Announcing our top 5 #FlashFiction contest finalists!

May is National Short Story Month, and today Flash Fiction gets its day. (Visit the National Flash Fiction Day 2012 website for more info.) We decided to celebrate with the 1st Annual Stella Link #FlashFiction Contest. THANK YOU to everyone who submitted!

Dan Holloway, took on the daunting task of selecting the top 5 entries. Here's what he had to say about the competition:
"I was very impressed with the overall quality of the entries, which made selecting a shortlist of just five very daunting. As I read I found myself dividing the stories into four folders with varying degrees of "yes" and "maybe". In the end what the stories I selected all had in common was the strength and originality of their voice. They weren't necessarily the stories that packed most in, or that delivered the most surprising, or even satisfying, twist, but the ones that achieved two very simple things - to make me care in some way about the world created with their words, and to make me think at some point "I haven't come across that before."

This is the very hardest thing to achieve in flash fiction and what sets great exponents of the form apart. These people are able, with fewer words than most of us use to order coffee, to create something with a dynamic of its own yet with its author's unique stamp upon it. Back when I was reading slush for a literary magazine, it's something I only came across once - at least two of these entries achieved it. It's particularly instructive to think for a moment about the really good stories that didn't quite make the cut.

The commonest areas for improvement could be summed up:
1. Too much emphasis on the punchline/twist. Sometimes the rest of the story can feel as though it's only there for the sake of the last line, making the piece feel more like a joke than a story

2. Coming in too soon and leaving too late - this not only wastes valuable words, it lose our attention before it's been grabbed, or lets it dissipate

3. Clunky dialogue. I was surprised how many otherwise very good stories were let down by dialogue that felt either like exposition or simply overly formal/stilted

4. Overwriting. This stands out more in flash fiction than any other format because by the time your purple passage is done so's your word count

5. Trying to fit too much in - this is more likely than anything else to get in the way of you developing your voice.

A final word on the shortlist before I present it. A fresh take on a well-worn subject is wonderful but very hard to do.Lots of stories that just missed out did so because they were highly skilful and beautifully written but trod familiar territory without making me look at it afresh. Some of the stories that did make it steered away from the familiar. Some didn't, but nonetheless made me see things differently."

Without further ado (in no particular order), the Top 5:
"Sweat and Tears" by Diane Simmons
"Security Guard" by John Hudspith
"Crocodile Tears" by Angela Readman
"Dumpster Dive" by Mary Frances Roya
"Little Wooden Hands" by Cee Martinez
We invite you to read and review in the comment section. In additional to the LeagueXA blog publishing credit and a #FlashFiction Finalist badge for their website, our top 5 will receive a free copy of First You Write: The Worst Way to Become an Almost Famous Author and the Best Advice I Got While Doing It by LeagueXA founder, NYT bestselling author Joni Rodgers.

A panel of three LeagueXA members, including Joni, will be taking your comments into consideration as we agonize over which of our top 5 will be awarded the grand prize, a Kindle Fire. So readers, let us know what you think. Finalists, feel free to respond to comments, contribute backstory or otherwise engage in the continuing conversation.