Delving into 100 Words of Precision

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“One hundred seems perfect. It’s the basis of percentages, the perfect test score, the boiling point of water (Celsius), purity. Pythagoreans considered 100 as divine because it is the square (10 x 10) of the divine decad (10), whatever…that means. Even a Scrabble set has 100 tiles. And yet 100 is a fragment. It’s an arbitrary marker, like the “First 100 Days” of a president’s term—merely a promise of what’s to come, or a whiff of what has passed…None of us will ever know the whole story in other words. We can only collect a bag full of shards that each seem perfect.”

~100wordstory.org

Last week my English class had to write a 100 word story with a quote from Hamlet. It reminded me of one of the best writing exercises I ever did at The Juniper Institute for Young Writers.

The first thing that our teacher told us to do was to write a story that was exactly 100 words. It could be about anything, take place anywhere, and include as little or as many characters as we wanted. At first everyone in my group thought, “This will be easy. We’re writers, 100 words is nothing.” but 20 minutes later none of us were done. We found out, quite quickly, that 100 words isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Most of wrote too much and we had to learn the art of cutting words, others wrote too little and had to learn the art of avoiding overstuffing adjectives (or, adding in words without overusing adjectives). Personally, I’m always going to believe that writing more words is easier than having to take them out but the struggle can be just as frustrating either way. Sometimes, if you write too little, you will write another sentence to make up the difference and then learn that you are now over the word count and have to cut back. Other times you will write way to much (which is the  problem for me in most cases) and find that you have to choose between two equally vital sentences to get down to the 100 word count.

So why write these stories if it’s so much work?

Well, here’s the thing. While writing a 100 word story can be frustrating, it can also help writers improve their writing and develop their own style. Because the writer is restricted by a character limit they have to think about each word they write. What am I trying to convey? Is this really necessary to my story? Is there a plot and if so how am I going to complete the arc in such a short amount of time? If I use contractions such as he’s or it’s, will my story sound the same or will it change the way the readers see my characters? All these things tie back to the stylistic choices writers make each day with every sentence, paragraph, and chapter they write. As 100wordstory.org says:

“The whole is a part and the part is a whole. The 100-word format forces the writer to question each word, to reckon with Flaubert’s mot juste in a way that even most flash fiction doesn’t. At the same time the brevity of the form allows the writer “to keep a story free from explanation,” as Walter Benjamin wrote…”

Another part of our writing exercise was to cut our 100 word down in half, and then in half again, and again, and again until we were left with about 5 words. Now, I know a three word story is useless but the point of these additional cuts was to show us where the most important part of of story was. For most young developing writers like me, pinpointing the most important part of a story is a skill we have yet to learn. To quote my teacher, Zoe:

“We only need about 20% of the stories we write, the rest of it is just “stuff” we don’t need that goes off topic or distracts the reader.”

So, my fellow writers, next time keep this in mind while writing your stories. Be creative, but be precise.

100 word story (and cut down) example:

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Five recommended 100 word stories:

Confessions of a Former Skinhead by Becky Tuch

Collision by Marisela Navarro

Trove by Catherine Harnett

Playing House by Molly Giles

Corner Store by Kalthoom Bouderdaben

You can find more 100 word stories here.

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Unearthing Poetry

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”

~T.S. Eliot

Pirate Ship Book Alteration by Wet Canvas

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re currently reading Othello by Shakespeare in class. One of the most impressive things I’ve learned about Shakespeare is that he wrote all his plays in iambic pentameter. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s what gives the lines in his play’s that “tick tock” sound. You can learn more about them here: About Iambic Pentameter. But another thing I find impressive is the fact that his longest play, Hamlet, has about 150-200 pages (depending on the version) and is written completely in sonnets. That’s a lot of rhyming and a lot of poetry.

Every year since second grade I’ve had a poetry unit in school. And every year since second grade I’ve heard moans and groans from my unhappy classmates. I’ve never understood them, I’m always thrilled when teacher tells us about haiku’s or Limerick. After all, how hard is it to figure out a three line, 17 word poem? How hard is it to look up a word on rhymezone.com? Well, maybe I was lying when I said I’ve never understood my classmates. I get it, sometimes poetry is a messy ball of emotion and unfinished sentences. Sometimes it makes allusions to things way above our heads or uses words way too complex for our current age level. But that doesn’t mean you should find a shovel and dig a grave so deep that poetry will never see the light of day again. Give it a chance, you might find that poetry isn’t so bad after all.

The Ink Menagerie’s list of suggested poems:

The Hollow Men by T S Eliot

11 3 by Bailey Elizabeth

If by Rudyard Kipling

Ithaka by C.P Cavafy

There Are Always Alternatives by LiliWrites

Charlie Howard’s Desent by Mark Doty*

Voices to Voices, Lip to Lip by E.E. Cummings

Blue Bird by Charles Bukowski

Winter Kisses by Billimarie

I’m Going to be Okay by Sarah Narcise

The Crowd He Becomes by Jake Adam York

Bones and Shadows by John Philip Johnson

Soak my Feet in Wine by Sadia

June Second by Misha Collins

Morning Song by Sylvia Plath

Duino Elegies: The Tenth Elegy by Rainer Maria Rilke

I know I’m pretty cuz the boy’s tell me so by Angel Nafis**

Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda

Outgoing by Matt Rasmussen

This Rain is so Fitting by Alexis Cook

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*Over the summer I was fortunate enough to be able to attend The Juniper Institute for Young Writers. While I was there, Mark Doty was one of our guest speakers and read us a few of his poems. That was unforgettable. For those of you who have never heard this man read, his presence will fill up an entire room while he is reading. It’s astonishing.

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**Angel’s poems were suggested to me by a friend of mine from Juniper. When I tried looking her up, all I could really find were videos on youtube. I ended up clicking on one and found out why there were so few digital copies of her poetry. Angel’s poems are meant to be read out loud. The one poem I did manage to find (listed above) is sadly, not on Youtube or any other video site. So instead I have a poem written in collaboration with Jon Sands called Black Girl White Boy (the style of poetry is still the same):

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As you can see, most of the poetry is free verse. There’s a reason for that.

Free verse poetry, I’ve found, comes so much more naturally to me than writing a short story. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has come to that conclusion. There is not always a need for a beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes raw and untempered human emotion is enough, never mind word order or rhyme scheme. You can forget a period here and there and say it was a stylistic choice; the rules have been tossed out the window and it’s a free for all.

But on another note, I hope that you have enjoyed the poetry. I know that sometimes when teachers shove complex poems written in old English, it results in people having a distaste for poetry. I hope this has shown that it’s not all bad. Instead, sometimes it can be sad or truthful or entertaining.