**This competition is now closed but you are still more than welcome to respond to this prompt!**
Way back in BC, the philosopher Cicero said: “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.” February’s competition, dear writers, celebrates friendship in all its forms.
Literature has forever captured the special elixir that is friendship—in the great stories that bind Horatio and Hamlet, Harry and Hermione, Scout and Dill, Frodo and Sam. Sometimes fraught with friction and sometimes smooth as silk, friendships have the power to illuminate much about the experience of being human.
This month, write a short fictitious story about friendship, with all its doublings of joy and dividings of grief. Your entry can be entirely imagined or inspired by an experience from your own life.
On the Short Story Form
“The short story writer is to the novelist as a cabinetmaker is to a house carpenter,” wrote Annie Proulx, short-story extraordinaire. Both novelists and story writers are working with the same materials and tools (plot, character, setting), but the product is constructed differently. While a novel can roam and twist and branch over hundreds of pages, a short story must stay focused—every sentence selected carefully, helping to shape the narrative.
Rather than constricting, though, many writers find the form liberating. A short story “doesn't have to trawl through someone's whole life; it can come in glancingly from the side,” said Emma Donoghue, the Irish-Canadian author. In a handful of pages, you’re capturing a piece of life, not the whole tale from start to finish. As the prolific Lorrie Moore puts it, “a short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.”
There is something magical about entering into another complete universe, all in one sitting. And if a story does its job, it stays with you. As writer George Saunders says, “When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you.”
So think small, dear writers, and also think big. Offer the reader a snapshot that will linger long after the story’s last line.
On Friendship and Complexity
Friendship finds its way into so many great works of literature because of its complex
dimensions. With love and loyalty come great stakes. Take Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men
. It’s George’s abiding love for his friend that leads to exceedingly difficult decisions, the tension mounting as the novel progresses. How can you weave tension into your own story? Is there conflict or friction within the friendship? Some sort of trouble or problem that the relationship creates? Inner turmoil, perhaps?
IN TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
, Harper Lee expertly demonstrates how friendship can push us to our limits, like when Dill dares Jem to cross the threshold into Boo Radley’s lawn:
“You’re scared,” Dill said, the first day. “Ain’t scared, just respectful,” Jem said. The next day Dill said, “You’re too scared even to put your big toe in the front yard.” Jem said he reckoned he wasn’t, he’d passed the Radley Place every school day of his life.
“Always runnin‘,” I said.
But Dill got him the third day, when he told Jem that folks in Meridian certainly weren’t as afraid as the folks in Maycomb, that he’d never seen such scary folks as the ones in Maycomb.
This was enough to make Jem march to the corner, where he stopped and leaned against the light-pole, watching the gate hanging crazily on its homemade hinge.
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA
shows yet another facet of companionship—how when we lose a friend, we are sometimes left even more alone than we were before:
She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there--like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.
AND IN THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
, we see how loyalty is often accompanied by a range of emotions. In this excerpt, Mole is chasing after Rat on one of their long journeys, when he realizes they are very close to his old home. Sadness and missing overcome him. “Please stop, Ratty!” he pleads. “You don't understand! It's my home, my old home!”
But there is no response:
The Rat was by this time very far ahead, too far to hear clearly what the Mole was calling, too far to catch the sharp note of painful appeal in his voice.
'Mole, we mustn't stop now, really!' he called back. 'We'll come for it to-morrow, whatever it is you've found. But I daren't stop now— it's late, and the snow's coming on again, and I'm not sure of the way! And I want your nose, Mole, so come on quick, there's a good fellow!' And the Rat pressed forward on his way without waiting for an answer.
Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big sob gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under such a test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a moment did he dream of abandoning him. Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. He dared not tarry longer within their magic circle. With a wrench that tore his very heartstrings he set his face down the road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells, still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him for his new friendship and his callous forgetfulness.
- Detail. “Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better,” V. S. Pritchett said. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the more particular you can be in describing a scene or person or object, the more universal the story becomes to the reader. Those details allow the reader to enter into the experience of the story and feel as if they’re living it, too. In To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, the details about Boo Radley’s house bring us into the scene, so we’re standing next to Scout and Dill, feeling the spookiness before us: “The house was low, was once white with a deep front porch and green shutters, but had long ago darkened to the color of the slate-gray yard around it. Rain-rotted shingles drooped over the eaves of the veranda; oak trees kept the sun away.”
- You. Even when writing a fictional story, it can be helpful to draw from your own life. Write what you know, the adage goes. Consider using a setting you’re familiar with. (What does this place feel like? What is unique about it? What are the smells and sounds?) Or perhaps you’ll write about an element of friendship that you have experienced. Friendships almost always offer a mirror through which to better understand ourselves. What have you learned about yourself from friendship? How might some of this experience add depth to the story you’re creating?
- Feedback. Make sure you get your draft submitted onto the website early to receive an Expert Review, and feedback from your peers. And remember to take a look at other drafts on the site and offer some helpful feedback. Giving feedback almost always has the added benefit of helping us notice patterns and potholes in our own work.
Guest Judge: Australian YA Author Steph Bowe
Best Entry: $100 (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog)
Runner up: $50
Best Peer Review: $50 (reviewer interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog)
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
Prizes: The winning entrant will receive $100, and the runner-up and best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday February 8th and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
February 1: Competition Opens
February 8: Submit draft for Expert Review (optional)
February 11: Reviews returned to Writers
February 16: Final Submissions
February 26: Winners Announced
The Op-Ed Competition Opens Monday, March 7th.
Stay tuned for more details!