Losing Words, Finding Words

This week, I’ve been writing seriously short stories (as opposed to serious short stories). They’re for a competition, which I feel obliged to state is free-to-enter, because of the stigma some people attach to pay-to-enter competitions. Personally I’ve had a better ‘hit rate’ with winning competitions than I’ve had getting published in ‘zines. Anyway, this one was free. And the stories were about as short as a story can be.

My first ever published story, back in nineteen-never-you-mind, was a short. A drabble in fact, which is a short story exactly 100 words long. I dashed it off in a convention bar and I wasn’t paid for it (so it doesn’t appear on my credits page, which only lists actual sales), but as it was my first, I remember it fondly.

The competition I’ve just entered required even shorter stories – fifty words or less – though they also accepted monologues of up to 150 words. Setting the word requirement as ‘under N words’ rather than ‘exactly N words’ made my task easier. I generally find it easier to lose words than to add them and the one thing a really short story mustn’t have is padding. Every word has to count.

Of the three monologues I entered, two were edited-down versions of existing flash length works (between 500 and 1000 words). I enjoyed stripping down these already short pieces, but I’m not entirely happy with the results; one thing this practice brought home to me was that every tale has a correct length. In both these cases, the ideal length was longer that 150 words, and I had to lose nuances of character and plot and, I confess, resort to sentence fragments and adverbs (Bad Jaine, no biscuit!). The monologue wrriten from scratch worked a bit better, but I could have done with putting it through the ‘composting’ process of writing it, leaving it to lie a week or two, then coming back to it fresh, something the competition deadline did not allow.

I felt most pleased with the fifty word story. I only managed one, as this task was much harder than the longer pieces, but it is a proper story. It has a beginning when we meet the protagonist and find out what she’s doing (1st sentence) and meet the antagonist and find out why he’s a problem (2nd sentence); a middle when the protagonist does what she has to do despite the antagonist (3rd and 4th sentence) and an ending when we see the result (5th sentence). It contains no adverbs but does have two adjectives, both of which caused me more brow-furrowing than any other word that made that final cut.

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