Four Centuries Contest: Some Stats & Final Brainstorming

This month I couldn’t decide whether to write about the contest or about how my 2012 AML Presentation informed my soon-to-be-available book. So I posted both, and will let you take your pick.

Days left until the Sept 24th deadline: 11
Prize money: $350 and counting
Submissions so far: 22 total (19th: 3, 20th: 6, 21st: 5, 22nd: 8 )
Recommended number of words for your next submission: 1,000
Allowed number of submissions per entrant: 3 per century=up to 12 total.

So…you’ve got just over a week to write one or more very short stories for a chance at honor, glory, and over $350–and the field is still quite open. What might you do? A few thoughts:
Like speculative fiction? Try alternate history

Eight entries leaves plenty of room for competition in the 22nd century. But the 19th century is almost embarrassingly open. Why not slip in with an alternative history? I mean–all you need to put together is one moment in a thousand words. Give us an 1844 meeting of the apostles–with William Smith and Brigham Young at odds while Thomas B. Marsh presides. Tell us about the day in 1898 when Wilford Woodruff escapes from hiding and makes it safely to the new headquarters of the Church in Mexico. Describe Orson Hyde’s unexpected audience with Sultan Abdul Majid, or the day David Patten shows off the pocket watch that took a bullet for him in Missouri to remind the Saints that they don’t need to be afraid of what Johnston’s army could do. Have fun!

Remember that the mundane can be magical

Big moments in our past or future can be cool. But little moments can have their own power. How does an 1830s British convert feel when the transatlantic telegraph connects Utah and England in the 1860s? What does the kid in 1915 think about her family’s first “home evening”? What does a small branch in the Netherlands do when an African convert’s baptism is scheduled to take place the same time as the 1978 World Cup Final their national team came from behind to make? How does a family in India process it when a missionary who comes from the country of Hollywood and porn starts to teach them the law of chastity? How does a young woman’s nonmember boyfriend react when a Mormon actually wins the American Presidency in 2084? What secret does a boy or girl try to hide from his/her parents in 2135?

Find a character and a moment, and then just pound it out

You can enter up to twelve stories in this contest. And who cares if they don’t all turn out? Half of writing is motivation–let the money and the limited glory be motivation to get as many concepts as possible committed, however primitively to the page. Some you may come back to. Most you probably won’t. But in the process you will learn something that carries over into your next project, that makes it fuller and richer. And that’s what will make this contest worthwhile, in the end, for you…and for me.

Good luck writing!

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16 Responses to Four Centuries Contest: Some Stats & Final Brainstorming

  1. Wm says:

    I put a poll earlier today on AMV to try and gather these stats so I’m delighted that you’re just laying them out there, James. Of course, since most submissions come in during the last 48 hours (with most of those the last 12) who knows if these trends will stay the same.

  2. Yeah…it’s not a huge sample. So who knows? Although, as Eric James Stone pointed out, the future does leave plenty of room to play with current dilemmas creatively. So maybe the 22nd century will continue to have the great appeal.

    Anyone willing to lay a bet on which century will end up with up with the most entries?

    Another question: do you think one century has a starting advantage when it comes to the voting for an overall winner?

  3. Scott Hales says:

    How many finalists are there going to be? Will it be two weeks long like the Lit Blitz, with one piece appearing per day, or do you have a different format in mind?

  4. Just while we’re talking about “contests,” will you please remember to send in your novel manuscripts by October 1 to Jen Wahlquist/English Department at UVU, 800 W. University Parkway, Orem, UT 84058. A thousand dollars is a thousand dollars, and we’d like to give it to some brilliant Mormon writer.

  5. Th. says:


    I think one reason submissions may be low is that people don’t know when the deadline is. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t appear anywhere on the Everyday Mormon Writer website. Although I’ve had a vague sense it’s in September (from BCC or AMV?), one reason I haven’t done much writing is that every time I look for a deadline, I can’t find one, so no sense of urgency is able to grow.

    I was about to send a link to the instructions to some writer friends and when I got to the site I remember why I haven’t: with no deadline, they don’t feel finished.

    If I remember correctly, the original instructions said they were temporary and fuller instructions (including a deadline) would be forthcoming. That intro’s not there now so I don’t know if I dreamed it or if it was never there. Maybe I’m remembering this line?

    We’re projecting a contest deadline in September with finalists running in October.

    Anyway. That could have been clearer.

    In other news, I’m pretty sure the 22nd century will never fall behind.

    • The deadline is September 24th.

      The complete writing rules are here:

      I’d agree that mediocre communication may be contributing to lower submission rates. I’m excited about this contest, but I will admit that finishing my own book took more time and energy than I’d planned and that fundraising took more work, leaving less time/energy to promote the contest online the way Scott and I did for the Lit Blitz. Having a baby on the way is probably also a big part of the reduced available energy. And BYU doing a mandatory switch to a new online system has been a major headache in the teaching part of my life.

      So I’m spread too thin and doing sub-par contest coordinator work…but hoping the contest will turn out great anyway. Because in the end, we don’t need two hundred submissions like we got last time. We need eight good submissions–and those submissions will be rooted in a lifetime’s imagination and years of writing practice more than in the few days it takes to put together a 1,000-word piece.

      You have been preparing years for this. Block out an evening or two between now and the 24th and there’s still time to put out something cool.

      • Th. says:


        Oh, I will, James. For you if for no other reason.

        Plus, now that I have a deadline, I’m suddenly working.

      • Th. says:


        Also, James, I hope I didn’t come across too accusatory. We’re all figuring stuff out as we go. I certainly have issues. Have you seen recently?

        • No problem. I think it’s good to have feedback on how things look from other perspectives. And I agree that making the deadline very clear is a key to an optimally-publicized contest.

    • Scott Parkin says:

      I think a major reason is that 1000 words is really short. I don’t know how to develop a story in that small a package–I can work with 2500 words, but 1K is (for me) super, ultra, amazingly thin space.

  6. It WAS confusing until we joined up with UVU. Now it’s always every October 1. You still have a few weeks. The ms needs to be postmarked by October 1. We’d like to give the thousand dollars to an LDS writer if we could. Thanks to Jonathan Langford for the post!

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