42-Word Short Short Short Stories

6 Conversations

How long is a story? Or rather, how short?

This is a question that Create and the h2g2 researchers putting together a variety show podcast1 would like to explore.

In November we challenged h2g2 researchers to write a novel of 50,000 words. Now we are going to ask them to attempt something much harder. Short short stories.

There is already a venerable tradition of these 100-200 word shorts on h2g2, so in keeping with Create’s science fiction theme for January, we have decided to up the ante a little, to challenge both old hands and those new to this kind of writing.

So we want 42 word stories. That’s right, stories of only 42 words. Actually, we will allow a leeway of 5 words plus or minus. But special acclaim will go to those tales which are dead on the word limit.

Along with the 42-themed photographs, this will be a running feature of the podcasts and not limited to the first episode, scheduled to go out later this (new!) year. But only the best stories will be included, so best to get honing those skills now.

To prove it can be done, paulh, one of h2g2’s short short story masters, has provided us with some examples.2

Story #1

Glasses clinked. Sequins glittered. A Sinatra wannabe crooned as the host led me downstairs to see his latest invention, a time machine.

“It’s just a clock!” I exclaimed.

“I’ll speed up the hands,” he proposed.

“You wanna make time fly? Take exams!”

Story #2

“You’re voting for Kremmersley?” I exclaimed. “He opposes everything you believe in.”

“He’s our friend,” Mom explained.

“He invites us for turkey dinners, barbecues, even cruises,” Dad added.

“He won’t keep any of his campaign promises,” I said.

“That’s fine with us!”

Story #3

The Christmas gift-planning session was going well: hedge clippers for Lonny,
yarn for Grandma, princess dolls for little Grace.

“The Parkers in Fairbanks?” my wife said, frowning.

“A solar-powered snowblower,” I suggested.

“Too much snow, too little sunlight,” she objected.

Add the stories to the threads below. We’d like to use this as a workshop as well as a story share, so don’t take it amiss if, as well as praise, suggestions are made for improvement. And don’t be afraid to comment on clever solutions, brilliant wordplay or helpful tweaks in others’ writing.

We will be suggesting themes for the stories to tackle, although all stories are welcome.

For March, you prompt is 'nature'.

1Led by minichessemouse, who would be delighted to hear any ideas for a podcast segment. Send any such thoughts to the podcast page.2And some advice: "I found that writing haiku was extremely valuable. When every word counts, you find yourself thinking in very compressed ways. On the other hand, you still want to hint that the characters have backstories.

In the Christmas gift story I do this with lists of things (hedge
clippers for Lonny, yarn for Grandma). The reader can imagine the
discussions that might have taken place when deciding on these gifts.

The time machine story uses bare bones sentences at the beginning to
descriptively set the scene -- a party. The first ten words evoke
champagne glasses clinking against each as people give a toast, then
fancy dresses that glitter, and finally the ubiquitous live
entertainment. The trip down to the lab is tacked onto the Sinatra
incident so that the action can shift smoothly to the invention theme.
Obviously, if people are dancing and drinking and listening to ersatz
Sinatra, then the host can schmooze with an old friend and brag about
his inventing hobby.

The political story is cyncical. There's humor, but the reader will
pick up on the sad situation that has nice people going with
politicians because they get dinners and cruises out of the guy, not
because he's compatible with their world view. But what does it matter
anyway if the politician isn't actually going to get anything done?
Sad, but also a plausible outcome given human nature."

Bookmark on your Personal Space



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry


h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more