Shove Five Pounds of Manure into a Three Pound Bag


I have not been writing as often as I would have liked over the last few weeks. But, I have started writing more short fiction lately. I find that trying to cram a story into a small word count limit is exciting. You grab the story idea by the throat and jam it into that little bag of words. In the consulting business, you are always trying to help people get faster or more efficient. But often, there are times when someone wants something faster than you can deliver. I would say, “You are trying to shove five pounds of manure in a three-pound bag.” The visual is awesome. Especially, for those who have actually tried to shove five pounds of anything into a bag that was way too small. It can get messy.

Writing short fiction is a lot like that. You have this idea of what the story is all about. You see it in your head. The pictures are rolling through your internal picture show. So many pictures. Each picture is worth a thousand words, right. Now, cram all of that detail into a 1000, 500 or even a 100 word story. Yikes! What a challenge.

Stephen King mentions, in his nonfiction book On Writing, that he had an editor or publisher, I can’t remember which, that had told him to trim ten percent of everything he had written. Writing short fiction is all about trimming, cutting corners, and leaving things completely out of the story to make the word count limit. With these short pieces you have to make a choice. Sometimes it is right up front when you start the task. Other times you have to backtrack and modify. But the choice has to be made. You have to pick a single focus. Maybe its a place, time, person or event. But in a super short story with only 1000 words or less to work with, that is rarely focused enough. You have to get to the word. That one word that your story is going to spin around. One word. Your story in only one word. Build that one word up. Surround it with the other 999 extras that you get to use. Sometimes the word gets buried. It might not even make into your end collage of words. But the meaning or essence of that word are there. Poking out at sharp angles.

I have been following a few blogs and whatnot out here in the great wide bit bucket in the sky. Many of them are great for writing prompts. Some don’t even know they are doing it. I will grab a random blog and pick a few headlines or topics and start working on something to get my 500 words for the day. But if anybody is following this one, I have a challenge. Take your favorite word book – Yes, that one – the closest to you now. Open it about one-third of the way. Pick the word that is three-quarters the way down the left page. If you don’t trust yourself, grab some of your D&D dice that you have tucked away in a drawer somewhere and roll for the page, paragraph, and word.

Now that you have the word, write it down on a piece of paper. Place that sucker right in the center. Then, write the words that come to you around that word. Write them in a spiral around it, in spokes from it like a wheel, it doesn’t matter. Just write words. After you have filled the page, you can start to use those words to find the story in that word jumble.

It is just another one of those crazy writing exercises. Maybe it works for you maybe it doesn’t. I found that it was fun.