How to create a hundred-word story

Is it possible to tell a whole story in a hundred words? Sure it is! We can do it together, now, and I show you how I go about it, but try making your own story, too, as we go along.
Where do we begin? With the first sentence. I’ve chosen to begin with something as simple as: A man walks down the street… It’s a good sentence because it’s a scene of action. If he’s walking, he’s going somewhere, and that will literary put him in a different spot from where he started, which is we want in the end of a story. In fact, we want three things: Action (our walking man), Reaction (something happens to him or the street around him) and Change. These are key words when producing a story, regardless of its length. So let’s imagine something happens to our man: someone grabs him by the arm.
Now, this could be the beginning of a thriller, someone’s trying to escape a maniac, and wants our man to help. It could be the beginning of a murder mystery, and the person grabbing him has just been stabbed and dies in his arms. It could be a science fiction story and the person grabbing him is an alien abducting him. Everything could happen. But we only have a hundred words, so I suggest we try to keep it simple. One scene is all we need. When I use the word scene I use it as opposed to telling or recounting what’s happening. Let me show you what I mean in an example:
A man walks down the street when a woman grabs him by the arm and tells him he has lost his scarf. Annoyed the man shakes his head and says that he didn’t wear a scarf. She’s puzzled, she thought she saw it fall to the ground…
While this is certainly the beginning of a story, it’s not very engaging. All of it is experienced through the writer’s eyes and we’re not allowed to experience first hand what’s going on. Instead let’s try to step into the scene itself and this time let’s try to aim for the whole hundred-word story:
A man is walking down the street when a woman grabs him by the arm.
“Sir, you lost your scarf.” She holds up a scarf for him.
“I didn’t wear a scarf. It’s not mine,” he says.
“Really? I could have sworn it feel off your shoulders.” She looks around. “Well, no one else seems to be missing it.” She puts it around his shoulders, padding his shoulder. “Why don’t you just keep it?”
He nods to her then moves on, feeling lighter somehow. Two blocks later, as he stops to buy a newspaper, he pads his chest, then his back pocket. His wallet’s gone.
It’s better right? Now we have a one-scene story with action, reaction and change. The basics are in order, but it’s rather generic. We know nothing about neither man or woman or setting. Are they flirting? Does he enjoy the encounter? Does it make him angry that he lost his wallet? To paint a clearer picture, we need to craft the story. This means that we as writers have to think more about what story we’re telling. We need an idea of whom the man is, whom the woman is, and where it all takes place, and we need to show it to the reader. How do we do that? We can name the street the man is walking down if we want to say something about place. “A man walks down Broadway…” In that case, most people will know we’re probably in New York. We can name the man. If we call him Mr. Mandeep, we’ll create another image of the man than if we name him Mr. Johnson. We can also give the woman a little more detail and change the dialogue, let the words be more precise, and then we have this story:
Mr. Johnson’s hurrying down Broadway when someone grabs his arm.
“Sir, you dropped your scarf.” A petite blond smiles up at him, holding out a woolen scarf.
He touches the scarf and her thumb. “Not mine, wish it was. It’s… smooth.”
She bites her lower lip. “I could have sworn it came off your broad shoulders.” She puts it around his neck, letting her hands trail down his chest. “Keep it. It fits you perfectly.”
Mr. Johnson hurries on, treading lighter, smiling. Stopping to buy the Financial Times, he realises his wallet’s gone. He leans back his head, laughing.
This is a crafted short story. I’ve put meaning and detail into the writing, I’ve thought about what I wanted to show you. What you see might be very different from what I intended. That’s okay. When you show a story, rather than telling people what you want them to know, they create their own images, which to me is the most beautiful part of storytelling (or showing😉).
The last thing we need to think about is the title. Never underestimate a good title. A good title can change the meaning of your whole story. Now we could name this story “The Scarf.” It’s not exactly a bad title, it tells us about the main object, but it doesn’t say much more. We could call it “the Trick,” but that would be telling too much and ruin the element of surprise when Mr. Johnson’s wallet is gone. What we want is a title that adds to the meaning of the story without disclosing what the story is about. I’ve chosen to call it “New Yorkers.” Try reading the story again now you know the title. In a hundred words, we now have a story of a typical New York moment (or at least what the writer wants us to believe is a typical New York moment).
These little points I’ve shown you are essential in all stories, and what I’d like to show you next, is what to add if you’re writing a thousand words. Please, feel free to post comments and even your own stories as we go along.
If you like to create little stories, try entering the Flash Fiction Competition held by Fundacion Cesar Egido Serrano – Museo de la Palabra. It’s hundred-word short story contest (you can participate in four different languages). It’s free and you can win $ 20,000.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: