May 3 – 640 Words

Day 3 – Limits: 640 Words

This is the second of our recurring “limits” posts. As the month progresses you’ll come across all sorts of limits: time, word count, point of view, structure. If you get stuck, try rewriting an earlier story in a new way, using these ‘limits’ posts.

The Prompt

Write a story in 640 words


  • Why 640 words? It’s the length of a traditional newspaper opinion column. It’s long enough for a set up, some flavor and a parting shot, but not much more.
  • Limit your intro and ending to about 50 words each, leaving yourself 540 words to set up and deliver an interesting moment in time for a fascinating character.
  • Overwrite and then cut, if you must. Think about every word, every description. Does it need to be there. Do your descriptions also tell us about the character’s state of mind? Is every piece of dialogue weighted with things unspoken, double meanings, misunderstanding?
  • If you need to cut words, can you get away without dialogue tags? There’s no need to say “he said” if you’re following it with the stage direction “John slammed his mug onto the formica counter and turned away”. Can you start the story later in the scene? Can you hint at or imply something that you have explicitly told the reader, with a word or a glance?
  • If you have finished your story and not yet reached the word limit, what can you add without bloating the story? Is it clear where this story is taking place from the noises, smells and sights the characters notice? It the timeframe or period clear? Do your characters give away the subtext of what they’re saying with unconscious body language? Can you add a few sentences of a different length, to change the pace? Like this?


Psst! Did writing a short-short story take less time than writing a 2,000-word story? No? I didn’t think so!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

10 thoughts on “May 3 – 640 Words”

    1. The opening hook my attention! I feel as though this story may be based on a true story and would like to know more.

  1. I’m liking the shorter stories at the moment. I was up too late last night finishing. lol
    Got my 640 done, and awaiting the next prompt.

  2. Woo hoo!!! 641 words, I only had to find one to delete! I came across a prompt about a couple who had corresponded for a number of years, but never met. This worked well for me. I will probably work on it again next month. I re-worked my 640 word story last year and it ended up at almost 1,000 words. I entered it in a competition and had really good feedback from my writing group.

  3. 640 words done. I found it difficult to keep the 50 words at each end, but I was sort of there.
    First draft was 685 and I found cleaning it up was interesting. I write a lot of Tweets for myself and clients, so I think I’ve got the hang of being quite concise there.
    Writing this piece in 640 was a bit more difficult, but I soon sorted out the extraneous bits that added little.

  4. Hello Julie,
    I am glad to join Story A Day.
    Today is my second writing day. I found this word-limited prompt little hard and could finish my story in 738 words. Sorry for not abiding by the rule.
    I am committed to write a minimum of 23 stories this month.
    Again, many thanks for this amazing website and good luck for all of us.

    1. Haha! I think that’s OK.

      I keep hearing professional authors say ‘finish the things you start’ and that is more important than sticking to my arbitrary word count!

      (Last night Neil Gaiman, in Philadelphia, said: finish. You will learn more from one thing you finish than from a dozen things you start.
      I almost ran up the stage and hugged him!)

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