How To Write A Really Short, Short, Short Story (In 750 Words or Less)

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click to enlarge How To Write A Really Short, Short, Short Story (In 750 Words or Less) - NOELAND COLLINS
How To Write A Really Short, Short, Short Story (In 750 Words or Less)

I have performed the necessary butchery.

Here is the bleeding corpse.

—Henry James

First, dispense with the long titles. Most people don't realize that the 750 words begin with the title. It's best to keep the title to two words, one word, or better yet, some strange unpronounceable mathematical symbol much like the one Prince adopted as his moniker back in the '90s.Second, divest your story of any plotline. Plots eat up your word count and you just cannot write a multi-family, multi-generational epic in three pages or less. Likewise, the struggle between good and evil can't be condensed to less than a thousand words even if you are an existentialist. Think of the acronym: KISSSS. Keep it simple, short and sweet, stupid! Plots and storylines keep you from developing good characters and character studies and that's all an immensely short short story can be.

Third, eliminate any character exposition and any long histories or justifications for what a character thinks or does. In a short, short story, a character's actions should be as motiveless and unthinking as that of an animal in a zoo. Read Raymond Carver; read Charles Bukowski; read Zen Haiku and see how it's done.

Consider that it's like building a small house. For instance, the frame could be that your main (and only) character is someone alone in a small, shabby room, looking out the window and contemplating suicide, because as the T-shirt they're wearing says (insert gratuitous but necessary local reference here): "There is nothing else to do in Palm Harbor!"

Then, install the windows by, in 50 words or less, establishing that your Gregor Samsa is at loose ends, at a crossroads in his/her life. Describe his surroundings, his complexion, anything that could give the reader an abrupt but subtle insight into his predicament. Show, rather than tell.

Go in; pare down, cut everything to the bone. Pretend you're Jack the Ripper and really go after those adjectives and adverbs. Take out any foreign phrases or anything else that doesn't have the right je ne sais quoi. Even pronouns can be ruthlessly edited out. Who has room for gender in such a tight frame?

Make sure that every single word earns its keep, advances the action or is utterly indispensable. It might help to have run-on sentences or words and expressions crammed together, like Omigod, Geddouttahere, or ican'tbelieveit'snotbutter; anything the rules of Scrabble may allow. Think of this process as akin to boiling a bowl of beef stew down to a bouillon cube.

Forgo the temptation to begin with a quotation. Nobody cares how pretentious and well-read you are. Also, edit out any literary allusions or thematic devices. Make your tale as plain, straightforward and to the point as the owner's manual for a toaster.

Keep in mind four essential words as your write your short, short story: Get in, get out. Hit the sweet spot! Hit a home run! Go for the gold! Caress that little man in the boat (okay, that's not four words, but you get the point)!

Remember that while a novel is like an affair with an old flame, and a short story a kiss from an attractive stranger, the really short, short story is kinda like some faceless somebody grabbing your ass on the city bus.

W.S. Totin is a records specialist for Pinellas County. His writing has been published in the Internet magazine Naked Poetry and the USF journal Omnibus. He lives in St. Petersburg.

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