How Short Can You Go? 50 to 100 Word Stories

By Ali Hale

How short can a “short story” be? Merriam-Webster just defines it as “shorter than a novel”, telling us that a short story is:

an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot

Most competitions and markets want short stories over 1,500 words in length, but it’s possible to write a much shorter piece of fiction.

Short-shorts and Flash Fiction

Writing “short shorts” (stories under 1,000 words) can be rewarding, particularly if you don’t have a lot of time to write. Markets for these include the weekly womens’ magazines; here in the UK, My Weekly takes 850 word short stories and several of the magazines ask for 1,000 word pieces – as these fit onto a single page.

A powerful effect can be achieved with very few words, and the internet in particular has given “flash fiction”, stories generally between 250 and 1,000 words. Science-fiction publications are often open to these, as they are a good length for exploring a single idea or world – perhaps something which would not work if developed into a full plot, but which leaves questions in the readers’ mind.

Micro-fiction

You can go even shorter, though: how about a 100 word story or even 50 words? Don’t think it’s possible? Lots of people have been writing these, and they’re known under various names; drabbles (100 words), mini-sags (usually 50 or 60 words), and micro stories are some of the more common terms.

In the UK, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special used to ask for 60-word short stories from readers. These almost always had a “twist” of some sort, leading the reader in one direction only to reveal the truth at the end. For example, here’s one of mine they published last year:

Chocolate Treat

Katy ripped the packet open, and the scent hit: thick, rich chocolate. She’d been good for weeks; another pound gone today. Time for a treat.

She locked the door; Michael mustn’t see this. Ten minutes later, she had chocolate caked on her hands, round her mouth, even on her nose.

Katy, satisfied, took her flannel and wiped off the face-pack.

Online, these very short stories often lend themselves to a confessional or true life slant. For example, 100words.com is a community of people each dedicated to writing a 100-word post every day for a whole month, and these are generally snippets about daily life … though they can be anything, as the site says:

You can write about anything you want. Anything. Some people open tiny windows into their lives; others write surrealist poetry. Some writers post finely tuned, perfectly crafted vignettes; others show up at the end of the night and spew drunken nonsense onto the screen.

Another site I came across recently, www.commonties.com, invites authors to answer one of 20 questions. They want all answers to be true, but are also looking for quality writing – no more than 50 words. They pay $50 for each piece they accept.

We ask the world 20 questions, pair the answers with art, and publish our favorites (we call them “jeles”) every Friday.

There are a number of competitions around for very short fiction, sometimes combined with other constraints; for example, the BBC ran a competition last year for 100-word short stories which included the following words:
Bacon, bodies, experiments, fire, organic, paper.

I had a go (I didn’t win, alas!) with the following piece:

We built a fire in the woods, camping alone. Joe and I were eleven, and Richard was leader because he was a week past twelve.

“Let’s light it with a flint,” Richard said, once the wood was heaped. And we tried, despite our shivering bodies – then resorted to matches.

We whittled sticks, snapped childish experiments. Joe produced rolls of floury bread and a fat packet, wrapped in greased paper. We strung the bacon onto green sticks and charred it crisp.

No-one said organic, local produce or luxury range then — but sixty years later, I’ve never had a better sandwich.

Why not give micro fiction a try? Post your 50-100 word short stories on the Daily Writing Tips forum and we’ll enjoy reading them!

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


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12 Responses to “How Short Can You Go? 50 to 100 Word Stories”

  • Andrew – Six Minutes Public Speaking Blog

    Don’t forget Six Sentences, a compilation of prose submissions limited to just six sentences.

  • Terry Finley

    I suppose nothing is too short,
    as long as it makes sense and
    provides entertainment.

  • Sushanta Kar

    Hi!
    I’m a subscriber of your daily writing tips. And enjoying reading all the tips daily. It appears that you are using first person singular number to identify you, not plural. It made me inquisitive to know whether the site is a one man mission. May I know your name?
    I’m a teacher in an Indian College in its North-Eastern Part. We the faculties of the college publish a quarterly academic journal in the name of PRAGYAN. Will you allow us to reprint some of your tip and article, like one that you delivered today, in our journal? It’s a non commercial and non profit journal, we are publishing since the year 2003. We would be much obliged if you kindly give us nod.

    With thanks
    Sushanta Kar

  • D.F. Rucci

    Hmmm that is what I would lack in. I would have lots of difficulty writing micro fiction, looks to difficult to cram everything together.

  • Ali

    D.F — have a go! It is surprisingly hard … but it can be a great way of learning to use words effectively.

    Ali

  • GoingLikeSixty

    Here’s a couple more sites that like short writing exercises:
    http://onesentence.org
    http://first50.wordpress.com/
    and copyblogger ran a twitter contest, requiring a story in exactly 140 characters!

  • Jeff Bauer

    Baby clothes for sale.

    Never used.

  • Ali

    Jeff — I think you’re echoing a famous six-word story by Ernest Hemmingway: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn”.

  • lucy

    I’ve made this 100 word story for the start of a story for English. I’m competing against all the other people in my year (year 9). This is it:

    It seemed like a good idea at the time. It would keep my mind off everything else. I thought there’d be nothing to worry about. Nothing to remind me of earlier. But I was wrong, hugely wrong. The screeching scream of terror, the blood trickling down the wall. As I watched my friend’s life fade away, I knew it was my entire fault. There was no one else to blame. It was just the two of us. How could I explain it? How could I tell them? It would ruin their lives forever. She lay there, limp, damp and cold.

    Its not amazingly good, and I’m surely not going to win. But could you please give me some feed back on it. Thanks!

  • Aleksander

    An unfinished sweater,
    knitted by grandma…

  • Tulsi Khanna

    Hey, just wanted some feedback on this if anyone reads it?

    The magnificent walls rose high above the smooth, golden surface; as did the vast lookout point at the top. They curved round to reveal a barrier of rocks placed unevenly to protect the towering doors; made to welcome the most majestic of guests.
    The little girl stepped back and smiled; her sandcastle was complete.

  • Morgan

    Hey :Tulsi Khanna
    I just read your story and thought it was brilliant:)
    (Loved the twist at the end) . You’re a really good writer!

    I’m in the same space as some of the commenters here , I have to submit a 50 Word story for a competition at our school and have been searching up 50 word stories ever since. I’ve tried my own , and many of them have worked- but now I’ve become addicted at reading other peoples:) They’re short snippets of story and if they’re good , I try and style my own writing like their’s.

    But one question , does anyone know any sites that have 50 word stories on them ?

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