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.
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!