Short and Sweet

Do you know this 420 Characters thing Lou Beach has going on?  This idea of writing a story in 420 characters or less is fabulously appealing to me.  Of course, right?  It’s a tiny, forced form like haiku and tanka. What’s not to love?  Also, it reminds me of one of my favorite story collections, the gorgeously brilliant and perfect Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata.  That collection has been a favorite of mine just about forever.  The stories are so-named because each is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand … and they are so delicately, beautifully crafted.

Beach’s idea pleases me, even if all of the actual stories don’t. I started trying my hand at them to give myself a quick shot of fiction writing — like comfort food — to get me through all the crazy grant writing I’ve been slogging through lately.  They’re tiny.  About 2½ texts long (yes, I write them on my phone so I can keep track of the character count).  An odd thing I’ve found with the stories I’ve written so far is that most of them run sad.  Something about the shorthand-ness of them seems to carry a kind of finality that comes out as melancholy, pain, bad endings.  I’m curious to see if they continue this way.  They’re not fabulous, but I do like some of them, and I’ve decided to put them up here. 

Tonight, there are two.  This first one definitely went to a darker place than I’d imagined it would.

In a different story, Seth would marry his high school sweetheart, run a car dealership downtown. But that wouldn’t be his story.  He crouched beneath the stairs, almost holding his breath, praying – for a ringing phone, for a knock at the door. But instead he heard the cellar door open, heard his uncle exhale, imagined he could hear him smile. “I’ll be right down, boy.” Seth nodded, the knife hilt warm in his hand.

I want to put titles on them, but they’re so small, the titles overwhelm them somehow.  In my head, this next one is called “Eminent Domain,” but that’s way too heavy handed.  I think they may have to live title-less.

It was the last time any of us would see the old house.  The wreckers were due in the morning, their destruction only a breath away.  It was better, though, than forced flooding, a lake full of foundations, chimneys turned to fresh water reefs. We swept and mopped, cleaned the windows, polished the drawer pulls. Mama said a prayer, Nana swore. We locked the door behind us.

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23 thoughts on “Short and Sweet

  1. I also love little kernels of stories. It’s probably the immediate gratification part of me that craves it. But the great thing with these is they’ll come back to you again and again as you go on with your day.

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    1. Yes, the smallness of the stories, does give an instant hit of gratification. Even if I have to go back and revise a bit, I still have the satisfaction of getting to the end super quickly.

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  2. Yikes. Love the 420 character thing. Read the link as well.
    I wonder why they tend to run dark?
    They live on their own without being named. If you leave off the name, I can give it my own title when I read it. If you give it a title, you are sort of directing my brain.

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    1. I’m trying to understand why they turn dark. The one about Seth is definitely the darkest, but most of the ones I’ve written are sad. Still working that out. Thanks for the comment about the title. I really feel more comfortable title-less for these.

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  3. Paul

    I’ve gone to shorter fiction pieces with my students for a few years now; it gives them a better chance to really shape and craft. This is pretty short, though! Tweet times three.

    The two you wrote, though dark, are loaded with skill! Your feel for sentence cadence is super-duper, and you do a great job of creating a very visceral scene in a short space. Definitely an exercise to bring to the classroom. Terrific writing! 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Paul! I love the challenge of these, and they do seem to push my words into a kind of tempo of sorts. It would be fun to try this with students … show them there are more uses for the cell phones than just texting their friends during class!

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  4. Whoa, that first one gave me the chills. So much unsaid leaves a great deal to the reader’s mind. I like this idea, I’m going to try and give it a shot.

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  5. Your 420 character stories moved me. That first one gave me chills, too.

    I love the short, short story form, too, so I definitely have to check out the Kawabata book you mentioned when I get back home. You gave it such a glowing review, and I’m very eager to learn more on this subject by reading someone who’s mastered it.

    I’ve been familiar with Lou Beach’s book for a while now. I tried to win one in a contest where he was the judge. My SIS post from 1/26 included my two losing entries. My other site, Words One Hundred, is made up of 100 word stories. I think working in super short forms can help us write better long stories. At least I hope so!

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    1. Hi, Re–
      I read your 420 stories and really liked them. Did you hear him on Studio 360 — where they did another contest? I would definitely recommend the Kawabat book. The stories are such gems.

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    1. I would recommend these as a fun exercise for anyone. They really are serving their purpose for me: getting my head back into fiction, getting me seeing stories everywhere. I’m loving them.

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            1. I joined Pinterest more than a year ago but I never really gave it a second thought until recently. Now I’m hooked on it with a fervor that most people save for illegal substaneces. ;b

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  6. Whoa – that first one was dark indeed and so vivid in its succinctness. The second one was just sad, but so well done.

    I am too verbose for sucg. Challenges such as these are -well- challenging. Don’t hold your breath waiting for me to try this one – lol. I do like the ingenuity of using your phone for such – smarty pants. .

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