Monday, May 13, 2013

The 50 Word Experiment



In an effort to both improve my voice and find more topics to consider, I have ventured into the avenue of microfiction or nanofiction or ridiculously short fiction. Do such titles even matter? The point is, I pulled a card out of an old playbook that one of my college writing instructors had—he had suggested that we bring in stories of the following lengths: 50, 100, 250, 500 words, at random, throughout the year. We could just drop them in, workshop them in five minutes, and have a pleasant experience. I never took advantage of his plea, but ventured down this road many times afterwards.

In February, I started a series of flash fiction pieces, all aiming to be 500 words or less, all focus on a similar topic (to be omitted until the collection is finished). Then, a couple weeks ago, I challenged a writing friend to produce four viable 50 word stories in the next week. He did, so did I, but he has gone to town with them, creating a series of them revolving around Richard Nixon. Yes, that Nixon, and they work. So why do this? Why limit yourself?

First off the experience is invigorating. You have to cram a meaningful fiction experience into a short space. Much like I often discuss with running economy, you have to have an economy of language. Every word counts, senseless lines, tags, and articles must be excised. Dialogue must be pointed, characterizing. Overarching themes have to be expertly placed so as not to punch the reader in face and turn them off. Characters must still be complete and round, but without pages of characterizing exposition. You debate over commas, repetition, and stylization. Repeat an adjective or verb and it will be glaring. Use an empty word and it will irk you to no end.  In the end, these pieces may be the seeds of future growth, seeds that grow into something larger and more complete, or they may stand on their own, but they are completed pieces.

Adding to the appeal comes today’s society in general. People still like to read, but often lack the time to complete novels in a timely manner or tackle longer short stories, especially since the short story genre does not lend itself to segmented reading. It is hard to stop midstream without having to restart a story. Fiction of the 500 word variety or less is single serving by nature. You can read it on your phone without scrolling. Adding to these facts, the genre allows the writer to fine tune their abilities, to find a voice, which is what I’m trying to do again. Most of my limited publications have been short, 175-1000 words in length, and thus the experiment is twofold, I seek to refine and produce.

If you have taken the time to read this piece, I challenge you to create your own 50 word stories. No more than 50, less is acceptable, and either email them my way for conversation or post them as a comment thread. You will be pleased with the result.

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