Beauty In The Broken: The Inside Story

Lawyers are not just people with wigs and gowns, they know the law and thus know what can make or mar you. That said, it is best we let the Chair of Judges speak. She was not a judge per se, but someone that judged the process and made sure that we stayed within the bounds of legality.

More to that, she went through all the stories, fished out those that went against the rules, determined how many (just numbers) should go to each stage and had a waiting standby graded scores to break a tie if there is any. That was so much power to wield. She speaks;

Nsongurua Hanson is a legal practitioner, however, she dwells in the literary world. Poetry is her favourite genre. Undoubtedly contributions of prose and play in her literary journey cannot be overemphasized. She has been part of many organizing teams offline and online in the Literary Community.

Beauty in the Broken
There is so much beauty in weaving words. The depth of the stories we received mirrored the truths concealed in the hearts of broken souls. Over 100 stories weaved with alphabets had readers/writers that constituted the panel tirelessly scroll laptops, phones and other electronic devices to select the best entries.

As expected different Judges reviewed the work from different perspectives, indeed it is/was a beautiful team.

The winning story
‘How To Die On a Tuesday’; the theme is creative, the story takes us on a journey. Death is presented as a solution to pain and anguish. Death is an unpleasant end often hoped against but reluctantly many readers agree with the writer’s opinion. Notably, the protagonist concedes reluctantly as reflected in the sentence ” she betrays her expectations”. The writer’s diction is applaudable.

At this point I’ll like to say 80% of the entries could have been winning stories, yes, many writers dug out beauty with their pens in this contest, from the theme to the setting, plot, diction, characterization, and tone. That you didn’t win the contest doesn’t make you less a writer. The ultimate goal is to keep improving as a writer and never judge your progress by how many contest you’ve won or will win but by the quality of your weaves with the alphabets.

I suppose we have the permission to say a few more things.

We Were Broken

For a month and a half, we had issues with our web host which led to multiple outages. It was not good for a time we had a contest, it was not good for anytime and considering that this was new and strange and stressing and happened the entire contest period and was resolved just after it, we wondered if this was not our own “broken”. We thought of changing webhosts mid-contest, but the possible data loss made us stop short of that. We would, now that this is over.

The Three-tier System Was Unintended

When we thought it would be the usual system of picking a ten-story shortlist and then the winners, entries trickled… and poured. Picking ten stories from 100 was cruel, at least our Chair of Judges said so. We needed five more judges to fill the gap of introducing another judging level. It was a difficult task, but it seemed easy eventually, and it was great that great minds agreed to volunteer on short notice. Some writers made it easy by breaking the rules, over 20% of entries were disqualified.

The Funny Rules sent to ‘Masquerades’

The judges did not have absolute powers, they were closely watched by contestants that had the rules too, at every stage. The only shield judges had was their masks, they were ‘spirits’ or ‘masquerades’ and thus had their hidden identities as a cover.

The rules themselves were somewhat funny. Here they are:

BREAKIG DOWN ‘BEAUTY IN THE BROKEN’ (Rules for first stage judges)

There are many things we think are useless until one day they prove useful, but if items are what this is about, then perhaps pictures of junkyards and abandoned places would have been more suitable. The truth is that we are all like earthenware and carry the “fragile” tag, but there are lives with cracks, there are lives shattered or broken. Situations that cause this and how to find hope are too numerous to list. Death for instance can be both a cause of pain and relief. It all depends.

Beauty in the Broken is supposed to be a way of finding something good, positive or even a relief out of that bleak situation… sometimes, this beauty is a perception, but we believe it is inherent too.

You must have read our thoughts: this theme can be interpreted in a million ways… the same way we use the same ingredients for jollof, yet start a war about which country’s is the best. Really, the taste of the writing is in the reading.

To lessen your load, ineligible entries have been flagged on the list. Do justice. What a relief it is not to judge…we said these in 200 words!

Now let us get down to business, there are a few additional things:

  • The attached stories are devoid of personal data of the writers. You are judging anonymously hence by accepting the task, you have agreed to keep this confidential.
  • If you need help with non-English words in the stories that may blur your understanding, we are here to help out. Even names used may have deep meanings.
  • Do not ignore the structure, presentation and tenses. Even jollof is lovelier when garnished.
  • English language is fluid. ‘Sef’ made it to the dictionary, so did vuvuzela, so do not be shocked kintsugi has a driving seat. Look up words to be sure.   
  • Hold on, do not judge a piece by its title, writers had the liberty to use any title so there may be something in there. Those that used the theme as the title had subtitles introduced in parenthesis (by us) to make them distinct and not confuse you.
  • You are one of five First Stage Judges. You do not need to know the others, except there is need to agree on stories to drop or include in the combined longlist.
  • You are a very good reader.
  • If a story is ‘out of the box’ then go out to understand it. Creativity is sometimes unconventional.
  • Writers and others have the opportunity to read the works anonymously, so use your head and not your heart or they will judge you too. They have this document too. Be fair.  
  • You are to select your top 30 stories (without ranking them).
  • We trust your combined judgements.

‘BEAUTY IN THE BROKEN’, PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER (Additional rules for second stage judges)

Many stories missed out on making this longlist simply because they did not stick to the rules, intentional or not. They became beautiful pieces of broken pottery that were axed. Now that we have gathered the ones sent us by the first stage judges, then there is a need to look beyond just capturing the theme in a literal way.

Creative writing, as the word goes, is creative and a good writing command a second reading, it is like savoring a good meal… you eat and think and enjoy. This is the stage to pick out those stories for the final stage.

From the choices made by the first stage judges, the interpretation for this theme is wide and like life, it is like a piece of class that could be looked at from different angles and different reflections seen.

All the stories sent to you have met the basic requirement of doing the theme some sort of justice because the judges at the previous stage thought so, and at least three of five judges picked each of these stories.

The basic rules still apply, and they are as stated below:

  • You are one of five Second Stage Judges. You do not need to know the others, except there is need to agree on stories to drop or include in the combined shortlist.
  • You are a very good reader, but in addition to that you are not afraid to choose.
  • You are to select your top 10 stories (without ranking them). If you are having difficulties with the number 10, then suggest a suitable number, we may just consider. Wildcards are integral parts of the game that has “love” inside. We meant tennis.

Kudos to you and the team. It was indeed much hard work and dedication, most especially considering the fact that those who volunteered to accept being part of the whole process sacrificed much without expecting a reward.

A reader

To the final stage judges, we sent a letter:

Dear Judges,

If I expected the results Today, 4 Days Later I would still find the compilation to be A Mosaic of Shards, almost there, but never there. That is how difficult this task is, so let us add a few more days. No one wants to learn How To Die On A Tuesday because there is Beauty in Brokenness if we keep Staying Positive.

My grandpa was a sailor, he was absolutely In Love With Marines. We loved his tablet though, but as kids we wrongly called it Pa’s Alphabet, and on it we played games like The Little Butterfly. He is no more though; he went too Early To Sleep in death; he was not that old.

If only life were an art, perhaps I would learn this Japanese thing, I mean Kintsugi, or maybe a bit of painting, so I can coat Hues On A Portrait. Life isn’t all art though and I wonder if life is Of A Stale Place And Alluring Flavour, a mixture of fragrance and odours.

All the same, when someone asked me of the judging process, I told them you bear the burden. “It is My Party, Their Pining” I had said.

We have created a piece from pieces of the captions of entries you will assess. It highlights the various angles from which the contestants approached the theme and how through the previous stages, those judges agreed that justice was done to the theme in each of these stories.

Toiyo Benjamin, writer of a shortlisted story

The above stated, this rule is golden: “We are focused on creativity” at this stage… or should we call it finesse?


Writing is the art of painting words on a canvas of space. As you know, some ‘mistakes’ may be intended, so don’t miss-take them. If in doubt, ask and we will be glad to assist.


If you believed the story of my grandpa being a sailor, you are several nautical miles away from the truth. I love tied knots though. Look out for the best way entries married their chosen captions to their writings and the central theme. This is not bigamy though.


Grey makes you work hard to separate black from white. Some stories are like that. Try to understand the stories. Ask for help with some word not found in the dictionary, they may have deeper meanings than you think.


– Ellah Wakatamah Affrey (Zimbabwean Writer)

I do not totally agree with her, but partially do. If you write for just yourself, then you are confined. The entries you chose must be relatable, that is why you do not know who the contestants are so that you do not assume their personalities and try to see why their stories were the way you saw it. You were chosen because you are an excellent reader… and you write too sometimes, but above all, you could make the big choices.


I grew up believing masquerades were spirits because they are masked. You are a ‘spirit’ in this sense, remain one and treat the entries with confidentiality. There is something about masquerades and carefulness and expressways I hear in a song.


Some writers can write and get to your heart. It could be because of your personal experience or the experiences of loved ones, but do not judge by emotions.


Lastly, we have tried to cut you down to size by reducing the power you have. You are five (two males, two females and the third will prefer not to say. No, not that, just choice.) and there is a confined range of marks you can give as indicated in the attached excel sheet. This will help reduce the weighting effects of your emotions.

If two entries are inseparable in your ranking, give them a joint score, but the next position will be vacant. For instance, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 5th, etc.

Many thanks for many things.

They are waiting, and so are we.

Yours pen-fully,

Me and

Beauty in the Broken Contest Team

Maymunah Kadiri, writer of a shortlisted story

The Contest ‘Was Not A Contest’

This was not just a contest, it was the story of us. We are broken in one way or the other, all of us are. Going through the inspiration behind some stories moved us to tears. There were inspired by true events and personal experiences. One could not help but admire the courage to come out strong and to tell these stories for others to learn from.

That a story did not win does not mean it was not good enough, it meant that choices had to be made and one story must have had an edge over others. It could have been the other way round given another circumstance.

Hope is all we need to survive because circumstances may continue to look for ways to break us. That is why we lock our hands together and pull through the raging storm. The reason this theme was chosen is because there were people that were reading these stories and using them to mend their own broken pieces. By participating in this contest, writers helped mend a broken soul or two by their stories.

What Else?

Of course we will do something again next year, but we have an eBook to compile, but it will be made up of stories of only those that agreed that their stories be put in the eBook. There may be voiceovers for the top entries and maybe something else, we are not sure. We are also pleased that an illustrator in the team, Eniola Doko is working on a unique eBook cover and drawings for at least the top five stories.


Your support is appreciated

I’m sure you enjoyed your experience here and would like to make a kind donation to me. Thank you, in advance!

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