Rodeo #1: Dialog Winners

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

November 9, 2018

Well, it’s over, and we judges have had a blast. It looks like you people did too. In all, we received 38 entries. Only a couple failed on word count, a couple of others didn’t stick rigidly to dialogue, but most of you were very good and complied with the rules. Even managing to make something from what was a tricky picture prompt.

Yes, that is me, and that is a giant tortoise; my family spent a day behind the scenes at London Zoo, including feeding these magnificent reptiles. My daughter is responsible for capturing me having the brief catch up…


Before we get down to the business end a few general thoughts:

  • In a fair few cases, there was still some ‘telling’. When you only have 99 words you really mustn’t. You have to leave a lot to the reader’s imagination, let them work it out. Sometimes the best entries are those we had to come back to, to find the hidden gems.
  • I’m often guilty of penning a snippet, making a joke but to win these competitions you need depth. A story hinted at perhaps but something more than just those 99 words. A character we care about also gains a bonus tick.
  • Use the title. These are free words. Clever titles, puns, and word plays are all very neat, and I love them, but if you use them to help the judges understand something about your story, you don’t need to then explain it in the story.

Ok, so let’s get down to cases. We liked a lot of what we read; we also disagreed (except the winner – that stood out). So this is how it goes. Each of us has chosen a story we liked, but the others felt they couldn’t push it higher into a place; these we have given a Honourable Mention.

***Honourable Mentions***

From Judge: Chelsea Owen

Man to Man By Deborah Shaw-Wagner

“You seem like a wise old thing. May I ask a question?”

“Well, I don’t know from wise, but I’m old enough. Ask away.”

“It’s just you’re the first I’ve come across where I feel comfortable asking. You look like you’ve seen a thing or two.”

“Or three, sure.”

“Don’t tell anyone, but I’m having woman trouble. We don’t move through life at the same pace.”

“Can’t she slow down? Can’t you speed up? Compromise?”

“We’ve tried. Nothing works.”

“Then maybe it’s time to move on.”

“I live in a giant terrarium! How far am I going to get?”

 Chelsea says: This piece had several interesting elements in it, including a tortoise asking advice of Geoff (the old and wise man) and Geoff then asking whether the tortoise might need to ‘speed up’ or ‘slow down’ regarding his ‘women trouble.’

I felt the take was clever, and appreciated the author’s following the parameters set up. If it would have had a definite story arc and less of just a conversation snippet, I think it could have bumped up to top three for sure.

From Judge Esther Chilton

Of Old Men, Teens, and Tortoises By Nidheesh Samant (The Dark Netizen)

“Do you see that old man there? The one talking to the turtle.”

“Yep, I see him. He’s looking like a retard.”

“Hahaha! These senile old farts, I tell you. I bet he believes that the tortoise over there understands what he is saying.”

“I guess it can’t be helped. Comes with old age.”

* * *

“You see that girl there, Mr. Tortoise? The one who’s looking here and talking to herself. I bet she’s making fun of me.”

“Teenagers, I tell you. They think everyone else is an idiot. I bet they also think tortoises don’t speak.”

Esther says: I chose this as my HM because I like the two different viewpoints. The first is the teenagers’ viewpoints and what they make of the man and tortoise. Having a teenager myself and being around them quite a bit, I could imagine teenage girls thinking along these very lines! Being critical, some of the dialogue could be made tighter and perhaps doesn’t reflect how teenagers speak these days. But the concept is excellent.

The second viewpoint is from the man and the tortoise. Just as the teenagers are mocking them, they replay the compliment. There is some slight confusion with the line ‘The one who’s looking here and talking to herself’, whereas in the photo, there are two teenage girls together, and as there is a clear conversation going on between them in the first half of the story, this line doesn’t quite gel.

But, overall, the idea is great; it’s a neat little story, which makes the reader smile. The two different viewpoints give it that something and they tie in together nicely.

From Judge Geoff Le Pard

A Shell of His Former Self By Bill Engleson



“I thought…”

“That it would last longer?”


“It lasted as long as it did.”

“I suppose. But that’s not much of an answer.”

“Hmmm! Do you really have a question?”

“Of course. It seems like it has ended…far too soon.”

“It always does. But what did you expect? Advance notice?”

“Maybe. Why not?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because LIFE is all the notice you’re entitled to. By all accounts, you’ve had a good one.”

“And still have, right?”

“Time does flit.”

“You are so fucking cryptic.”

“I’ve been told that. Regardless. Better pack your bags.”

Geoff says: I enjoyed the premise of the Tortoise as a sort of grim reaper, preparing the man to meet his end. The philosophical conversation was great, about getting some notice of impending death and there still being time, like the tortoise is playing with the man but at the end letting him down not very gently with ‘Better pack your bags’. When we discussed it, we felt it lacked that something more, the suggestion of a bigger story here which the opening exchanges might have been used to incorporate. It meant, eventually, we didn’t feel the necessary warmth towards the characters to push this onto the podium. It made me laugh, though and that always leaves a nice glow.

Ok, so now the places. Drum roll….

Third Place

(receives a digital copy of Apprenticed To My Mother, by Geoff Le Pard)


Seems terminal By Anne Goodwin

“I’ve seen some serious cases, but this.”

“So tragic.”

“Should’ve taken precautions.”

“They don’t all end up in this state?”

“Not the ones who exercise self-control.”

“But isn’t it addictive? No going back once you’ve hit that high.”

“No return to normal, admittedly. But lots draw the line at earwigging on conversations on the bus.”

“Wouldn’t you be curious, though? Wouldn’t you want to inhabit the mind of a tortoise? Or a former lawyer obsessed with words?”

“Sure, if it were reversible.”

“How do you know it’s not?”

“Go and talk to the tortoise. Betcha he answers to Geoff.”

Chelsea says: I believe we liked the unique approach to this prompt. It was two persons engaged in conversation, and was a story based on the picture but not specifically ABOUT the picture Geoff included. Also, it had a twist and a bit of humor.

A really nit-picky suggestion would be to clear up some continuity between the first part of their conversation and the last sentence. I get the idea they are talking about THE tortoise they can see, even standing over him. Then, one says to the other, “GO and talk to the tortoise” like they are not near him.

Esther Says: Again, this story hooks the reader right from the start. What’s serious and so tragic? Gradually, all becomes clear. It’s a witty, amusing story and uses the prompt in a great way, reversing the roles of who’s actually who in the photo. The last sentence is a belter, making the story finish on a high.

Being picky, the dialogue in the middle could be improved – the paragraph beginning ‘No return to normal…’ is slightly wordy.

Geoff says:  It’s a piece that full of potential in what’s really going on and how the conversation is probably taking the man somewhere too far. There’s a lot of nicely judged humour and a great last line.

Roll those drums again, and we come to:

Second Place

(receives a digital copy of Esther’s book of short stories, the Siege)

 Untitled By  Sarah Brentyn

“Mr. Le Pard?”

“He’s not here.”

“Isn’t that him?”

“Yes. It is.”

“Okay. Well I need to deliver—”

“He’s not here at the moment.”

“But he’s right there. You just said.”

“He’s probably at the park…maybe the zoo.”

“Excuse me?”

“You must be new.”

“Well, yes. Today’s my first day. I’m Susan. I told him that earlier but he called me Shelley.”

“Ah, the zoo it is then. He’s off visiting his friend, Shelley, the tortoise. No telling when he’ll be back. Just leave the lunch tray, Susan. One of the nurses can bring his meds back later.”

Chelsea says: I think I mostly enjoyed the idea of Geoff being crazy and on medication. He IS speaking with a tortoise, for Pete’s sake. The dialogue was believable and did not leave me scratching my head as to who was speaking and what he/she intended with his phrases.

-With the exception of a bit of a muddy patch there in the “Isn’t that him? / Yes. It is. / Okay / Well I need to deliver— / He’s not here at the moment. / But he’s right there. You just said.” That was a tad confusing with Geoff later being revealed as being at the zoo visiting his friend.

Esther says: The story, which has been awarded second place intrigues right from the start. There’s confusion between our two conversationalists. This hooks the reader and makes them want to know what’s going on. The reality is a sad one, and it’s so poignant. The last line is very understated yet finishes the story powerfully.

Nonetheless, the writer does overexplain the ending, and so the last couple of paragraphs are a little clunky.

Geoff says: There’s so much warmth and poignancy here. It confuses, deliberately so at the start, and that echoes the man’s confusion. And the ending, the inherent sympathy of the carers allowing him his time ‘inside’ is delightfully done. So much we want to know about, about the time at the zoo, the other place he visits. As already foreshadowed by my fellow judges there were a couple of places where we felt the dialogue clunked a little at the end. But a great piece. (thought what’s with the lack of title…?)

And now, for the drums and the fireworks and the whizz-bangs and applause and jazz hands and all kinds of cacophony we have…

The winning entry

The biggest of stars

The flashista extraordinaire

(takes home a cool $25.00 and all the accolades)


No Title By Sarah Brentyn

“Mommy, that man’s kissing the tortoise.”

“He’s not kiss…oh, dear God. Zookeeper!”

“What seems to be the problem, Ma’am?”

“The turtle—”

“Ah, yes. Sad state of affairs, that is. And it’s a tortoise.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Not much I can do, you understand.”

“I do NOT understand.”

“Can’t just magically change the situation, now can I?”

“You must do something. The turtle—”


“Whatever! Stop giggling, Jenny.”

“Don’t worry, Ma’am. We’ve hired a witch to reverse the spell. Should be here next week. He’ll have his wife back then. Enjoy your day.”

Chelsea says: This story was one of my favorites from the start, in terms of humor, interesting dialogue, and incorporating more than one speaker. The words flowed rather well, which made for smooth reading. I was also able to picture the characters; I believe I may have started assigning each a tone and a certain lilt to his/her speech.

I have only highly critical suggestions of what could be improved (especially considering it won first place). First, a few bits in the ending phrase are confusing without the aid of the picture. Second, even more, distinct voices would help in piecing out who is speaking -though, as-is, that’s not difficult to figure out.

Esther says: Our winning story stands out as it interprets the prompt very well, the dialogue flows and is realistic, and it’s a complete story in itself. I also like the gradual build-up towards the climax, where all is revealed. It’s a light, fun story and leaves the reader with a warm glow.

If there’s any criticism, and it’s only very slight, perhaps there could be more ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’ in the last paragraph.

Geoff says: On first read this won. Then I read it again and again and it won again. It has so much. Three people and you know exactly who is speaking – that takes real skill. There’s humour, there’s a twist, there’s a larger story as to how the man’s wife was turned into a tortoise and why, there’s a nice fantasy about it, there’s time for a little parental correction ‘stop giggling Jenny’ as well as the parent twice being corrected that we have a tortoise not a turtle and all in 99 words. If there’s anything to say to improve it, I think the last paragraph might benefit from reworking – given everything else here it feels almost like unnecessarily lengthy exposition… but I really am being picky.

So there you have it. The benefits of completely blind judging means our winner and our second placed entrant is one and the same: Sarah Brentyn.

Take a bow, smarty pants….

Read the full collection at Rodeo #1: Dialog.

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  1. Chelsea Owens

    And if there’s but one thing I learned: don’t be afraid to enter!

    • Charli Mills

      That is good advice, Chelsea. I like that we do a contest event every year so that we can practice entering and overcoming the fear and doubt all writers struggle with from time to time. Thank you for judging!

      • Chelsea Owens

        Thanks for all you do!

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks! It’s our point of caring so we can all grow in our art! 😉

  2. Colleen Chesebro

    Wow! I’m thrilled for the winners and many congratulations go to Sarah Brentyn, one of my favorite people who is talented beyond belief. Fabulous! <3

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Colleen!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Thanks, lovely. ????

  3. TanGental

    thank you Charli, for hosting and thank you my judges for being perfect and opinionated and fun and all of the entrants for, well, trying.

    • Charli Mills

      And thank you, Geoff, for your leadership and humor!

  4. The Haunted Wordsmith

    Congrats to everyone who entered, honorable mentions, and the winner!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Teresa!

  5. Ritu

    Congratulations to all the winners, and doubly to Sarah!!!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Thanks, Ritu! ????

  6. the dark netizen

    Great stories here!
    Congrats to everyone! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      Congratulations, Dark Netizen!

      • the dark netizen

        Thank You, Charli! 😀

  7. Liz H

    Double Kudos to Sarah–you can read and sip a bottle of wine as you do so, with your winnings!! And congratulations to Anne, as well as to the Honorable Mentions.
    The task seemed too daunting for me to even try, so congratulations also to all who took a swing at a very tricky challenge!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Double thanks to you, Liz! ???? I can always sip a bottle of wine. It’s Wednesday…wine. It’s 2:14…wine. It’s Groundhog Day…wine. Thank you and cheers! ????

      • Liz H


    • Charli Mills

      Cheering you all with my favorite wine — Prosecco bubbles!

  8. calmkate

    lol Sarah was a clear winner, well done! Anne also and everyone else who entered … glad I wasn’t a judge as it would be far too difficult!
    My first effort at dialogue only so I obviously need a lot more practice, thanks everyone for the opportunity!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Thanks! ????

      • calmkate

        you have talent, nice to meet you!

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Thank you kindly. ???? Nice to meet you, as well.

    • Charli Mills

      …there will be future opportunities to judge…!

      • calmkate

        I first need to learn how to write Charli 😉

      • Charli Mills

        Oh, Kate…we are all learning to write! Judging is a process, and it’s teachable. It also teaches us to be better writers. 😉

  9. Miriam Hurdle

    Congratulations to all winners and double congrats to Sarah. Excellent stories! Thank you for all the judges of your fun work!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Double thanks! ????

      • Miriam Hurdle

        You’re welcome, Sarah. Great work. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Miriam!

      • Miriam Hurdle

        Thank you, Charli. Thank you for showing the photo of the hard working team!

  10. denmaniacs4

    Thanks to Charli, Esther, Geoff and Chelsea and congratulations to Sarah for her “exacta-like” first and second place wins and Anne for third and Nidheesh and Deborah for their honourable mentions…Not to sound too owl-like but this was a hoot…

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Thank you!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! A hoot is a good descriptor! Thanks, Bill and congratulations for further writing recognition. 😉

  11. Norah

    Congratulations to Sarah for a double win, and to Anne, Bill, Nidheesh and Chelsea for such wonderful stories. What a tough job for the judges – congratulations to you all too, and for your tips on improving our writing.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Thank you, lovely lady. ???? It was a tough job for the judges, I’m sure. So many great entries!

      • Norah

        Yep, so many great entries. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      All our judges are in for hard decisions. Our writers this year turned in excellent submissions!

      • Norah

        I agree. It’s really difficult to pick just one. I’m enjoying reading the stories entered in the fractured fairy tale contest, but judging, that’s a completely different thing.

  12. Norah

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    And the results of #1 Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Contest are in. Congratulations to the winners, honourable mentions and all who entered. Read the winning entries in the Carrot Ranch post and follow the link to read all entries. What a fabulous read!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, Norah!

      • Norah

        My pleasure.

  13. Annecdotist

    Thank you judges! This was such a fun contest and honoured to be placed behind the mega-talented Sarah Brentyn. Fascinating seeing where we all went with our 99 words.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      It has always amazed and fascinated me to see where different writers go with the same prompt.

      Thanks for your kind words, Anne. ???? Congratulations!

    • Charli Mills

      Congratulations, Anne!

  14. Sarah Brentyn

    Um. Er. Okay, well that was…unexpected. I’m humbled. Flabbergasted, actually. Congratulations, Anne. And many congrats to all who placed and entered this. It was a tough one! (But so fun.)

    Thank you to the judges for placing me in this and for your critiques. (Argh! I knew I messed up the entry form. Somehow didn’t get my titles in there. I always use titles. Happy to be an example of what not to do, though. ???? Good advice, Geoff. They are free words and you should use them.)

    Thank you all for your kind words. ????

    • Charli Mills

      Congratulations, Sarah! Great writing! <3

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Thanks so much, Charli. ????????

  15. Jules

    Fun reads. Thanks to all who entered too.
    I see that at the top of CR under Rodeo we can read the other entries too.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jules! The last line in the post directs readers to the Dialog entries page for a great read on all the stories.

      • Jules

        I was reading this in between raking leaves. I missed that part. I found the other stories when I was having issues with getting CR posts in my mail but not having the posts show up on the side bar.

        I missed that last line… My pants – not so smart, or maybe it’s just my old eyes? 😉

      • Charli Mills

        Ha, ha! I have similar eyes! Just wanted to point it out for those who also might have missed the line and link. 😉

  16. robbiesinspiration

    All fabulous and entertaining entries.

    • Charli Mills

      It was a fun contest that generated great entries!

      • robbiesinspiration

        Yes, reading these I see I was a bit on the wrong track with mine. Never mind, I have shared it anyway.

      • Charli Mills

        The way of writing is that we are all off course! We keep writing, we find better ways to process and revise, and we take creative risks. You should be proud of your story, Robbie. It is worth sharing! Any improvements we can see, we apply to the next draft or revision. There’s a beauty to that rhythm.

  17. dgkaye

    Well done everyone! Special congrats to my friend Sarah Brentyn. Taking in a double win, woohoo!!!! <3

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Thanks, Debby! ????????

      • dgkaye


    • Charli Mills

      Sarah did well! Thanks, Debby!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, traci1

  18. tracikenworth

    Congrats to the winners! I didn’t even notice the tortoise, lol.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! The eye does go to the pontificating man!

    • Charli Mills

      The writers gave the judges a difficult task. The full entries make a great read, too. Thank for sharing, Sally!

  19. LucciaGray

    Fabulous stories, all about Geoff’s visit to the zoo, or not! Loved them all! Congratulations????????????

    • Charli Mills

      Who knew that Geoff at the zoo could inspire so much? 😀 Thanks, Lucy!

  20. Esther Chilton

    It was wonderful to be a part of this. Congratulations to all the winners and HMs. Fabulous writing. A big thank you to Charli for hosting the competition and to Geoff for asking me to be a fellow judge. I loved it!

    • Charli Mills

      Esther, thank you for your guidance on the judging and taking time to be thorough. I’m so pleased to have you be a part of the Rodeo at Carrot Ranch!

      • Esther Chilton

        I loved every minute. Thank you 🙂

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Thanks so much for judging, Esther. Excited to have won your book! Look forward to reading it. 🙂

      • Esther Chilton

        Congratulations on your top two placings! A fantastic achievement. We had no idea that the top two were by the same author as the styles were so different. You have great versatility as a writer. A rare talent 🙂

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Aw. ???? Thank you, Esther. I enjoy writing vastly different stories– styles, voices, genres. It’s a challenge, but fun. (I know you all had no idea…must have been something when you saw that!)

      • Charli Mills

        That’s a good point, Esther. Versatility is one of Sarah’s (many) talents as a writer.

  21. Silver Screenings

    These are all wonderful entries. Congrats to the lovely and talented Sarah!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Thank you! ???? ????

  22. pedometergeek

    Wonderful stories, all. Congrats to the winners! Kudos! ~nan

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Nancy!

  23. floatinggold

    CongratZ to winners/ honorable mentions!
    Too bad Sarah Brentyn didn’t enter 7 different dialogues so that she could win all. Lol.

  24. Sherri Matthews

    Congratulations to all the winners and HM’s and especially to Sarah for her two-time placements, richly deserved. Lovely to catch up with you again here, Sarah. Geoff, this was a great contest, I so much wanted to enter for the fun of it (sounds lame, but away that week, wifi pathetic…groan). Anyway, loved all these stories, excellent, and loved the write ups too. Wonderful!

    • Charli Mills

      And not to mention you were wrangling your own twisted contest, too, Sherri! 😉 Thank you!

      • Sherri Matthews

        Haha…thanks, Charli! 🙂 <3


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