Join the Journey - IEW's 2017 Writing Contest

2017 submissions have been completed.
Read the full story here!


Would you like to help IEW build a story?

This year's contest features a monthly writing prompt as students contribute to a growing nine-part story that will conclude in December. The plot will continue from month to month until it reaches its exciting conclusion! One submission each month will win a $50 IEW gift certificate, $50 in cash for the student, and will be published on our website. Submit below.

Marcus and Julia, brother and sister in ancient Rome, are living in crazy times! Their father is away in the emperor’s army, so they are building their own business and helping their uncle find connections in order to sell food to the Roman emperor’s palace. But this is the infamous "Year of the Four Emperors" in Rome, and no one is sure who will be emperor next! As political intrigue spins out of control, what will happen to their uncle’s business? Will their father return? How will their family survive?

These are the sorts of questions that YOU will help us answer! IEW will publish a new monthly prompt and writing assignment to let you Join the Journey! Click here to sign up for our monthly newsletter and be notified when each month's prompt comes out.


Here’s how it works:

  • Read the story for the month. Then, read and follow your instructions in the "How to Join the Journey" section.
  • Each month’s story will build on the previous month’s, allowing you to join an exciting journey!
  • The end of the epic tale is up to you! We will select the official ending to our story from among December’s submissions.
  • For basic guidelines, please follow the instructions at Submissions should be written with the Structure and Style™ writing method just like any other Magnum Opus submission. Content should be family-friendly, and the overall length of each month’s submission should follow the instructions given in the “How to Join the Journey” section.
  • When finished, writers for Join the Journey should click the “Submit” button for the correct month at the bottom of this page. All submissions will be due approximately one month after the prompt is first published in our monthly newsletter.

Each month from now until December, IEW will select one winner from that month’s submissions. The winner will receive a $50 IEW gift certificate, $50 in cash for the student, and publication on our website as part of our ongoing story. A link to the final combined story will be published in our next Magnum Opus Magazine. As a special bonus, the skilled writer who submits the story’s official ending will be featured in an interview in a special edition of a Magnum Opus newsletter!


Contest Rules

The Join the Journey writing contest is open to students aged 8–18. Submissions must be the original, previously unpublished work of the student. All submissions become the sole property of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, L.L.C. IEW reserves the right to edit submissions for publication.



(Read the story so far.)

This month’s story prompt:
Chapter 9 (November 2017)

Outside the city in the midst of the rain, an officer strode to the tent of General Marcus Antonius Primus, commander of the Vespasian forces. Stepping past a saluting guard, the officer pushed back the tent flap and stepped out of the torrent of water falling from a bitter, black sky. General Primus was standing over his table, charts and maps of the city of Rome strewn across its surface. Looking up, he nodded at the dripping officer standing there.

“What can I do for you, Appias Julius?” he asked, looking down once more at the contents of his table.

“An officer near the northern gate received correspondence from inside the city, Sir,” Appias replied, holding out a leather pouch.

Primus looked up quizzically as he took the pouch and reached inside. “From inside the city, you say?”

Inside were two scrolls, one sealed and the other plain, and a bag of coins. The general broke the seal and scanned the contents of the first letter quickly, then read the other more slowly. A mirthless smile played at the corner of his mouth.

“Well, well. It appears we have friends we didn’t know we had, Appias. Take a look.”

Taking the letters, Appias also surveyed them, but stopped short at the end of Marcus and Julia’s letter. “The signers of this letter bear the names of my children, Marcus and Julia.”

The general frowned. “There are certainly many Marcuses in Rome, Appias.”

Appias shook his head, “Respectfully Sir, there are far fewer who are sibling to a girl named for the Julian family.”

The general nodded slowly. “When Vespasian sent you to me by ship all those months ago to gain my support, I was glad to have a competent tribune join me. But, perhaps your arrival here has an even greater significance.”

“It’s them, General. I’m sure of it.”

The general’s smile faded. “I knew your family was from Rome, Appias, but you must know that I cannot guarantee their safety when we attack.”

Appias looked at the general with a level, expressionless gaze. “I understand, General,” he replied softly.

“But,” Primus went on, “we will warn the men to be careful of anyone with a blue headband. They are friends to Vespasian.”

Appias sighed with relief and smiled. “Thank you, General.”

“Strange things are afoot, Tribune!” the General laughed. “Courtly intrigue, and your children in the midst of it. What tales will they tell you when all this is over?”

The two men laughed, but outside, raindrops fell in sheets and the wind howled, a portent of things to come.

Three days later, a dark, sunless day dawned. The attack came suddenly. Though the storm of several nights before had stopped, burning missiles now arced across the sky and slammed into houses and businesses throughout Rome, a deadly, fiery rain. Romans fought Romans on the walls, outside the city, and in the streets. Though the city guard fought bravely, they could not stand against General Primus and Vespasian’s mighty army. When the bloody day was finished, thick smoke choked the city streets, and many Romans mourned the dead and dying.

Much of the capital had been burned, and Vitellius had been killed in the fighting. However, Marcus and Julia fared better than many. Though flaming arrows had started a fire on one side of Uncle Gaius’ house, it had been quickly put out. Wearing their blue bands, the children now watched the people of Rome as they cleaned up the wreckage and went about their business, ever mindful of the enemy forces of their own countrymen now inside their gates.

It had been a tumultuous year of four emperors. As the triumphant army marched through the streets, the children wondered what would happen. When would their father return to Rome? What would General Primus do with them? What would happen to Uncle Gaius? Perhaps most important of all, would Rome finally have an emperor who would stay in power for longer than a few months?

Suddenly, a voice called out, “Hey, blue bands! Here they are!”


How to Join the Journey this Month

The story is nearly at its close! For the first (and last!) time in this contest, IEW will not control the content of what is written. Your task is to finish the story! Your submission should be a three-to-six paragraph narrative when you are done. For help with writing narratives, check out page 31 in Unit 3: Retelling Narrative Stories in the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style Seminar Workbook. Use your story to answer some (or all!) of the questions that the children were concerned about in the final paragraph of the prompt, above. Submissions will be rated by creativity, but should remain historical fiction, meaning that entries that include fantastical elements (time travel, unicorns, etc.) won’t be considered. The winning author of this month will be interviewed and their interview will be included in the Magnum Opus!



Before submitting your entry, make sure that your writing adheres to the following:

  • Follow the “How to Join the Journey” instructions, including how long your submission should be. If you include conversation, three to six precisely indented paragraphs may not be possible, but overlong submissions will not score as high.
  • It must be family friendly.
  • Please proofread carefully for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Have fun!


Submit Your Work

March Prompt (Unit 7)
Submit by April 15, 2017.

(Submissions closed.) Read Chapter 1 (March 2017)

April Prompt (Unit 5)
Submit by May 8, 2017.

(Submissions closed.) Read Chapter 2 (April 2017)

May Prompt (Unit 3)
Submit by June 5, 2017.

(Submissions closed.) Read Chapter 3 (May 2017)

June Prompt (Unit 5)
Submit by July 3, 2017.

(Submissions closed.) Read Chapter 4 (June 2017)

July Prompt (Unit 3)
Submit by July 31, 2017.

(Submissions closed.) Read Chapter 5 (July 2017)

August Prompt (Unit 7)
Submit by September 4, 2017.

(Submissions closed.) Read Chapter 6 (August 2017)

September Prompt (Unit 2)
Submit by October 2, 2017.

(Submissions closed.) Read Chapter 7 (September 2017)

October Prompt (Unit 3)
Submit by November 6, 2017.

(Submissions closed.) Read Chapter 8 (October 2017)

November Prompt (Unit 3)
Submit by December 4, 2017.

(Submissions closed.) Read Chapter 9 (November 2017)




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