Ten writers for children. All with something to say.

11/11/09

Fifty-five words or less

I love contests.

That's one reason I was drawn to Steve Moss' book THE WORLD'S SHORTEST STORIES. It's filled with winners from his Fifty-Five Fiction contest, which asked entrants to write an entire story in fifty-five words or less. Who knew such funny, touching, frightening, and surprising tales could be told in such few words!

Several years ago I was giving a workshop to middle school students titled "Becoming a Better Writer Through Contests." As part of the workshop I conducted my own Fifty-Five Fiction contest. The kids didn't have much time to write, perhaps fifteen minutes, but they created some wonderful stories. I gave modest prizes to the top winners, but even better was when the three winners had their stories published in an English textbook and received their own publishing contracts!

Below is one of the winners, written by a girl when she was a student at St. Anthony Middle School:

Swimsuit
by Nellene Benhardus

Brushing back my golden hair, I approach the beach. I notice eyes staring as I stride across the sand. Laying my towel out, I sit, absorbing the sun.

"Alli?"

"Yeah?"

"Finished yet?"

I step out of the dressing room and show Mom the suit I've selected.

She sighs. "Man, you're slow!"

Nellene's story still makes me smile. In less than fifty-five words she's painted two distinct characters and given us a glimpse of how they relate to each other.

As I told my students, entering contests with specific word limits forces you to think carefully about each word you choose. All the jingle contests I've entered over the years have proven valuable training ground for writing picture books where there's no room for superfluous language. If you're up for a challenge, give yourself fifteen minutes and see if you can write your own fifty-five word story. If nothing else, it will make you appreciate not having a word limit the next time you sit down to write!

4 comments:

john said...

Good idea, David. I've tried one hundred word stories before that have resulted in a book, so now I will shoot for fifty five. Are you going to tell us how many words are in one of your upcoming picture books?

Lauren said...

David, your love of contests amazes me! I have always had a deathly fear of contests-- everything inside constricts itself and I can't move or think. It is inspiring to read such positive writing about contests.
I was recently told to try writing an 11 page early reader story I was working on in 50 words. I did and now I am working on a 2 page picture book that is much better-- so the 50-55 words or less is a great idea on many levels!

Christy said...

This sounds like lots of fun.

Have you seen the book NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING? It is full of six word memoirs. I guess Hemingway is famous for his six word story, "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn." I will have to look for Steve Moss' book.

Edie said...

Great exercise for practicing the economy of words. Thanks, David!