TUFF Flash Fiction Contest Part One

Written by Charli Mills

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

October 5, 2020

Welcome to the Saddle Up Saloon, Writers!

Yep. You’ve landed in the right spot if you are looking for the 2020 Flash Fiction Rodeo. Kid and Pal hit the trail, taking some well-deserved time off from running the Saloon. They hope to return next month, every Monday, with fun literary events and character interviews. If you have the daring to let your characters be interviewed by characters that refuse to believe they fall from the ink in D. Avery’s pen, then this month is a good time to get into the line-up. Contact Kid and Pal at D. Avery’s address averydede.1@gmail.com.

Let’s get down to the tuffest contest in the Rodeo. If you are not familiar with TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction), let me take a sip of this good hard cider Pal left for us and explain. TUFF is a progressive formula that requires a  writer to draft and revise. It begins with a 99-word quick draft. Next, you reduce the draft to 59 words. Then 9 words. Finally, you revise the original draft according to insights gained through reductions to complete a polished 99-word story. As a formula, it looks like this: 99-59-9-99. It’s a challenging format that asks writers to be vulnerable. Why? Because your first draft must read like a raw draft.

We want to see a transformation. We want to experience how you, as a writer, took a single draft and transformed it over a month. Yes, you get a month to complete the process. However, there will be unexpected twists along the way. Each Monday, I will announce a new twist for the next step to test your craft skills and versatility. Be prepared to stretch as a writer.

Let me explain why I like the TUFF process. The reductions force you to think differently about your word choices. It might change the outcomes of your stories. TUFF gets you out of the mindset that there is only one path for a story. As an MFA student, I’ve had to draft fast and hard, yet learn to make meaningful choices for revision. If I get stuck on a scene, I write that scene in 99-words and take it through the TUFF process. It helps me focus on what is essential and to take courage to cut what isn’t needed.

As a short story writer, TUFF can be your money-maker. Every month you can be entering cash-prize contests. TUFF can help you generate material. It can be hard to stare at the blank screen and develop five stories for five contests. But what if you have a great premise? Draft it in 99 words, and take it through the revision process but differently each time according to meeting the criteria of five different contests. You can start with one idea and develop five unique stories to learn to write with versatility.

You can use TUFF to develop a vision and mission as a literary artist or develop your pitch in varying lengths. As you write your novel, you should also be continually revising your pitch and synopsis. Drafting and defining are two different applications of storytelling. They can go hand in hand throughout the greater writing and revision process. TUFF can be a quick spark to these important activities. For an example of TUFF in action, watch my YouTube video, Yellow Roses.

But for now, it’s a contest!

Final entries won’t be collected until after the last part issued on Monday, October 26. Those of you who get started immediately are going to squirm all month, wanting to alter your draft. Don’t. Step away from the raw draft. It is meant to be raw. If you revise and polish it, the judges won’t be able to witness the transformation. And transformation is key. However, if you wait until the last week to do all four parts, your final piece will lack the depth of insight we want to see in the transformation. My best advice to contestants is to pace yourself each week. You can only enter one entry, but you can certainly get TUFF with as many stories as you like. Or, as I suggested earlier, you can play around with the 59-word and 9-word possibilities to take your draft in different directions.

We are not accepting challenges, only contest entries. Weekly challenges continue every Friday at CarrotRanch.com/blog.

Please read the rules thoroughly. And join us tomorrow for Kerry E.B. Black’s Rodeo Contest when it goes live.


  1. Your story must include western romance themes or tropes. See TVTropes.org for ideas wild west and romance to see how much fun you can have with this combination.
  2. Even though the story calls for you to mix two tropes, you are free to add more tropes or write in your genre of choice.
  3. You will submit one story, retold through varying word counts: 99 words, 59 words, 9 words, and 99 words.
  4. Your second 99-word story should show transformation through revision. How is it different? How is it improved? Did the TUFF process offer new insights for the final version?
  5. The story can be fiction or BOTS (based on a true story).
  6. Make the judges remember your story long after reading it.


  1. Every entry must meet the word count requirements exactly. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 99-59-9-99 words will be disqualified.
  2. Enter this contest only once. If you enter more than once, only your first entry will count.
  3. Do your best to submit an error-free entry. Apply English grammar and spelling according to your country of origin style. As long as the judges can understand the language, it is the originality of the story that matters most. However, we want to see a raw draft in the first 99-words, and a polished, edited draft in the second 99-words.
  4. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  5. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on November 1, 2020 (entry form posted October 26).
  6. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after the winner is announced on December 1, 2020.
  7. Use the entry form posted on part four of this contest Monday, October 26, 2020.


Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, will collect stories, omitting names to send to the judges. Because we are committed to blind judging, please refrain from posting your contest entry on your blog until after winners are announced. TUFF judges are familiar with this format. Life Coach and Grief Counselor, Cynthia Drake, uses TUFF with her clients. Poet, Editor, and College Professor, Laura Smyth, uses TUFF in her classroom. Both are returning judges and will be looking for transformative writing that results in a memorable story using western romance tropes. The top winner in each contest will receive a virtual badge and $25 (PayPal, check, Amazon gift card, or donation).

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  1. Leanne

    Haven’t participated in a writing challenge for months! Looking forward to this one 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Good one to jump into!

      • Leanne

        I don’t expect anything less 🙂

  2. robbiesinspiration

    This sounds very interesting, Charli.

    • Charli Mills

      It will be a mind bender!

  3. Norah

    Western and Romance, this is going to be a TUFF challenge. Will see what I can come up with.
    Happy writing and revising, everyone!

    • Charli Mills

      Look at the tropes links — so many fun ideas!

      • Norah

        There are indeed. Now to decide which ones. 🙂

  4. ellenbest24

    I am giving this a go. Good luck everybody.

    • Charli Mills

      Giddy up, Ellen!

      • ellenbest24


    • Hugh W. Roberts

      That link does not seem to work, Doug. At least not for me – all I get is a page that says ‘page not found.’ ????

    • Charli Mills

      Seems the links are not going where you intended, Doug.

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      No, that second link isn’t working either, Doug.

  5. Chel Owens

    I hate to sound confused, but I want to be absolutely certain I’ve got this right: this week, I am supposed to turn in the first 99-word draft; next week, 59; next week, 9; the last week, 99. Right?

    • Hugh W. Roberts

      From what I’ve read, Chel, you submit all four on the entry form that is being posted on October 26th. So 99-words, 59-words, 9-words and the final, polished 99-word version on that one entry form.

      If I’m wrong, I’m sure Charli will correct me.

      • Chel Owens

        Thanks, Hugh. That’s what I was confused about.

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        You’re welcome. So I’ve written my first 99-word piece. Next week I’ll rewrite the piece into 59-words, then the following week into 9-words and in the final week a new final polished 99-word version.

    • Liz H

      That was my understanding, as well.
      So, you could conceivably wait until, like week 4 to do each of the four tasks (99-59–9-99), but you’d have the disadvantage of not having time to detach from the work enough to give a good final review and edit…
      Good to have choices on what works best for one’s self. <3

    • Charli Mills

      Asking for clarification is good, Chel, and Hugh and Liz have it correct.

      • Chel Owens

        Oh, good! Thanks!

  6. Hugh W. Roberts

    I’m on board for this one, Charli. The first draft completed. Now I wait to see what you have in store for us all and my first draft next week.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m excited for the TUFF workout and I hope it leads to creative breakthroughs.

  7. E.A. Colquitt

    This looks fun! I’ll be trying only TUFF this year, I think, since this is my first October following the Ranch. I’m currently editing my first novel, so this will be good for me as extra editing experience 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I’m happy to hear you will give it a try! TUFF is a great tool for insight into your novel as you edit.

  8. Marsha

    Reblogged this on Marsha Ingrao – Always Write and commented:
    If your are looking for a way to compete with your writing skills, possibly win a little cash, and learn a whole lot, check out TUFF Flash Fiction.

  9. Marsha

    TUFF is launched. I reblogged the post on Always Write. I’ll be stretching my horsemanship muscles, as well. This is way out of my comfort zone, but I’m excited to try.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Marsha! You will have a month to turn in your final. The twists will take you further out of your comfort zone, but you will feel accomplished in the end!

      • Marsha

        I’m in. I wrote my first draft last night. So we turn them all in at once, then, right?

      • Charli Mills

        Correct! You’ll turn them all in at once. The first draft might drive you crazy, but let it sit and push your revision energy into the final draft.

  10. Colleen M. Chesebro

    Reblogged this on Word Craft ~ Prose & Poetry and commented:
    And TUFF has begun! Who thinks they can ride this bronc all the way through? Get out your sparkly spurs and your cowboy/girl hats… It’s time to ride!

  11. Colleen M. Chesebro

    This sounds like amazing fun! I can’t wait to get writing. <3

    • Charli Mills

      It will be fun and informative, too! Thanks for sharing, Colleen.

      • Charli Mills

        Ah, that’s the spirit of drafting!

  12. Sherri Matthews

    Yee haw, here we go! <3

    • Charli Mills

      Into the moonlight and dust of the rodeo arena!

      • Sherri Matthews

        Throws hat into the arena and watch out for Fred! <3

  13. floridaborne

    I’d like to participate, but the directions are confusing.

    1. Exactly where do we go to send our story?
    2. Will there be a Carrot Ranch page similar to the one for the weekly challenges?
    3. Is it too late to send something in for the first contest entry?

    • E.A. Colquitt

      This is my first TUFF, too!

      1. and 2. – Contest Rule #7 (above) says, ‘Use the entry form posted on part four of this contest Monday, October 26, 2020’, so I guess that that means we’ll have three more blog posts (like the one we’re commenting on right now) detailing the remaining parts of TUFF 2020, and the final post will tell us where to send the story drafts.

      3. It’s not too late, because we’re not supposed to send anything in just yet. It sounds like we have the whole of October to write the different drafts of our stories – the blog posts are probably only released weekly to give us the breathing space we need in order to make each draft better than the one before, BUT we can write the drafts at any time we like within the month 🙂

      • floridaborne


      • Charli Mills

        Yes, E.! You got it!

    • Charli Mills

      To clarify: the submission form will not be posted until October 26. ALL four parts of TUFF must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on November 1, 2020.

      This is a contest. Waiting until the final week to complete all four parts is not the best strategy. But, no it’s not too late until November 2. Three more parts to TUFF yet to come.

  14. H.R.R. Gorman

    Very exciting! I’ve never done a Western Romance, so we’ll see how well I can do. Hubby says I can do a good romance, but I’m really not sure how to manage it in 99 words – much less 9 – right off the bat!

    • E.A. Colquitt

      I’m in the same boat! I found the TV Trope link really helpful, then did a freewrite from there, and that helped my first draft 🙂

      • H.R.R. Gorman

        I ended up writing something – but Lord help me if the next “twist” does something too far out there!

    • Charli Mills

      Hi H. and E.! The tropes are where it’s at. You can actually write a western romance in any genre, just use some elemental tropes from the two. TV Tropes is such a great resource. You can do it 99 words! And the 9 words are the heart of the story — maybe it becomes your hook, or it is your punch at the end, or your shift in the middle. The more you can play with the tools, the more they will open up your story.


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