Tuesday, July 09, 2013

And the Winner of the Setting Contest is...

These were a lot of fun to read. I loved the contrasts between such peaceful settings and the anxiety of the narrators. It was also fun to see a few take on my writing prompts, and read what they came up with.

One nice thing that applied to all the finalist was the word choices. Everyone slipped in some great and unexpected words that really added to the competing emotions and locations. Wonderful examples of how small word choices can make a big difference.

Here are the finalists:

Amy Schaefer
Keri kicked off her shoes and dug her toes into the sand. Focusing on the almost-unendurable heat rising from the beach might keep the scream down. Maybe.

Her friends dropped their gear in a heap. “C’mon, let’s go in!” Veronica dashed off towards the waves.

“I’ll watch our stuff.” Keri waved weakly as they ran off, laughing. The brutal sun pounded down on her head, driving her to the ground. She hunched inside her hoodie. Maybe she could give herself heatstroke and have an excuse to go home.

Keri frowned as her eyes swept up and down the narrow strip of sand, taking in the relaxed, smiling beachgoers. There was nowhere safe to look. This direction: her friends about to get slammed by a monster wave and sucked out with the undertow. That direction: little kids flirting with the water’s edge, parents yards away and yakking over sangria. Further on: a stone-still lifeguard lounging on her perch, probably asleep behind her mirrored shades. Beside her: a lipstick-red woman courting melanoma. Keri closed her eyes. All she needed now were some circling shark fins to make the horror complete.

Something purple washed up beside a toddler. Keri was on her feet before she knew it. She grabbed the kid’s shovel, flipped the Portugese man o’ war into the rocks at the base of the breakwater and thrust the shovel back at the now-wailing child.

“That’s it,” she thought, digging her keys out of her pocket. “I’m out of this death trap.”
What I like about this one is how angry and unfriendly the narrator makes the beach sound, especially when everyone else is having fun there. I get all the classic beach descriptions, but with an entirely different opinion about them.

The water dulled each grain of sand to blunt redundancy. As numerous as the stars in the sky and burning as hot as a dying supernova. The heat lay like a shroud over anything that made a sound. Even the insects only dared sing in pianissmo minor tones. A trail of clouds strangled the horizon line where the last crimson stain of sun was vanishing into the ocean. The palm trees bowed their leaves in defeat to the oncoming darkness. Not even a wind to breathe life back into them.

Broken glass circled a rock at the border between beach and cement. It would turn to sand, one day, if given the chance. But the resort staff would dispose of it before it had the chance to attain that potential. Instead it was just another broken dream.

The flowers all looked up at the sky. As if in disdain of their surroundings. Elitists who whispered amongst each other about the ugly scars of humanity all around them. They knew the secret to simplicity but kept silent for the pleasure of seeing humanity suffer.

Empty beach chairs sat straight-backed under folded umbrellas. Each one’s age evident by the sag where a thousand people had sat. Leaving the weight of their troubles behind on the sun-bleached plastic. A few discarded chairs had broken under the burden.

He looked at the crumbled pink slip in his hand. He didn’t know why he thought he could escape it here.
What I like here is the sense of defeat and hopelessness. There are nice word choices as well--strangled the horizon, stain of sun, elitist flowers. All the imagery builds upon the tone and sense of sadness and giving up.

I would not, could not let go of her hand. The lights glared down from on high. Exposed. Nowhere to hide. The hairs on my skin stood to attention at the sound of the click clacking approach of no nonsense heels. Escape – now, before the woman arrived. I turned to the door. Too late. Through the heavy frosted glass panel I saw her, a vast figure silhouetted by the florescent lights. She threw back the door and I gagged as the smell of hospital grade disinfectant assailed my nostrils. “Good morning!”

I mumbled a reply. It was all too soon, a mistake, it hadn’t really been my choice after all, to be here now gripping the little hand in mine.

The paper work all signed at the front desk. I was committed now. I squinted into the corners of the ceiling, searched for a dark recess at the edge of the room; nothing, no dark space or quiet corner to hide in, no den to retreat to. No unseen space to call my own. Correction, her own.

The floor tiles are too white and the furniture too colorful. I am reminded of the time my technicolor vomit sprayed across Aunt Stella’s stark minimalist bathroom. (Five years old – too many lollies.)

The little hand tugs in mine, pulling away. “Hello. I’m Zoe.” My daughter addresses the woman with confidence. Distant squeals reach our ears. Freed from my grip she darts into the bright independent world of the pre-school centre.
What I like about this one is that the descriptions feel like something else until you get to the end, then they suddenly have new meaning. You take what the narrator says at face value, then realize this is not some cold, sterile and dying place, but a school for kids.

And the winner is...


This one was really close, but what pushed this entry over the top for me was the way the narrator made you feel like you were in one place, when it was really somewhere else, without it feeling like a bait and switch. The little clues like the tiny hand in hers, it being too soon, colorful furniture all hinted at the pre-school, but you didn't really pick up on them until you knew the punchline. The word choices were also fun--committed makes you think about hospitals, yet recess subtly hints at a school.

Vahlaeity, just contact me at janice (@) janicehardy (dot) com for your critique.

Grats and fantastic job to everyone!


  1. Vahlaeity had me fooled for sure! "Hospital grade disinfectant" was a nice touch.

  2. Woohoo! Congrats, everyone!

  3. Great job, Vahlaeity - I knew you would win! I loved the unexpected in your story.