TUFF Flash Fiction Contest Part Three

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 19, 2020

How are you doing TUFF rodeo writers?

You should be familiar with your 99-word story by now (Part One), and hopefully, you have spent some time exploring your story from different points of view (Part Two). TUFF is The Ultimate Flash Fiction and those of you daring enough to enter this progressive contest are spending a month on a single story taking it from draft to revision.

Part Three is your final tool in the process. It’s the tightest word reduction of your story: 9 words. That’s not a typo. The word count isn’t missing a double-digit. It’s nine words that you can count on your hands, presuming you didn’t lose any fingers riding bulls at your last rodeo.

Why so few words? This is a tool to arrive at the heart of your story. It’s the hook to interest a reader. Think of taglines from movies:

  • In space, no one can hear you scream. (Alien)
  • 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They’re looking for one. (Finding Nemo)
  • One dream. Four Jamaicans. Twenty below zero. (Cool Runnings)

Novels have taglines, too. Often they stand out as a quote above a book blurb on a cover. It can be the hook for a query letter or a zinger for promotional materials.

  • Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free. (An Ember in the Ashes)
  • Winning will make you famous. Losing means certain death. (The Hunger Games)
  • She had six husbands, money, and one lover too many. (The Long Goodbye)

If you are writing a book, a tagline becomes your guide. You can print it off and tape it to your computer monitor, reminding you what your book is about.

Like with TUFF Part Two, this step is meant to be a tool to help you get to the heart of your story. And, yes, there is a twist.


Write THREE 9-word taglines that capture the heart of your story:

  1. Pick the strongest aspects of your story and write it in 9-words.
  2. Next, pick the aspects you left out, and write another 9-words.
  3. Write a final 9-words that summarizes the conflict or tension.

You will have one more TUFF step after this one. It will be your revision, the reason you are given tools to rethink your original story. You will submit all steps, using the submission form in Part Four by November 1 (11:59 p.m. EST).

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 Marsha Ingrao’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. You must turn in TWO 59-word count reductions of your story (one in the original POV, and one in a different POV).
  5. You must turn in three 9-word count reductions of your story into three different taglines.
  6. 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?
  7. The story can be fiction or BOTS (based on a true story).
  8. 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. Norah

    The plot thickens, or in this case, thins. Great contest, Charli.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! That’s a good way to put it, Norah! Or perhaps, the plot tightens.

      • Norah

        Yes. I think that’s better, Charli. I knew thins wasn’t the right write, so I’m pleased you came up with it. 🙂

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        That’s the process, little by little towards a stronger line (and I know line isn’t the right word either, or even stronger!)

      • Charli Mills

        There are many “lines,” Anne. Loglines, taglines, synopsis lines, hook lines, first lines, finish lines…

  2. Hugh W. Roberts

    Three? Oh, my. That’s a great twist, Charli. I’ve already started.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m glad you are embracing the challenge, Hugh!

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        I’m loving it, Charli. I have my three.

      • Charli Mills

        Yes! Well done!

  3. Liz H

    Uffda! You’e killin’ me here, Mills!
    (quietly sobbing)
    (Snap of leather as she pulls herself up by her own bootstraps!)

    • Charli Mills

      I’ve been trained by the best! Do it many times in different ways. You’ll be a story code-cracker in snazzy leather boots, Liz!

  4. Norah

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:

    Part three of the Carrot Ranch 2020 Rodeo TUFF contest is now underway. Time to sharpen those pens again. Good luck everyone!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, Norah!

      • Norah

        My pleasure, Charli.

  5. Sarah Brentyn

    Can not believe the rodeo is here again. This one snuck up on me. Will check out this year’s line-up. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      It was March, and then suddenly the leaves were changing. 2020 time warp. I agree with Anne, you have the superpower!

  6. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    I think this is where I discover I should’ve picked a different story!

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, interesting!


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