Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Could you write a story in fifty-five words or less?

There are contests and challenges popping up all over the Internet designed to challenge writers. I stumbled upon a bunch of them and I thought it was ridiculous at first, but the more I thought about it the more I became intrigued.

Could I write a story in fifty-five words or less?

The rules are:
The story has to describe a scene and have a discernable plot. The story should involve at least two people and have some sort of conflict. And finally there has to be a resolution to that conflict. Your story can have a title and the title does not count towards the fifty-five word count.

Here is my entry:

So This is How it Ends

The light bulb hanging from the ceiling flickered in the darkened room. I heard her laugh. When my eyes adjusted, I saw her leaning in the corner. I thought she had forgiven me… until I saw the gun in her hand. I put my hands up… then smiled. The smile usually worked. Not this time.

I entered the contest. I didn’t win... but I was glad I participated. You see, I am a fiction writer and fiction writing is very competitive. You have to grab your reader in the first few pages - some say the first 100 words.

If you want to go the traditional publishing route you need to distill your novel down to a page or less, but wait... it gets better. After that you need to winnow it down even further to two sentences (three sentences tops). This is called your elevator pitch.

Here is the rationale for the elevator pitch contained in the following scenario:
You find yourself on an elevator with a high-powered literary agent or someone in Hollywood royalty like Tom Hanks.
He asks you, “So what do you do?”

You tell him that you are a writer and Tom Hanks, who happens to have run out of ideas for movies and is desperate for a fresh idea says, “Oh really? Tell me about it.” And before you can say, “Houston we have a problem,” the elevator door closes. So now you have just the time it takes for the elevator to reach the next floor to tell Mr. Hanks what your book is about.

OK… I can hear you naysayers naysaying. What was that? "That’ll never happen" you say? You’re probably right, but that’s not the point. You should be able to pitch your book in two to three sentences or less.

Here’s mine:

A Storm in Memphis

Will Compton is a burned out, time traveling cop whose job has put his sanity on life support. He desperately needs time to sort things out - instead he gets dispatched to the most difficult case of his career. Criminals have time-jumped back to the assassination of Martin Luther King and he has to set aside his personal problems long enough to deal with them!

I know what you’re thinking… "only three sentences eh? Well I'll just make them really really long sentences then." But the rule of thumb is a sentence is too long if you can’t say it in one breath. Some experts challenge you to get it down to just five words. I haven’t figured that one out yet.

If you want to be a writer try this exercise. Write a novel in 55 words or less. It was one of the hardest writing exercises that I have ever done. But be careful, it can be addicting! I worked on this one for about a week and revised it more times than I will ever admit.

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