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Trying my hand at the February Challenge: 50-Word Story

I came across Cafe Muravyets yesterday (though I can’t remember if I linked there through the Absolute Write forums or through another blogger or through tag surfing). I was greatly intrigued to read about her 50-word story challenge for February. I decided to give it a try.

I finished my little story this morning. I thought it might not be all that different from trying a OneWord exercise except that I would have all the time I liked to ponder and polish. However, writing the story proved to be much more challenging than I expected. The story had to fit the theme and include five particular words…all while not exceeding 50 words.

It was the 50 words part that really challenged me. I find it fairly easy to just write and write about a topic. But to try to tighten it up…? Quite a bit harder than I’d guessed.

My first attempt was 102 words long and it seemed, while I was writing it, that I was being as pared down as possible. I was horrified to think that I had to shave off a little more than half of the words. Shave I did and my second attempt came in at 80 words. Still 30 words too many. I tried again and got it down to 64 words, then 52. Those last two words were the most painful to cut but at last I made it to 50 words.

When I sat back and looked at what I had written, I realized that shaving off all of those words had created something a lot better than what I had started with. I can’t claim that it’s any great work of fiction, but I’m pleased with what I was able to create. Cutting the extra words forced me to sharpen the image and give it more impact. It’s a lesson I think I can definitely take to my other writing…not necessarily cutting everything in half, but really looking at the story and pruning away all the dead branches and excess foliage.

And, when I looked at the piece again, I knew I needed to make another change. Two more words simply didn’t fit. I changed them out for two other words and the results surprised me. I looked at it and realized the story was complete and I was truly satisfied with it.

I posted my piece in the comments section of Cafe Muravyets and here below:

A woman emerges from the building’s Victorian façade, brushes past me, her belly heavy with child.

A vicarious thrill sweeps me, followed by yearning and inevitable tears.

I blink and clutch the bag tighter. Tenth year trying could be the charm. Time to find a bathroom and learn the truth.

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24 thoughts on “Trying my hand at the February Challenge: 50-Word Story

  1. Hi, there. 🙂 I was delighted with the story you did end up posting and now, seeing the account of the work that went into it, I’m just so impressed. It inspires me to talk about the 50-word exercise a little in Cafe M. I hope you don’t mind if I link to this post there as well. And I suppose I ought to write one too, while I’ve still got some February left. Thanks for participating. — Mura

    1. I don’t mind the linking at all! I really enjoyed the experience. It’s both very similar and very different from working on a larger piece. Such a small piece needs to be much tighter than a longer piece but the concept of editing is the same. I can be very, very wordy sometimes. Trying a challenge like this forced me to really focus on the heart of what I was trying to write.

    1. Thanks! I’m pretty elated about the whole thing. It was such a good learning experience. And my muse seems pretty pleased with herself…she’s not glaring at me with a bottle of scotch in her hand anyway 🙂 .

  2. This is great. It’s amazing what you can capture in 50 words. This also seems like the perfect challenge to follow up my month-long novel challenge. Thanks for posting this, and the links.

  3. Sonia, it’s great! I have felt so much energy in just brushing past someone. You captured wistfulness and tenderness in so few words. You inspire me. Carrie

  4. This is why I don’t write poetry. Every word must be pithy and cogent–beyond what I consider possible. I’m slightly encouraged by Twitter. I’ve been able to facile-y pare my messages to 140-characters without feeling that I’ve lost much.

    This 50-words sounds like an interesting exercise.

  5. When I read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, this was one of his major points. He said that after his first draft, he cuts out 10% at least, if not more. Because it does exactly what you said, it makes your point or image that much clearer. I really like what you came up with – good job!

    1. It really does make the point so much clearer to let go of all those extra words even though it can be so hard sometimes. Sometimes they are almost like children…brain children anyway 🙂 .

  6. ABSOLUTE WRITE? YOU MUST HAVE REALLY THICK SKIN. THOSE SUPERCILIOUS ARROGANT “I CAN’T CALL THEM WHAT I WOULD LIKE ON HERE SO FOR WANT OF A BETTER WORD” “JERKS” BANNED ME PERMANENTLY BECAUSE I DEFENDED MYSELF.

    YOUR WRITING IS TOO GOOD FOR YOU TO BE ASSOCIATING WITH THOSE CRETINS. YOU’RE BETTER OFF HERE ON WORDPRESS WHERE YOUR TALENT WILL BE APPRECIATED.

    VERY GOOD JOB ON COMBINING THE TWO CHALLENGES, I DON’T EVEN TRY THE FIFTY WORD ONE…I DON’T CALL MYSELF “1WORDYWOMAN” FOR NOTHING!

  7. I’m sorry you had a bad experience there! It’s hard when you don’t feel welcomed at a site. (hugs)

    The 5-word story challenges have taught me so much about being brief…at least with my flash fiction! I tend to want to be wordy too. I’ve seen how fewer words can sometimes convey a stronger image though. I’m hoping to bring those lessons to my MIP. I highly recommend giving the 50-word stories a try. You might surprise yourself. I know I did. I’m totally hooked now. 😀

  8. heheh, thanks for the hug, i needed it! and “bad experience” doesn’t eeeeeeeeeeee-ven begin to cover my “mis-adventures” with awwc.

    as for the “mini-writes”, i do not even want to fry my brain, or my temper, trying to harness the maelstrom of images, words and ideas that fill my head when i see a prompt! take the one i posted monday, “sitting pretty”…uh, i believe it was supposed to be about two hundred words? welllllllllllllllllllll…let’s just say i went “a tad over” (like around two hundred over!) on my offering! but hey, i didn’t use just one of the five to FORM a story, i used all five IN the story! how many would be crazy enough to do that! (though the story started more or less writing itself the moment i saw the first two prompts. by the time i had read all of them, i simply started writing. the words do that to me. and trying to curb and corral those words when they hit like that would be comparable to trying to hold back a tidal wave with rice paper, it, uh, don’t work too well!

    hugs right back at ya! and good luck with any projects you have going.

    oh, while i think of it, would you know anyone who likes fantasy who might be willing to give my newest book a read? i will return the favor. and not as critique, but as opinion read.

    blessings

    marantha.

    1. I have seen quite a few on Twitter offer to read. I think it might be called beta reading or something like that…still learning the lingo. I’m so backed up right now, I can’t offer to read anything (beyond a short story) else. I think it will slow down in a couple of months. 😀

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