We are pleased to offer this guest post by, Lila Bolme
I love short shorts.
No, I'm not talking about clothes, I'm talking about stories – like WNI's short, short story contest – "A Picture is Worth 500 Words".
But squeezing a story into a five hundred word manuscript is a little like shimmying into a pair of short shorts:
- You have to be bold
- You have to be lean
- You have to be careful how you move
It can also make you a better writer.
Last year, WNI offered a contest to write a short mystery, just six sentences long. That's about as short as you can get. I wondered if I could do it. I didn't plan to submit – but I did.
It turned out to be an incredible writing experience.
So how do writers go about writing something so short? Here's the process I went through to develop that contest entry. (My thoughts during the process are in italics.)
Put Both Feet InI started with basic questions:
- What does a story need, to make it a story?
- Who is my protagonist?
- What's the character's problem?
- But I need a mystery.
Voila – I had a drunk woman.
Then I remembered some writing advice I read somewhere that said – throw your protagonist off a cliff.
So I did.
Presto! I had a drunk woman falling off a cliff.
- How did she get there?
Now I have a drunk woman falling off her bed.
That's not a mystery but...what if I don't tell the reader she's drunk till the end. Ta Da! Wait – Is that a mystery? I knew I should have looked that up. OK, what if I don't tell the reader she's drunk till the end AND I don't tell the reader it's a bed that she falls off of, until the end? – SHA-BAM!
That was my story kernel.
Work ItTime to get the story moving, but short, shorts only cover so much. I needed a plan.
Here's how I laid it out:
- Sentence 1 & 2 - Introduce the character and the problem.
- Sentence 3 & 4 - Make the problem huge and the character
- Sentence 5 & 6 - Let the character win or lose and reveal
Squeezing into the story limits forced me to drop flab and muscle up my words. I started with my character already in crisis. The character struggled, then lost, revealing the mystery.
What I Learned:
Everything that I thought was a limitation, actually helped me write better.
- Each sentence had a specific job.
- The conflict had to be inflated immediately.
- Every word had to be deliberate.
I challenge you to enter this contest. Try some short shorts for yourself. Who knows? You might decide you love them too.
If you like, you can see how my Six-Sentence Mystery, turned out, right here on Writing North Idaho.