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:
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.
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!