eating the sun— absorbing it, folding it into a halo like in Renaissance paintings.

We don’t know what he said to her. She made no answer at first, just gave a tiny cry that maybe no one heard but me. I recognized that sound. It made us the same.

Tea Henshaw was born, and learned to walk, and spoke her first words between the same two bright yellow lines. (No passing, the lines said. Everyone passed on that road.)

She said, “Nice to meet you,” and they shook hands.

The September light was red.


Special guest judge Kat Zhang had this to say about “About Tea”: “I’m a sucker for a bold, unique voice, and I kept thinking about this excerpt long after I read it. The words paint a lovely, vibrant scene.” 


Noelle H. is a high school junior who enjoys writing, painting, swimming, and playing the violin. She has always loved stories. She has written one full novel (which is eternally in the editing stage), and hopes to finish a new version of it sometime this year. She plans to go to college for Art and Design, and dreams of working in animation.

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Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to submit a 300-word story involving a balloon. From over 1,100 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and eight Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

14-18 Division Honorable Mentions:

  • The Cat and the Thing" by Wafaa L. — “The cat was on high alert. Ears pricked, eyes wide, body tense. It watched suspiciously as the round, strange thing floated in the air a few feet in front of him. It was dangerous – he could smell it…” Read the rest!
  • “Golden Dawn” by Yuchi Z. — “Venus’s scarred, tortured surface passed beneath Manuel’s gaze as the balloon gained altitude. The domed city of Jardines Ishtar, gleaming bright in the fiery sun, became faint on the horizon…” Read the rest!

  • “Center of the Universe” by Maneesh J. — “The astronauts looked out from the window of their spaceship at the bloodred world below them. All but one. While the others stared at Mars, their future home, one astronaut was gazing further…” Read the rest!

11-13 Division Honorable Mentions:

  • “A Balloon of Nightmares” by Ally N. — “The balloon is the color of midnight. This fits because this balloon in particular is not a happy balloon. It is rumored to hold all the evils and sorrows of this world…” Read the rest!

  • “The Balloon Festival” by Logan M. — “I release the balloon into the air, and see hundreds of others doing the same. I watch my balloon float up, a blue dot against the sea of red. People gasp and point at the abnormal balloon color…” Read the rest!

10 and Under Division Honorable Mentions:

  • “Silver Lily” by Iris D. — “IN THE SMALL MARKETPLACE of Shellkey, there was a silver balloon tied to a stake. No one knew how the balloon had never deflated, but it didn’t matter. The oddest thing about the balloon was that it had a girl in it…” Read the rest!
  • “Travel” by Gabrielle G. — “An old, gray dog was striding along a dusty road in the middle of a field. He was wondering about whether or not the old lady who lived down the road would give him some of her food…” Read the rest!
  • “The Time Balloon” by Leia F. — “The balloon was pink and shiny, like a wad of bubblegum. Mikayla loved blowing it up just a little, so her mom, a dentist, would freak out, thinking Mikayla was chewing gum…” Read the rest!

Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to submit a 300-word story involving a balloon. From over 1,100 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and eight Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“The Sacrifice” by Miriam G. — Grand Prize Winner (13 and Under Division)

Red to catch the dragon’s eye, the balloon floated away from the cliff. Shana struggled against her bonds, searching for the small knife she kept hidden in her sleeve as the balloon carried her farther into the sky. Below, her former tribesmen watched her float off. A sacrifice for the dragon. Some tribemates.

The knife slipped free, and Shana twisted, taking it in her bound hands. She sawed awkwardly at the rope. Dragon’s Mountain loomed closer, its two peaks spreading like bat’s wings.

Or dragon’s wings.

A perfect place for a dragon to live.

Finally the blade bit into the rope. Shana dragged at it, cutting into the fibers. She felt one break, snapping against her wrist as it did so. Others came after, quicker.

And still the balloon floated onwards.

The last fiber cracked apart, and Shana pulled her hands free from the rope. She bent to her feet and slashed the knife across the bonds.

She glanced up and could now see the dark hole of the dragon’s lair. The winds were perfect, pushing the red balloon closer and closer. Ever closer.

At last her feet were free. Shana stood and grabbed at the ropes attaching the basket to the balloon. Could she climb to the flame that kept her aloft, and blow it out? But the fire was too sheltered. She glanced down. Burnt, barren land, dotted with rivers of lava, changed to sharp craggy rock.

Something rumbled. Shana looked up. The dragon had emerged.

Black, massive, it spread its wings and loomed up. Stained teeth glinted as it lunged.

And Shana jumped. A desperate leap for freedom. She landed hard, heard snapping, felt pain. The rock scraped her. But she stumbled up and ran despite the agony. She would not be a dragon’s lunch.


Special guest judge Claire Kann had this to say about “The Sacrifice”:The tension in this story was spectacular! I loved the sparse but effective world-building, the sharp, clean prose, and the compelling imagery. The main character, Shana, was daring, scrappy, and resourceful—my favorite kind of protagonist.”


Miriam G. loves horses, cats, and randomly starting novels that will never have more than a chapter written of them. She is guilty of Writing Way Too Much About Dragons, and nearly everything she writes must include a dragon or it usually doesn’t amount to much. Additionally, she’s diagnosed with Adding Horses for No Particular Reason. Luckily, cats have managed to escape this horrible habit, partially because she lives with the sweetest kitty in the world.

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Last month, we challenged our young writers (18 and under) to submit a 300-word story involving a balloon. From over 1,100 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and eight Honorable Mentions. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“Fate” by Lainey T. — Grand Prize Winner (14-18 Division)

Beatrice had never seen an unopened portal before.

A translucent balloon filled with olive green vines hovered over the sidewalk in front of her. Carmine flowers decorated the greenery, stray petals scattered on the ground.

The street was empty except for Beatrice and the balloon as if it was meant only for her eyes. Which was impossible, because Beatrice wasn’t supposed to discover portals. She was supposed to do her homework and go to class. Her friend, Alexis, always found the portals and dragged Beatrice along on her adventures.

Beatrice pulled out her phone to text Alexis. She was the one who slew dragons, saved kingdoms, and who was written about in history books across countless worlds. Beatrice tagged along as emotional support.

“Do you go looking for this stuff or something?” Beatrice had asked her once when they had entered a realm populated by giant, sentient rocks.

Alexis had grinned. “Adventure finds me, I guess.”

Yet here adventure was, finding Beatrice instead.

Even in their world, she was always the sidekick. A background character in Alexis’s story. She wasn’t interesting enough to be anyone else.

But maybe fate had chosen her this time. The thought was absurd because Beatrice was ordinary. She couldn’t lead armies or fight corrupt kings. For her to want more was ridiculous. It would be best to walk away; she had a physics test to study for.

Beatrice still didn’t move. Entering the portal might be the worst decision she could make, but she didn’t care anymore. What did she have to lose?

Perhaps fate had shown up at the wrong doorstep, but it had shown up all the same.

She grabbed the balloon and dug her nails in.

A pop.

A flash of light brighter than the sun.

The street was empty.


Special guest judge Claire Kann had this to say about “Fate”:What a fun, creative, and intriguing story! Beatrice, the world she lives in, and her goals are established quickly and masterfully. Immediately after finishing, all I could think was: where is the rest? I hope I get to read about Beatrice and her adventures someday.”


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Lainey T. is a writer who loves drawing, playing the harp, singing, and petting her dogs. She is going into her junior year of high school and enjoys reading young adult fantasy, realistic fiction, and occasionally science fiction. In her free time, she loves ranting about books to whoever will listen and listening to music. Her favorite part of writing is developing characters and she loves seeing them come to life on the page. She is passionate about storytelling and hopes to someday get her work published. 

No matter the writing season, it can be difficult to find ways to keep your writing fresh and moving forward. Today, writer Charli Mills shares a recipe to help writers create big projects in small, bite-sized pieces:

One old mountain man asked another, “How do you eat an entire grizzly?”

The second man replies: “One bite at a time, Pard!”

Growing up in the shadow of silver mines on the eastern slope of the Sierras, I had plenty of time as a kid to poke around history and contemplate a dream to write historical fiction. Voices of mountain men like Kit Carson filled my imagination. Names on tilting marble tombstones emerged as characters.

Fast forward many decades later and I’m still poking a pen at times past. Novels, especially ones brewed in the filters of history, take a considerable time commitment. I’ve learned what the mountain man adage means—place one scene down after another, one chapter after another, one draft revision after another.

Constraints (word count or time) can form patterns that imprint the brain. When writers repeat the challenge regularly, flash fiction trains brains to resolve the 99-word problem. It’s like magic, but it’s science. So, when drafting a novel, you can write scenes, dialog, character profiles or setting in 99-word increments.

Like eating a grizzly one bite at a time, 99 words makes 50,000 feel doable.

In 2014 I launched Carrot Ranch Literary Community to connect with other writers and to make literary art accessible. My mission aligns with that of NaNoWriMo. I witness the transformational power of creativity every week when I compile the collection of 99-word flash fictions from writers around the world. I see it played out every November and subsequent NaNoWriMo.

As you prepare to take on the grizzly bear that is writing a novel, take some tips from writing small bites. I’ve arranged a few recipes:

  1. For the busy writer, serve quickly. Write 99 words in five minutes.
  2. For the pantser, write a story until it feels complete. Likely the results will be hundreds of words. Distill the main idea into 99 words. Or use a section and make sure it stands on its own as a 99-word story.
  3. For the plotter, map out three acts. Whip up a beginning, middle, and end. Serve.
  4. For the distracted author, write your WIP in 99 words. Take a scene or character and apply the prompt and constraint. The constraint will give you focus.
  5. For the undecided author, write one 99-word flash in different voices, styles or perspectives to discover what resonates with you. It’s a brief commitment and can help you decide.
  6. For the lonely blogger, bring a dish and join the potluck. Write 99 words and visit the flash fiction posts of others, striking up delicious conversation. Everyone is welcome at CarrotRanch.com.

My novels are now in revision; the way miners refine ore. Flash fiction can also be a powerful editing tool, filling gaps, focusing scenes, and using brevity to tighten writing. Remember, every novel begins with the first 99 words.


From riding horses to writing stories, Charli Mills is a born buckaroo wrangling words. She writes stories set in the American West, giving voice to history, women, rocks, and veterans. She founded an imaginary place called Carrot Ranch where real literary artists from around the world gather. As lead buckaroo, she’s crafted and compiled thousands of 99-word flash fictions. Charli created The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology series with her literary community.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from mazaletel on Flickr.