Writing Prompt: Shortening Your Story

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This six-word story by Ernest Hemingway is a flash fiction classic. In only eight syllables, there is a myriad of tales and images. Start with 100 words. Write a story of that length, then keep cutting until you get to 20 (or six, if you can manage it). Is your story still intact? Does it still contain the key elements – character, plot, and setting – with which you started? As you cut words, you will have to imply more than you write. In addition to being a way in which to put off whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing, it is also a good exercise in discipline because it makes you hone down your writing, conveying a tale to the reader without crowding your work with unnecessary detail. (I’m posting this in backwards order so you can see where I ended up first, then see where it came from.)

Wanted: Fabled Seventh Child, living siblings optional. (7 words)

* * * * * *

Two people are talking on a couch. One needs a mystic, the other is a seventh child. (17 words)

* * * * * *

“You were the seventh child Elizabeth, we need you.”

“Seventh? Weren’t you good at math?” I scoffed.

He smiled. “You were the fourth to survive your birth, but you were the seventh in your mother’s womb. A seventh child.”

I shifted uncomfortably on the couch. “And that means what?”

“It means a great deal. People forgot that the seventh child is the mystic of the family. That I know you was a stroke of luck.”

“You don’t believe that stuff do you?”

His smile became tender. “I live in that world now, this conversation wouldn’t be happening otherwise.”

(98 words)

* * * * * *

“Elizabeth, we need you,” his eyes never left my own, “Your brother told me that you were the seventh.”

“The seventh? And I thought you were good at math.”

He smiled condecendingly, “You have four surviving siblings, but you were the seventh to pass your mother’s womb. That makes you a seventh child.”

I shifted uncomfortably. Talk of my lost siblings was a touchy subject, even in my dreams. “I still don’t see how that makes me special.”

“It may not mean much to you, but to my friends it means a great deal. It’s very uncommon for a family to get so large. People have forgoten that the seventh child is supposed to become the mystic of the family. That I even know you was a stroke of luck.”

“You don’t really believe that stuff do you?”

His smile became tender. He leaned across the couch so that our faces were just inces away. “I live in that world now, and if you really weren’t the seventh then this conversation wouldn’t be happening.”

I leaned back as far as I could away from Tom. “I’m still under the impression that I’m having a very disturbing dream.” (197 words)


About Cici Brown
I'm a happily married mother of two and a half. I'm usually pretty bubbly and in some cases, according to my husband, too open about everything. I am and always will be a gamer geek, though I haven't table-top roleplayed for many years. I still manage to hit an MMO or two. My interests include most things geek and Vampire fiction, though not the sparkly kind, that's not vampire fiction. I have goals towards publishing that have yet to be fulfilled but one day...

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