My Favorite 50 Words

This week was my first time to participate in a Weekly Writing Challenge. Actually, it was my first time to even look at one, to be honest. I’ve never had a problem finding something to say so it’s never occurred to me to look for a prompt!

I thus found it rather interesting when my first time to look created a truly difficult challenge for me. Tell a story in 50 words. Just 50. OK, I thought. Well, there was Hal’s reluctance to take a nap after falling asleep at church. I wasn’t sure there was enough meat for a large blog post. Maybe it’d work.

I soon learned two things. The first, that 50 words is beyond brief, I learned when I looked at my word count half way through and saw I was at 94 words. I then realized that my story actually had two scenes and would have to be two separate tales.

Here’s the first (inferior) one:

He briefly fell asleep on the pew. Then complained when the organ awakened him as I rose to sing. At the front for the children’s sermon, he laid down and closed his eyes, pastor ignored. But when nap time finally came, he would not. Such is the way of a child.

When I asked my husband and daughter for feedback, they said the same thing I was thinking. It moved around too much. It didn’t seem to have focus, a purpose. It fell flat.

The second one, Naptime worked better. Especially when I was able to add a picture. I published it without first looking around to see what other people were posting. I think that’s best. Keeps a person from second-guessing herself.

I learned my second thing when I started reading other posts. I learned that it really is hard to get it right. A lot of people submitted poetry. Quite a bit of it good poetry! But the write-up said this: “A fifty, much like a poem, challenges readers…” And for my literalist brain, if a fifty is much like a poem, it can’t be a poem.

Telling a story in 50 words, complete with some character development, plot, imagery, conclusion, clarity – that’s hard! Some of what I read never seemed to coalesce into stories. They struck me as wordy people trying to contain themselves in something brief. Or stories that tried for mystery but just left me confused with what they left out or tried to imply. The ones I liked managed to make me see and understand so much more than 50 words would seem to allow room for.

That first day or two, I read them all and saved off some of my favorites. I haven’t been able to keep up since then, but I’ll keep trying. I’ve noticed a few bloggers linking to all of them on their post. Gosh, with as many out there as there are, that just makes my eyes glaze over! What I would love to know is which ones YOU like best. And why. So that’s what I’m going to give you here. Some of my favorites. And why. In no particular order.

I recommend you follow the links before you read what I have to say. I don’t want to spoil them nor influence your reaction to them.

Let’s start with the master, the person who authored this particular writing challenge: Boy with a hat’s 50 word stories #138 sets the stage for what makes a good story. I love the recognition that he doesn’t have to explain what happened. “Snap!” is sufficient. And then the boy gazing up at the end. It says so much.

This one, Silence, does the short story thing perfectly. It draws you in to the woman’s pain and separation. It sets up the hope that she’ll say something. You are holding your breath, hopeful, and then… bam.

This one didn’t have a descriptive title but it had a great lead-in picture. I felt the story fully pulled me into the person’s state of mind and made me proud of the personal growth in those short 50 words.

Quiet Please, Can’t You See I’m Recharging? started with a funny, wry statement that immediately made me smile. And then finished up with an obvious solution that is readily apparent to the parent of a teenager. It just felt true.

He Didn’t Leave… I’m not necessarily fond of seemingly weak, fearful characters, but something about this story struck me. I think it’s the bit right at the end where he seems to act nonchalant about staying and she makes it clear that why he stayed is as important or more so than staying.

This one I like because of its social commentary. The differences that so many of us hold significant that absolutely shouldn’t be.

I like Crow simply because of its beautifully detailed descriptiveness. I can see it all so clearly. And feel that hesitation before making the last move. And that brief moment of balance.

The Last Laugh: I adore the wording of the first sentence. And the message that sometimes we get bad advice and don’t learn to let go of it is interesting to ponder.

What makes Unexpected so wonderful is the irony. And the character’s recognition of that irony.

In Darkness, I like the double meaning of the word darkness and the obvious fear of being dismissed into the great unknown.

I’m not sure why this one is called third-wave, but my failure to understand the title did little to dilute my enjoyment of the story itself. How can someone make a character this strong and this identifiable in so few words?! I love that the girl has such a strong, mature, feminist response to the world that she then belts out in the only way truly accessible for a five year old.

What I liked about this one is that I could tell the speaker was embarrassed but not about what. My curiosity grew and the way it was revealed was so well done. Plus, I can relate considerably to putting my foot in my mouth.

I’m sure it was more than the picture that made me smile at this one, although it certainly set the right tone. Whether the story is talking about the statue or a real person makes no difference to me. The speaker’s attempt to divine true intent was the win.

I greatly appreciate the extra work that went into the font variations in Érase una vez…. I like how it implied movement and pace. I also like how it made me feel like I can speak Spanish. Even though I can’t.

I followed the link to Climb: A Play in Fifty Words simply because I was intrigued at how you would write a short play like that. And she delivered. Delightful!

Ok, I’m deliberately not including examples of stories I didn’t like. I don’t think that’s nice, nor important. To each, his own. So when I tell you that I am linking this next one, which includes 3 tales, because I particularly like the middle one, please don’t take that to mean that I despise the others. They just aren’t the one I’m writing about. On The Importance of Memory took me by surprise with the last sentence. Very nice and very funny.

And… I know I said that one lesson I learned was that it was difficult to tell a story well in 50 words. Many of the ones I didn’t care for, I didn’t care for because they weren’t really a story. They were just a scene or an idea. But this description of a bonfire is proof that you can get my attention without telling an obvious story. I was enjoying the beautiful imagery but when I got to the naked knees and crickets and people falling asleep, it suddenly felt like a story had been told. I felt like I was there.

In that lesson, I claimed as well that poems shouldn’t count. And then I found this one. I clicked on The F Word with a fair amount of apprehension. Was I about to read a teenage boy’s screed? Some obscene writing from a college student? An X-rated sex scene? No. To my delight, it was a perfectly balanced poem! How much harder is it to write a coherent, complete scene but break it up in nearly equal syllable counts and make it rhyme in all the right places?! Even the unspoken fifty-first word rhymed. Excellent.

Here’s another poem that I found right before I published this that I enjoyed. I liked the visual and the story… now that I’m more amenable to poems. 🙂

I also said that these were listed in no particular order, which was true. Except for this one. This one was hands-down my favorite of the ones I read. I was skeptical at first. When I wrote mine, I fought the urge to give explanatory statements before and/or after my story. I ultimately decided that was cheating and didn’t do it – and I tended to dislike the ones where people did that. It felt like the entire idea couldn’t be expressed in the fifty words so they were bolstering their story. So when I saw the overall word count on The Word Peddler’s submission, I was prepared to not like it. Then I read The Bits That Haunt Us and the world slowed down. I felt a chill go down my spine. I just stared at the words for a minute when I finished. And then I read on and understood why the explanatory words were so vital. The story was perfectly written and I assumed it was fiction. But it wasn’t. The hairs on my arms stood up. Suddenly I knew that the imagery from this story would never leave me.

I wish I had time to read more before publishing this post, but it feels important to actually publish this during the week of the challenge. So, here’s the DpChallenge page where you can find them all. Please take a look and share in the comments any that you particularly liked and why. I’m curious to hear from you and to read all the great ones I know I’ve missed!