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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The Ink Menagerie

menagerie |məˈnajərē|

noun

A strange or diverse collection of people or things.

When my English teacher told us that he was going to get rid of our quizzes, the entire class was elated. But then he went on to say that we were going to be writing a blog for the next year as a replacement. Some people cheered, others rolled their eyes, and some–like me– just sat there with a smile, maelstrom of ideas brewing.

So, welcome to The Ink Menagerie: a blog dedicated to all things ink and the brainchild of my many blog ideas. Now, when I say “ink” I don’t mean that l’m going to be waxing poetic about how iron and creosote mix together. Ink has a very different definition to me. To me, as a writer, ink is my life. But it’s more than that too. It’s something that creates comfort, crafts art, but most importantly, forges a connection to the rest of the world so basic we don’t even realize it’s there.

Think about it. Have you ever had a book stir an emotion in you? Has a painting ever evoked a question? Have you ever praised or cursed a script or screenplay writer? Has an old photograph ever reminded you of a happy memory? Ink is everywhere and I’m making it my job to show the world the things it can produce.

And today my job is to show you a beautiful photo called Beyond Oblivion.

Beyond Oblivion by Bailey Elizabeth

Beyond Oblivion by Bailey Elizabeth

You’ll see more posts with pictures by Bailey Elizabeth. She has stunning photos that can really speak volumes if you know what to look for. You can view her work at Deviantart: Bailey Elizabeth- Deviantart or at her website: Bailey Elizabeth Photography

So on that note, I’m going to bid you adieu until the next post.