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Owl Canyon Press – Short Story Hackathon 5 (AKA Tag-Teamathon)

Frequently Asked Questions


What counts as a “Writing Team”?

Two writers. The contest provides the 1st paragraph and two different ending paragraphs (i.e., paragraphs 50A and 50B) with writing team co-authors taking turns writing a common/shared story from paragraphs 2 through 49 (thus the tag-team handle) and then spinning off two versions using the two alternative 50th paragraphs, and then submitting a pair of short stories.


Why write in teams?

A technique that many successful authors use is to intentionally write themselves into a corner, such that the writer (and eventually the reader) wonders, “how do I/we get out of this?” It forces the author to come up with something, a twist, an unexpected turn, a new character, etc. to send the story in some unpredictable but plausible direction – it’s a great way to keep the reader (and author) engaged and avoid the predictability tarpits. In the Hackathon 5 Tag-Teamathon, each co-author is writing the other co-author into a corner with each successive paragraph, since each author is trying to steer/shape/mold the story as it evolves toward their final paragraph (i.e., 50A or 50B)--so the co-authors are competing while they’re collaborating.


So you could consider this to be a creative writing exercise, only with a $2000 (or $1000 or $500) prize at the end. Plus, there are some pretty famous writing teams (e.g., Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Matt Stone and Trey Parker), so there’s that too.


Who owns the finished short stories?

The authors, Owl Canyon Press only requests permission to publish and publicize the winners’ and finalists’ short stories in an anthology.


When is the deadline?

September 1, 2023.


How much does it cost to enter the contest?

Nothing, it’s free.


How do writing teams submit a pair of stories?

Easy, just click here… or here


What kind of stories are you looking for?

Pretty much any kind, literary, sci fi, fantasy, dystopian, romance, whatever, but take a look at the 1st and the 2 alternate closing paragraphs (#50A and #50B) below or on the Submittable site since they may not work for all genres.


Are there any exclusions?

No, as long as the short stories are in English.


Can a team enter more than one short story?

Sure, as long as they’re different short story pairs with unique titles.


Will I get feedback

The winners and finalists certainly will, and if a strong voice is heard in any of the others, they’ll probably get some feedback and encouragement too. 


Is there a maximum length to the short story?

No.  Though the guidelines specify 50 paragraphs of at least 50 words each, the minimum would be about 2500 words, but the maximum is up to you, so write whatever you need to tell your short story; however, you only have the open submission period to write it.


Who can submit a story?

Anybody anywhere in the world, as long as they’re in a 2-writer team and the story is in English. 


How are stories judged?

The first round will be judged by prior winners of Owl Canyon Press Hackathons based on the opening and closing paragraphs below. The final selection will be made by the publisher on the basis of story, character, voice, the usual to determine the winning teams.


What happened to some of the prior Hackathon stories?

All of the prior Hackathon winners and finalists have had their short stories published in anthologies and one contestant expanded their short story into an award-winning novel.


What are the first and last paragraphs of the current challenge?

The First and two alternative last paragraphs are found on the Owl Canyon Press Submittable site, but here they are so you can get a sneak peek at them…


Paragraph #1

No coverage, not even one bar; the battery was dead anyway.  It was still daytime, but there was an overcast and the sky had a perfectly even dullness, so there was no way to tell what time of day it was, much less which direction was north or south or anything else for that matter.  A two-lane blacktop road snaked up into the distance and disappeared into some trees, or a forest if you wanted to get technical about it.  It also snaked down toward some lumpy hills and disappeared there as well.  What sounded like a two-stroke chainsaw could be heard in the distance, but it was impossible to tell whether it was up in the forest or down in the lumpy hills.  This had been happening more often lately.  Two different ways to go, with a dead battery and no bars, and nobody left to blame.


Paragraph #2 thru #49 – co-authors take turns writing these paragraphs


Paragraph #50A

They made their way through the crowd, and back to the Eldorado.  And as they approached it, a crow flew directly over their heads and landed on the hood and then looked at them.  They stood some distance away and watched the crow watching them.  Another crow flew directly overhead and landed beside it.  The first crow squawked and then both flew away.  They watched the crows disappear, looked at each other, and then got in the Eldorado.  Only one way to go this time, with five bars and full battery.


Paragraph #50B

The crowd parted as they approached, and it was hard to say if it was out of respect, reverence, fear, or awe, or possibly a combination of all four. The Eldorado was where they’d left it but was now fully engulfed in flames. The murder of crows was gone and all that remained of their presence was the random pattern of white spatters on the ground. Nowhere to go this time, even with five bars and a full battery.


Just copy and paste the opening paragraph from the entry form into your favorite text editor, take turns writing the next 48 paragraphs and then branching off two versions:

  • Save 2 copies of paragraphs 1-49 – one for each co-author

  • Co-author A appends paragraph 50A to their copy and saves it with a unique name

  • Co-author B appends paragraph 50B to their copy and saves it with a unique name

  • Team (i.e., either co-author) uploads both copies to the Submittable site

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