Cut to the Quick…

Illustration: Kelly Dyson

A Story with 140 Characters
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer

Earlier this month, The Guardian asked a few well-known writers to draft a narrative in Twitter time – 140 characters for less.  The results ranged from interesting to banal (and to, perhaps, cribbed – commentators were quick to point out that Jeffrey Archer’s submission mirrored work previous published by Roald Dahl).

It’s a gimmick of course, akin to the one sentence story or the “write a novel in ‘x’ amount of days” contest. And there’ve even been similar campaigns previously launched on Twitter  (see #fridayshorts, run by the New Zealand Book Council, or you can follow @VeryShortStory on Twitter for other examples).

But tricks and shortcuts should not be looked up with disdain – if they get you to the page, if they inspire you to write and to maybe, eventually, keep on writing past the word limits and time frames, then their true value is immeasurable.

Mondays are always tough writing day for me, so these 140-tales landed on my laptop like a gust of fresh sea air – bracing but invigorating.  And after reading through the list and the comments, I wondered – what could I do with 140 words?  Is there a story I can tell that succinctly?  It’s similar to the high concept pitch I wrote about a few months back and works the same way – an artificially imposed boundary can ignite creativity.

So to spark up my Monday morning, I tried a few mini-epics.

Below, the outcome:

  • Every morning she woke with one certainty – the memory swipe always happened at midnight, but for 24 hours she remembered it all.  (128)
  • Across the room sat her idol, unreachable and significant.
  • “I once owned a cat,” he said. She’d known it was a lie, but went along anyway, which was her biggest mistake.  The meowing haunted her still.
  • They were all dead when the problems started, and by the time it was over, nothing had changed but the epitaphs.
  • They met at the wrong moment, broke up at the right time, and regretted it forever.
  • A shy smile belied her fierce ambition, and so the plots all sewed up nicely despite the twists and turns. (106)
  • The two brothers who swore allegiance fought on opposite sides, each loving the other too much to retreat. (106)
  • Ahead, a field of ripe orange pumpkins.  Behind, a sea of memories.  They waded in and were surprised to be heading in opposite directions.

I don’t think any of my attempts rise to the level of the brilliant, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” (Attributed to Hemmingway), but I that a couple of those sentences have potential, as do a few of the Guardian submissions.

“ur profile pic: happy – smiling & smoking. ur last post: “home!” ur hrt gave out @35. ur profile undeleted 6 months on. ur epitaph: “home!” Patrick Neate

“Rose went to Eve’s house but she wasn’t there. But Eve’s father was. Alone. One thing led to another. He got 10 years.” Rachel Johnson

And, then there are a few classics from literature:

One morning Gregor Samsa awoke from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. Nothing had changed.
Franz Kafka

Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí. (When [s]he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.)
Augusto Monterroso [in: Obras completas (Y otros cuentos), 1959]

And a few Guardian commentators gave the professionals a run for their money, including this personal favorite:

The chainsaws could be heard in the massive forest for months. Then silence. Complete earth shattering silence.
AmazonQueen

So if you’re battling your own Monday demons and can’t find a way or will to get to the page, try a few mini plots and character arcs to prime the pump.  Maybe one sentence spur you into a writing jag that lasts the whole day.  And if not, at least you can say you’re a few sentences richer than you were when you started.

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