In December I started a challenge for myself, during which I set out to write 100-word stories for 30 days. The reason was that I wanted to become more adept at telling a complete story, with a beginning, middle, and end quickly. I wanted the structure of a story to live in my hands.
Thirty days have come and gone, and I learned a few things with this challenge.
First, it’s important to note that I didn’t end up writing 30 mini stories. The total count comes to 18. This was for two main reasons. I don’t typically write on the weekend, so confined myself to five days a week, which is my usual writing schedule. And sometimes I simply forgot to do it. I could have continued until I got to 30, but I thought the fact that I didn’t said something about me and the challenge.
Another reason I found it hard to complete this challenge were the terms I had set out for myself. I set out to write a complete story in 100 words, and, it turns out, that’s really hard! Some of my entries are vignettes or single scenes because 100 words simply wasn’t enough.
That being said, I do have quite a few entries that I’m proud of, in which I feel I largely succeeded at the task I set out to do.
Here are three examples:
The little robot had a plan. He wanted to borrow a book from the library but was stopped by a curt sign in the window. No robots allowed. With his short, metal legs and wide open eyes, he had donned a wide-brimmed hat, a pair of toddler shorts, and a yellow jacket. But he couldn’t find shoes to mask the clanging of his feet. Once again in front of the library, he took a deep breath and entered through the sliding doors, stepping as lightly as he could, keeping his head down. Slowly, but not too slowly, he walked to the Mystery stacks. He’d done it.
The girl ate the last of her apple, throwing the core away. She hopped into her hovercraft and sped up and away from her house, towards the Core, chasing after the man. He had just killed her husband, and that was a huge problem. Hands gripped the steering wheel as she sped after him, landing her craft on top of the Tower. Scaling down the glass tower she broke through a window, tackling the man as she fell in. He struggled against her, but she pinned him down and cuffed his hands. There was no one else in the room. She would have to be satisfied with her catch all on her own.
The fire started small, catching on only a hand towel, before spreading to the rest of the kitchen, engulfing the wooden cabinets. Within minute its fingers had crawled to the living room. Joanna didn’t need to wait for the alarm to go off. She had already stuffed her cat in his crate, thrown on her jacket, and rushed out as the flames licked the door. She ran down the three flights of stairs and out the back door of the apartment building and looked up. The whole corner of the building was now on fire. She watched. Martine the cat mewed.
So what did I learn?
I think the main thing I learned was that 100 words is too short for such a challenge. If I were to try it again I’d increase it to at least one full Word doc page. The point of this challenge was to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, end. Of course, a single scene must have a beginning, middle, and end as well, so by increasing to a full page I would give myself more room for the narrative arc to happen and allow the inclusion of single scenes.
The other main lesson was that characters are responsible for pushing the story forward. This is something I already knew, but trying to execute that within 100 words highlighted the point even more for me. It also forced me to think about every sentence because I knew I had only 100 words and that the protagonist had to do something in every sentence, or that every sentence had to somehow push the story along. So this one is really a twofer.
Overall it was an interesting exercise and I’m glad I did it. Giving yourself a word constraint really opens your eyes to the importance of and possibility residing within each word and sentence.