Often called “micro” or “nano” fiction 55 fiction is the art of creating a complete short story in exactly 55 words, no more, no less. Not an essay, not a poem, not a bunch of random thoughts, no musings. Just a potent piece of pure fiction that you’ve dexterously composed in 55 words.
55 fiction is among my favorite forms of writing. Fun to write and an easy read, this is perhaps one of the best writing exercises to practice your fiction-writing skills, and a great way to inspire yourself to experiment with longer fiction pieces. It is quite like sculpting a work of art from a tiny block of stone – seemingly hard to crack but a pleasure when you hone your talent. It teaches you to focus tightly and improves your ability to express, besides boosting your vocabulary.
The Origins of 55 fiction
55 fiction was born in 1986 when New Times, an independent alternative weekly in San Luis Obispo, California organized a short story writing contest. Steve Moss, the founder and publisher of the paper proposed the idea. The contest is an annual affair and receives more than a thousand entries globally.
55 fiction – the rules
Like haiku, 55 fiction challenges you to pack in a lot in just a few words and has a structure to it, with four elements:
- A setting – the story must happen somewhere – in your mind, in the forest, in your neighbor’s house, in your garden
- One or more characters – can be people, animals, an inanimate object.
- Conflict – involving an event. Can include a fight, a chase, a conspiracy, why, even silence
- Resolution – a solution that wraps up the story, giving the reader a good takeaway.
If you think this restrains your creative muscle, don’t worry. You’ll enjoy it more than you think.
Here are some examples
One of my all-time favorites is this one:
Count ‘em (by Doug Long)
“1, 2, 3, 4…”
“7, 8… Counting words. 11, 12…”
“Numbers are words?”
“They are in Shorties.”
“What are Shorties?”
“55-word stories. 26, 27…”
“What about hyphens?”
“How can you possibly tell a story in 55 words?”
“43, 44… It ain’t easy. 48, 49…
Damn, I’m short a word!”
Here’s my very first humble attempt at 55 fiction:
Could this be it?
She stood there, motionless, shoulders hunched. Making quiet sniffing sounds.
The mother watched, worried. She could not recall another time like this. As her daughter slowly turned, tears streaming down her face, she saw the knife in her hand. Panicking, the mother reached out.
Then she noticed the bowl of cut onions on the table.
Back in 2011, I had the honor of judging a 55 fiction contest and especially loved Ruchira’s entry – go read it! (Yes, I went and looked for it!)
Check out more examples in this excerpt from The World’s Shortest Stories edited by Steve Moss
Here is what you need to remember
- Hyphenated words are two words. Exceptions are when you remove the hypen and it does not result in two standalone words. Blue-eyed is two words but non-verbal is one word. (Learn more about hyphens).
- Contractions are one word. “She’ll” is one word. “She will” is two words. So take advantage and economize!
- Short forms of words is one word. “Can’t beat ‘em? Join ‘em” where ‘em is one word
- An initial is one word. “S. India” is two words since S is just an abbreviation
- Acronyms are one word. Examples are YOLO, ESP, UNESCO
- The title’s word count is not part of the 55 words, but shall not exceed seven words.
- Have a doubt about a word? If it is in the dictionary, it is a word.
- I know what you’re thinking. What about numbers? 4, 6, 24, 2013 are all one word
- 24 is one word but twenty-four is two words
- And oh, punctuation marks are not a part of the word count
Now, time to get started.
- Begin by noting down some ideas
- Write without editing
- Be suggestive.
- Use implication
- Avoid the use of a / an / the as fillers
- When your story is ready, start chipping away the extra words to sculpt your story
- Edit to 55 words exactly.
- Give your masterpiece the once-over.
Here’s your prompt:
Choose one of these genres: Love or Mystery.
Keeping in mind the rules, go forth and create your 55 fiction!
And for the veteran 55 fiction writers here, dare yourself to:
- Write your 55 fiction where each word starts with the same letter.
- Write the entire story in one sentence.
Enjoy! I am looking forward to the treat of reading all the entries!
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Filed Under: Writing ExercisesTagged With: 55 Fiction, Writing Prompt
55 Word Short Stories
The idea is simple: write a short story in 55 words or less. A complete short story. With beginning, conflict, and end. Not a poem. Not a journal entry. A short story. A very short story.
The 55 Fiction contest was created in 1987 by New Times, an alternative weekly in California. It quickly caught on, and created a new genre: "flash fiction." New Times (and its sister publication, the Santa Maria Sun) now receive a thousand or more entries annually, from around the world. Winners have been collected in two highly praised books. You can learn more about the contest at Wikepedia.
In 2007 I entered for the first time, and they picked three of my entries. (Another writer had five entries published. Between us, we were more than a third of the winners!)
The judges wrote: "If you've only got space for 23 entries, maybe it isn't fair to allow a couple of authors to get multiple works published. Who cares? These were some of the best we got."
In 2008 I entered again, and another of my stories was chosen.
The first four stories below are my 55 Fiction winning entries. Others follow.
* * *
SEE A WOMAN BURNED ALIVE! the marquee screamed. ONLY $5!
Inside, she was tied to a stake, coals piled around. She wore a bikini kind of thing. They lit a match.
She struggled and screamed. It took about ten minutes.
It was okay, but not as good as when they strangled that guy last week.
Once a month I drive to New York City and rent a motel room high over a busy sidewalk.
Inside, I unpack plastic bags containing my turds of the past few weeks.
Then, one by one, I empty the bags out the window.
I love watching the reactions!
I guess I'm just a people person.
The roach was at least four feet long. It was lightning fast and it lunged at me.
I slammed the door shut just in time. I heard it bang repeatedly against the wood.
I went back to the manager and handed him the key.
"That room is simply unacceptable," I said. "Do you have another?"
The phone rings and rings and rings and rings.
But I won't answer it.
I'm afraid it might be me, calling me, again.
And I don't think I could stand that.
Not a fourth time.
Four AM or so. I was half asleep, channel surfing, when I hit channel 254. The man in the blue suit spoke directly to me.
"Go next door. Kill everyone."
I was helpless. Hypnotized.
Back home, blood-spattered, I turned the TV on again. But there was no channel 254. Everyone says there never was.
My car radio went silent. Then a voice screamed, "Go on, ram the car in front of you!"
Turns out some nut broke into the station and grabbed the mike.
Of course I didn't ram any cars. Nor did anyone around me.
But it took over five hours that day to get into the city.
They kidnapped me and cut off my arms, legs, penis, ears, nose, and nipples.
A doctor kept me alive while they cooked it all, carving artfully to disguise it, flavoring with the most marvelous seasonings.
Now that you've finished eating, they've brought me to explain it.
My tongue, they tell me, will be your dessert.
Phone Call From The Dead
No, he's not here.
Everyone's dead here.
The neighborhood. The city. The country.
Everyone. All dead. Except me.
You're dead, too. Like them, you don't know it.
So you keep walking, talking, working, sleeping, excreting.
Look, I gotta hang up now.
I'd say goodbye, but what's the point, you're dead.
Black Ski Mask
I put on a black ski mask. Then I dialed her number.
"Ha! You don't know who this is, do you, you bitch!" I laughed.
I then launched into an obscene, threatening tirade.
I was shocked how quickly the police tracked me down.
Okay, I wasn't thinking all that clearly.
Flea Market Find
He recognized it instantly, though it was filthy and covered with cheap paint. He paid the surprised seller the first figure quoted.
Home, he burned incense before it, reciting the required words in a language unheard for 10,000 years.
He spoke nonstop, no sleep, no food, for the mandated three days.
Then the world ended.
"I'll give you anything for your soul," the Devil told him.
"Would you stop torturing those poor souls in Hell?"
Years later he arrived in Hell. Everywhere was unimaginable suffering, torture.
"When I stopped, they started doing it to each other and themselves," Satan explained. "Hell is now worse than anything I ever conceived."
A Dish Best Served Hot
There are numerous ways to kill someone without leaving a trace. Or to make it look like an accident. You can find many on the Web.
But even though I knew this, I decided to douse him with gasoline and set him on fire.
Because I wanted him to suffer. And I wanted to watch.
In the dark theater I waited for the movie to start.
Suddenly my photo flashed onscreen.
"This is his face."
Shots of my home, wife, and workplace followed.
"When you find him, kill him."
The audience nodded. Shortly I eased out, head lowered.
I've been running ever since. I don't understand any of it.
Liberators From Space
A space ship approaching Earth broadcast a message: they were coming to liberate all oppressed beings from their tormentors. They would set them free and severely punish the tyrants.
Many people cheered, until the saucer doors opened and out came creatures that looked very much like cows.
Such a charming town. Freckle-faced kids, big porches with swings, smiling faces and warm greetings wherever you go.
They keep the Jews, homosexuals, blacks and vegetarians in a concentration camp just north of Mount Pilot. Everyone will tell you the thick black clouds of smoke you occasionally see are from the furniture factory there.
Penis Enlargement Peril
He bought every penis enlargement pill the spammers advertised, but none worked.
Depressed, broke, he decided to commit suicide. He swallowed hundreds of the pills he'd wasted his money on. He fell unconscious.
Officials never knew what attacked the city. Police were helpless. Air Force bombs finally destroyed the giant, writhing, snakelike one-eyed thing.
What Time It Is
He was always worried about the time. He glanced at his wristwatch many times per hour. Clocks were in every room of his home.
"What time is it?" he constantly asked friends and strangers alike.
Then one day he suddenly died of a heart attack.
And it was never o'clock, forever.
No One Really Believes It
No one really believes those old men were once young.
Later, no one will believe it about you, either.
At the Gates of Heaven
"'Love thy neighbor as thyself,'" Saint Peter quoted to me. "You forgave everyone... except yourself."
And how surprised I was when he turned me away.
Bartender, give me a drink.
No, forget the glass, just open the bottle and pour it here, into this funnel I've shoved down my throat.
He read about Ferdinand Demara, the "Great Imposter," who successfully masqueraded as psychologist, surgeon, lawyer, and more, before being caught.
He wanted to try, too. But surgeon? Lawyer?
No. Too hard. Too risky.
Instead, he would pretend to be... an utterly ordinary man. Ordinary job, ordinary family, ordinary life.
Success! No one ever found out.
The Screaming Room
Just a stupid local superstition, I laughed. Sure, for $50, I'd spend the night there alone.
At three AM it began. Hideous shrieks, wails, moans, of anguish, despair, rage.
Louder, louder… and then I began to dissolve...
Now I, too, wait for the next person to enter. My screams will blend with all the others.
Ed Opened the Letter and Began Reading...
"Dear Ed: You got me. I'm dying. But... I managed to mail this. Turn it over. See you in Hell. -- David."
Ed flipped the letter over - and screamed at the familiar words:
"Dear David: Even as you read this, the poison I've dusted it with is entering your system. Agonizing certain death awaits you. -- Ed."
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