Monday, September 16, 2013

Story as sound bite: A Challenge

Working the night shift can give one time to think—not always, but those rare moments of quietude amidst all the alarms, phone calls, and co-workers or patients wanting things do occasionally happen. And when they do, a writer can explore a bit of the alleys and closes of hiser mind. Those are good moments.

A while ago, a co-worker and I were talking about writing and we got to talking about flash fiction. She said it should be pretty easy to write, being only 200 words or so. Well, anyone who has tried writing flash pieces know otherwise - it’s not as easy as it seems, not by far.

I told her that and said that’s because, like poetry, every single word has to count, to add something substantial to the story.

“It’s not like a novel,” I said. “In a novel of 50,000 or 100,000 words, there are lots and lots of words that really don’t move the story forward. They’re used to fill out the characters or fully set the scene or to add flavor or color to the overall picture the writer’s trying to paint, but, in the end, they really don’t mean all that much. In flash stories, the writer must make every word count. This, of course, leaves a great deal to the reader’s imagination, and that’s part of the appeal of flash stories.”

One of the hardest writing assignments I had in university was to write a complete story in exactly 100 words, not a word more nor less. Try it sometime—it ain’t easy. But, oh, was it fun! And so very educational. I did it, too. That story, “An Accidental Shooting,” now resides in my book Reaper Files, which is available on Amazon for the Kindle or at You’ll find handy links to both on

Being the ornery sort, I am going to issue a challenge to you: write your own flash fiction piece. It must have all the elements of any story: beginning, middle, and conclusion and must be a complete story in its own right—no cheating by merely writing the first few lines of a larger work. Include everything a good story needs: plot, theme, characters, conflict, resolution. I’ll be kinder than my college professor, however; I’ll set the limit at 200 words and will even allow you up to 10 words above or below that.

They must be prose fiction stories—no poems, essays, or diatribes, please. Genre, theme, and all the rest are up to you—as my 7th Grade teacher used to say, “Write on whatever subject you wish.”

Once you’ve accepted this challenge and written your story, send it to me for grading. Yup, it’ll be graded, just like any assignment. Email it in Microsoft Word format to Because we writers live by deadlines (even though they are often self-imposed), submit your piece not later than 15 December 2013. Make sure you put your name and email address atop the manuscript and, by all means, don’t forget to give the story a name. “Untitled” may work for paintings and sculpture, but we writers are much better than that, right?

I’ll judge it for completeness, quality, publishability (it might need some editing, but that’s part of the fun), and, of course, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. I don’t care if you use American, British, Kiwi, or Ozzie English (or even Texan), but I would prefer you use some sort of English. Dialect is fine, and can even make the story that much better, although it’s not required. Dialogue, of course, is a vital part, but don’t confuse that with dialect (they do look a lot alike, those words, and I find myself slowing down to make sure I’ve read them right myself).

Once I’ve read them, I’ll get them back to you, along with your grade. Oh, the grade won’t go on your “Permanent Record” or anything nasty like that, but it should give you an idea of how you can improve your skills with these sound bites of stories. And, to perhaps entice you further, I’ll publish each story on my blog. Naturally, I’ll give you a chance to make any final corrections first.

Let me know via a comment to the blog or a separate email if you plan to participate. I’d appreciate the advanced notice.

So, there it is. There’s my challenge to you. Are you up to it?


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