TUFF Flash Fiction Contest Part Four

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 26, 2020

Did you stay in the saddle for the full ride? Or are you here to slide under the fence, last minute? Either way, Rodeo Writers, you’ve TUFFed it out and we have arrived at our final challenge.

TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction) is a progressive form that takes you from draft to revision through several word reductions — 99, 59, 9, 99. Each step has had a twist along the way as the TUFF contest has unfolded:

The final twist in the contest involves an additional trope. The first draft included the tropes for western and romance. Tropes are elements that define a genre or theme. In this contest, we have used tropes as themes. Now, we will add a final trope as a prop.


A prop can be gold in your character’s hand. It’s a ring they fidget with that tells the readers they’re nervous. It’s the lariat they toss in boredom, the wooden spoon they waggle at someone with aggression, the leather wallet with a mysterious photo they won’t explain.

A prop can set a scene. It’s an empty glass on the saloon counter, the abandoned doll along a cattle trail, a slip of satin ribbon caught in a branch, an old saddle in the trunk of a sports car.

By now, you should have revised your first draft with insights gained through earlier twists and word reductions. Your final TUFF task is to add a prop without changing your revised story. Make the prop fit your story and set a scene or convey an emotion. Don’t change the story because of the prop. Instead, use the prop to better express the tone or emotion of your story.

An, of course, it’s not just any ol’ prop. You are to use the trope for an “eerily out of place object.” For those of you who like speculative fiction, now is your chance to add an alien spacecraft to the horse pasture. It can also be a small, ironic item such as a circuit pastor using a Crown Royal booze bag to carry his sermon notes.

Big or small, add it to your story without rewriting to accommodate or explain the item. Let it linger mysteriously. Better yet, use it to deepen characterization, create emotion or set a scene’s tone.

That’s it! This is when you will turn in all your work. Just like math class. Your first draft should be your first draft — unaltered! Your final draft should be the one you have tinkered and tweaked, editing and polishing.


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. Add an eerily out of place prop to your final draft.
  7. 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?
  8. The story can be fiction or BOTS (based on a true story).
  9. 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). The winner announced on December 1, 2020.

Join Goldie for our final Rodeo Contest — Wanted Alive! Contest goes live Tuesday, October 27.

Kid and Pal return to the Saddle Up Saloon next Monday. Be sure to catch their latest interview. Winners for the Rodeo Contests, including TUFF, announced successively every Tuesday through December 1.

Thank you to all who joined in the contests. A special shout out to our Rodeo Leaders, Kerry, Colleen, Marsha, and Goldie. Thank you to all the judges.

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  1. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Aargh, I’ve still got to do part 3. But glad it’s getting weirder!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha…good! Make it as weird as you want and no explanation needed.

  2. ellenbest24

    Help … I am done. But can not see where to post it? it says entry form here on 26th October … maybe it is not 26th there yet? it is 1300 hours on 26th here in the U.K. Charrrrlllii …. help.

    • Charli Mills

      Sorry, I did not hear your cries for help, Ellen! But I see you found your way to the website. Yeah, forms don’t show up in the reader which also cuts off posts. Good job!

  3. ellenbest24

    Okay, it only shows on the full website, not in the WordPress reader. Ignore me Charli it does not take much to confuse me.

    • Charli Mills

      You did it, Ellen!

      • ellenbest24

        Xxx phew!

  4. Jules

    I had an issue with a time out/ link expired…
    I hope ‘it’ only gets summited once.

    That last part was tricky to lasso in… but I caught my mistake and fixed it!

    • Charli Mills

      It just means the form was open longer than it’s set for a session. Resending did the trick. Thanks, Jules.

  5. Norah

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:

    Coming ready or not!
    Here’s the fourth and final part of the Carrot Ranch 2020 Rodeo TUFF contest. How are you going with your story? There’s still time to complete all stages if you’re not done yet.
    Good luck, writers!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, Norah!

      • Norah

        My pleasure, Charli. 🙂

  6. Norah

    Oh my, this is really TUFF. I am sooooo far behind. I will try to catch up this week and get an entry in. Good luck to all contestants!

    • Charli Mills

      You can do it, Norah!

      • Norah

        I’ll do my best. Can’t do more than that!

  7. Hugh W. Roberts

    I’ve had a great time trying to stay in the saddle, Charli. It’s the first time I’ve attempted this way of writing a piece of flash fiction. I have my final piece but am going to sleep on it over the next few days. But I’ll be sure to get all entries in by the deadline.
    Thanks so much for leading us on this trail and getting us over the finishing line.

    • Charli Mills

      What a great way to stretch yourself as a writer, Hugh! And you are wise, to sleep on it, to get perspective. The finishing line is in sight!

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        I’ve just crossed the finishing line, Charli. Hope my entry has come through.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Good luck, Hugh. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone’s contribution.

      • Hugh W. Roberts

        Thanks, Anne. Me too.

  8. Marje @ Kyrosmagica

    I’ve entered Charli I hope you got it okay? Marje

  9. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    I’m in! I wasn’t confident I’d meet the deadline but managed to carve out some space this morning. It was fun to do – apart from the nine-word summaries.


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