I have now written over 30 books, but writing a 100-word story was a particularly stimulating undertaking. It drew on everything I’ve learnt about writing over the past 25 years. If you want to enter the contest but are stuck on “Where do I start?” don’t fret. Here are my tips on how to say something interesting and meaningful, but more succinctly than you ever thought possible.
In a story as short as 100 words you need a strong plot – one that leaves the reader satisfied that something of interest has been raised, wondered about, then at some level resolved. Good plots are hard – I’ve always found plotting to be the most difficult part of writing, but here are some strategies you might find useful.
» Think of the story in terms of a question and an answer. Your starting point can be something quite ordinary that has happened to you, or to someone you know. For example – Sally’s pet rabbit has escaped. So the question is – where did it go?
Let your mind range wildly through possible answers. Jot them down – eg, the rabbit might be found under the Prime Minister’s desk; on a beach 3000 kilometres away; in the Easter display of a department store window. Choose the one that appeals to you most. Then work out a trail of events – credible or ridiculous – that could lead to this ending. That’s your story. Apply this principle to any simple situation – a lost umbrella, the sound of a harmonica, a smell of apple pie…
» Use the form of a classic plot from myth or fairytale – a good deed rewarded, a broken or a fulfilled dream, true love not recognised until it is too late. Just rework it into a different situation. For example, a girl with long lovely hair stays inside her high-rise apartment all day, addicted to Facebook. One day she clicks on a button and wins a free haircut. She leaves the house, gets her hair lopped off and runs away with the handsome hairdresser. (Rings a bell?)
» Envision a short story as having the structure of a joke. A joke sets up a situation and finishes with a surprise, or “punch line”. It need not be a joke, but any situation that resolves itself with a twist. For example – a person whose sight is failing goes to the eye doctor, asking for help. Punchline: The waiter says, “I wish I could help you, but this is a restaurant.”
What you need to do to turn it into a story is fill in the gaps. Which leads us to…