How to write a 100-word story

Lizzie Enfield 24 March 2022

Want to try your hand at writing a 100-word story but don't know where to begin? Here's a quick guide to get you started 

Legend has it Hemmingway won a bet with his six-word short story: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” His challenge was to move his audience with a few brief words. The ones he came up with show that being a man (or woman) of few words doesn’t stop you from saying a great deal with them.

The skill is in choosing the right words and allowing them to suggest far more than they say. The human brain is a miraculous thing, with endless capacity for filling in the gaps. The challenge of writing a piece of flash fiction is to say enough to convey a story which resonates, while allowing the reader to infer further layers of meaning.

It also requires you to trust yourself as a writer and to resist the temptation to over-explain.

In flash fiction writers aim to tell an entire story in a few short paragraphs. The story should have a beginning, middle and end and often finishes with a surprise or twist, which prompts the reader to reflect further.

“Baby Shoes” illustrates how it is possible to do this with the utmost brevity. Traditional jokes follow a similar format: a man walks into a bar, he says or does a few things and then there is a punch line.

"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words where one will do"

To boil a whole story down to a few sentences is hard, especially if you are used to writing longer stories or even full-length novels. But flash fiction is a brilliant exercise in restraint. Trying your hand at it can help even longer pieces of work become sparser and elegiac.

Thomas Jefferson famously said “the most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words where one will do.”

Writing flash fiction is a process of choosing the right words and making the ones you have chosen sing for their supper.

The following tips will help you consider how to make your 100 words speak volumes.

Think of a title

When you’ve got a limited word count, a good title can start to tell the story. “Something nasty in the woodshed” or “Skating on Thin Ice” alert the reader to a reveal or a disaster before you’ve even begun writing.

Make an immediate start

Your beginning should take the reader straight to the heart of the story, introduce the main characters, establish the setting and raise a question that will be answered by the end.

Keep it simple

Although you want to write a complete story, you do not have time for back-story or sub plots. Focus on a single scene in a particular moment of time.

Stick with a slim cast of characters

Ideally just one or two. If necessary, others can be mentioned or alluded to. Writing in the first person and the present tense also helps with economy of words.

Say it succinctly

Speech allows characters to encapsulate storylines and infer meaning you may not have time for with exposition. Do away with speech attributions too, if it’s clear who is speaking.

Make your words work

Think about how you can set the scene and convey emotion using single evocative words.

Shorten your sentences

Be creative with form. Use lists. Play with punctuation. You don’t need perfectly formed sentences. Sometimes a single word will suffice.

Take the reader on a journey

No matter how short, all stories need a sense of progression. Something must change by the end of it. The characters must have moved on from where they were at the beginning.

Introduce the unexpected

Surprise the reader. Show them something new. Give them something to take away from your story.

Edit

Once your story is written, see what you can take out without changing the sense of it. Strip out superfluous words so that what you are left with is the brilliant, evocative essence of your story.

Now you're ready to write a 100-word story of your own! Make sure you enter our competition by submitting your story by May 1, 2022 here

DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES NOW EXTENDED FOR CHILDREN'S CATEGORIES—ENTER BY MAY 20, 2022

***NOW CLOSED FOR ADULT ENTRIES*** 

 

Lizzie Enfield is the author of five novels and one non-fiction title who also works as a creative writing tutor and mentor elizabethenfield.com

 

Read more: Previous 100-word story competition winners 

Read more: How to unleash your creativity

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