Thursday, September 5, 2013

The discipline of 99 word fiction

I was introduced to the concept of the 99 word story when our local free paper, the North Coast Journal ran its 2012 short fiction contest. Writing a 99 word story requires a unique discipline. Every word counts -- more than this, every word must count for the maximum it possibly can. I start the exercise with a concept which I let roll around in my head for a while. The concept can only be a vignette but it must have a twist to complete it and make it memorable. I type the story in and check the word count. They started anywhere between 110 and 124 words. Then the tough part begins: How to pair the story down to only the necessary words. A word here, a word there makes all the difference. My first entry, about a housewife finally enjoying herself, was a finalist.


Harry really was right, single malt Scotch was better than blended. Lois swirled the snifter and let the potent fragrance tickle her nose. She closed her eyes and sipped. It tasted of caramel, smoke and the pungence of 100 proof. Lois grabbed the bottle from Harry's private cabinet and settled in Harry's favorite easy chair. In the humidor beside it rested Harry's illegally imported Cuban cigars which she would eventually compost. Harry had spent a lot on his little pleasures. That was over. Tonight she'd bask in the warmth of his Scotch. Tomorrow she'd worry about the blood stains.

The slow pace of the story was resolved in a startling conclusion. In 2013, I wrote a 99 word sequel to the original 99 word story.


Lois danced around the sofa, gliding and twirling. Harry would have told her to act her age - old poop.

A knock interrupted her. A police officer greeted her. "We were wondering about Harry, ma'am."

"So was I," she said, hands over heart. "Have you questioned the people from that meth house down the street?"

The officer cocked his head. "Why? Harry is a pillar of the community."

Lois shook her head slowly. "Always the ones who fool you."

"We'll check." He left.

Lois smiled, danced round the sofa again and headed downstairs to finish the new basement wall.

Writing 99 word fiction is a good exercise in restraining verbosity which I can always use.

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