How to write a 28-word story

Every other Saturday afternoon I volunteer at my local library with their teen writing group. Today, in the absence of the usual lead, I assisted her colleague with some of the exercises that I use in my Monday night workshops. One was a consequence-type game as follows:


Write in here afterwards

Write in here first


In the right-hand column write using the following prompts:

1. A first name; 2. A surname; 3. Any number above zero; 4.  A colour;

5. An emotion; 6. A relation; 7. A room in the house (normal or grand);

8. An animal (normal or strange); 9. A number between 20 and 500.

This works best if you have a group of people and you fold the piece of paper over just below the current answer and forward it to the next person so they write the next item.

So you’ve written something for each prompt in the right-hand column. Now in the left-hand column, write exactly this:

1. Main character’s first name; 2. His/her surname; 3. His/her age;

4.  The road/town name (you add a relevant ending e.g. Pinkville or Purple Street);

5. His/her emotion; 6. His/her relation; 7. Where they are in the house;

8. What’s in there with them. 9. The target word count of your story.

I received:

1. Jordan; 2. Lockwood; 3. 22; 4. Orange; 5. Anger; 6. Aunt; 7. Meerkat;

8. Basement; 9. 28.

And the end result was:

Orangeberg made 22-year-old Jordan Lockwood angry. He was unsure why but his aunt’s meerkat didn’t help; screeching away in the basement. Until one day it escaped, Jordan followed.

So, it is possible to write a short story in 28 words (Ernest Hemingway, after all, did it in six; ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’). And whilst most competitions would expect (or ask for) a normal minimum of 55/60 (the norm is between 150 and 500), it’s a great way of paring down your story and as we all know, editing is easier said than done.

I shall be starting tomorrow and whilst I should have plenty of time for the next few days, it may be a bit more precious on work days so I might just resort to a very short short story, but if Ernest can do it in six, I think I can be forgiven for edging it to double figures at least.

UPDATE: I completed Story a Day (May 2011), writing 32 stories in the month – available via various outlets for $1.49 (about £1) – see 🙂

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