August, 2013 Archives


The Art Of 100 Word Fiction

by thegooddoctor in News

This essay appears at the end of my collection of 100-word stories, Picasso Painted Dinosaurs, currently for sale at Amazon and other online bookstores.

Presumably, you’ve just finished reading 100 examples of a format of writing known as flash fiction. Either that, or you’re the kind of person who likes to skip ahead and wade through the bibliography before reading the actual text. Whatever works for you. No judgments here. But assuming you’re among the former, you might be wondering where the heck this guy came up with the idea for writing 100-word stories.

I’m glad you asked. For something so brief, flash fiction has origins going back thousands of years, all the way to Aesop and his fables. Historical practitioners included Saadi of Shiraz, Bolesław Prus*, Anton Chekhov, O. Henry, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, and Lydia Davis. But it has only been the past couple of decades that the genre has thrived. Outlets for publication of flash fiction, with names such as SmokeLong Quarterly, Flash Fiction Online, and Vestal Review, have proliferated in print and on the Internet, a probable reflection of our shortening attention spans.

*I have no idea who Bolesław Prus is, but the awesomeness of his name demanded his inclusion.

Broadly speaking, flash fiction is a style of narrative marked by its brevity, with stories ranging from as long as 1,000 words to as short as six. They might have an upper word limit, or they may proscribe an exact word count. Through the years, flash fiction has been gifted with many names, including sudden fiction, microfiction, micro-story, short short, postcard fiction, prosetry, and short short story.

Bear in mind, no matter how long or short, to qualify as an actual story a piece must have a beginning, middle, and end. It makes the idea of six-word fiction seem nearly impossible. However, the following story, commonly attributed to Earnest Hemingway, stretches the nanolimits of fiction:

“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The first two words form the hook, creating the question of what’s for sale, before immediately supplying the answer, ‘baby shoes.’ The action quickly moves to the conclusion, as we learn the tragic fate of the child meant to wear those shoes. In six simple words, we’re given all the ingredients for a complete narrative.

It seems unlikely that Hemingway actually wrote the above story, as its first recorded mention was in a 1996 play by John DeGroot about Hemingway’s life, entitled Papa. Nevertheless, it is one of the most remarkable examples of flash fiction we have today and neatly illustrates the power of the genre. Not only does it break down the necessary ingredients for a story to their most fundamental level, it does so with emotional resonance.

At A Story In 100 Words, we’ve found that what began as a daily writing exercise has helped us improve as writers, grow more precise and efficient in our use of language, and become much more popular with our friends. In fact, we could not recommend the endeavor more emphatically, whether you are an aspiring writer or just wish to find a new avenue for expressing your creativity.

But the question we are most often asked is why does it have to be exactly 100 words. Why not provide a word range, say, 75-150 words? That would certainly seem reasonable, especially if the aim is to inspire us to write a complete story every day. Who wants to be counting words and obsessing over the fact we exceeded our limit?

As it turns out, the word restriction is the most essential element of our daily writing exercise. Having an exact word limit will task your writing skills in a way a more liberal policy cannot. Economy becomes a virtue more essential than vocabulary or grammar. All other considerations are secondary, as the restriction will force you to discover the simplest means for relaying an idea, much like a city surveyor lays out roads in the most direct manner possible (except in the city of Louisville).

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the many ways short fiction can improve your writing:


The first advice for any aspiring writer is no secret: WRITE. If you want to be a carpenter, you need to practice using the tools. Astronauts don’t get into outer space until they’ve had thousands of flight hours. If your desire is to become a writer, you need to work at writing stories.

I often hear people express a desire to write but make excuses for why they don’t have the time. EVERYONE has time to write a daily 100-word story. You can finish one in less than 15 minutes. Your first attempts may not be as god as you hoped, but it doesn’t take long before you see improvement.


Writers must often convey complex ideas in a concise manner. Nothing can be more useful in honing this skill than writing to a word count, especially a short one. With only 100 words in your arsenal, you can’t afford to waste any. After a few months, you’ll be producing prose of which Hemingway would be proud.


One of my biggest worries when I set out to write a daily 100-word story was that I’d repeat myself or run out of new ideas. Two years on, and I’m still surprising myself with the stories I come up with. It turns out, the more often you write, the more ideas you generate.

Even so, it helps to have some new sources of inspiration, especially as you are starting out. Here are some hints on how to keep things fresh*:

  • Keep a notebook and jot down ideas.
  • Look for inspiration in the books and articles you read, or the movies you watch.
  • Ask people for prompts. For example, I wrote the story, “Black Market Tears” based on a prompt from a friend.
  • Mix and match ideas. Think about someone you know and imagine her in an unusual situation. Take two prompts and combine them into one story.
  • Try to write a story in a particular style, genre, or voice. I did an entire month of genre stories (Thriller, Western, Joyce) and found it particularly invigorating.
  • Jot down ideas until something sticks.
  • Don’t let bad stories get you down. Not every story will be a triumph. You’ll appreciate the good ones all the more when you struggle through some bad ones.

*See Appendix Two for more ideas on inspiration.


Writing a new story every day is a great way to experiment with voice. You can switch between first and third person. You can give second person a try. You can write from the perspective of all sorts of characters, people that you would never have imagined could help drive a story. 100 words don’t amount to much, but it’s just enough to get a tease of a character or style. Today you might try to mimic Hemingway, tomorrow Dostoevsky, and the day after Austen.


Beyond all these technical points of writing, however, I have always believed the most important reason for writing a 100 word story every day is the sense of accomplishment. After just a few weeks, you can look back and find you’ve actually built up a body of work.

With any creative endeavor, the chief reward should be the feeling of elation that is achieved. This is true whether you are writing for an audience of millions or your immediate friends and family. Don’t worry about ‘how good’ something is, just write. Every time you finish a 100-word story, rest assured that you are 100 words better as a writer.

The Failings of 100 words

For all of its benefits, the 100-word limit is not perfect. Sometimes, no matter how lean your prose, it’s impossible to fit everything you have to say into a set number of words. I chip and chisel and pare down the sentences and find that what I’m left with doesn’t express exactly what I intended.

“Ghost Story” is a good example. It could really use another sentence or two to get across the original idea, that Jackson is thoroughly uninterested in the ghost of his dead wife until he gets fired and realizes he can use it as an excuse. The perfect story should not be written with a word count in mind, but should use the exact number of words necessary to convey what you want to say.

There are plenty of other stories that feel incomplete. They introduce a character or a situation that is worthy of further exploration but leave the reader hanging. You should always remember the 100-word story is not the destination, but is part of the journey. Some of your stories will be perfect at 100 words, but others will be teasers for future stories of more depth. That is as it should be.

Unless you’re writing for a specific publication, don’t force yourself to make a 150 word story fit into 100 words. The 100-word exercise can help make you a better writer in all the ways mentioned above, but don’t stick to it even when it doesn’t make sense. As a writer, you set the rules, and you know when to break them.

Most importantly, stop making excuses and start writing. A word count, a daily goal, a schedule, they can all help motivate you. But don’t let them become obstacles. Always remember to write something every day, even if it’s just in your personal journal. The end goal of a writing exercise is to make you a better a writer, and nothing makes you a better writer than writing.


On Hiatus

by thegooddoctor in News

I’m leaving in two days for my Oregon Trail trek. For the next five weeks, expect even fewer new stories than normal. If you submit a story during this time, I’ll find the opportunity to put it up, but don’t count on me writing any new stories myself. But who knows, maybe the inspiration will hit.

The Oregon Trail trip is in support of my upcoming novel, Quitting The Grave. I will be filming a series of mini documentaries that will accompany the digital version of the book.

To learn more about the novel and to follow along with my trip, you can visit my Facebook page.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting two essays from my collection of 100 word stories, Picasso Painted Dinosaurs, that I hope will tide you over until I get back in October.


The Loyal Dog

by thegooddoctor in 100 Words

There is a shrine on a small Pacific island that was intended to be an agnostic memorial saluting the bravery and sacrifice on both sides. So many years have gone by, however, that memories of that battle have become obscured, much as the shrine itself has been weighed down by lichen and neglect.

People still visit the shrine and leave tributes. They aren’t for the fallen soldiers, but for one particular dog who remained on that spot for ten years after his master was killed. He is remembered as the loyal dog and people mourn him more than any soldier.


The Curse

by thegooddoctor in 100 Words

To this day, I don’t know what I did to anger her. I was waiting at the stoplight at Pinehurst and Rock Creek. An old woman was crossing, decrepit really, and if I was guilty of anything, it was allowing my gaze to linger a fraction too long, perhaps just a tincture of disgust in my expression. When she looked in my direction, I immediately turned away.

That’s when she began screaming, condemning me and all my future progeny. She even spit on my windshield.

From that day, I’ve never approached an intersection without being stopped at a red light.



by thegooddoctor in 100 Words

Chet sat his desk daily in four-hour shifts from 6am to 7pm, with fifteen-minute breaks in between. The working conditions weren’t the worst he’d encountered. At least they had a ceiling fan.

Chet’s job was to type the word “endeavor.” When he was first hired, sixteen years ago, his word had been “the,” but then Peterson had died and so he got promoted.

Every fifteen seconds, a new page was handed to him, and he typed his word. Then the page was taken away, and a new page came. They were distributed randomly, going from station to station, until they had 120 pages. Mostly the scripts were incoherent gibberish, but every once in a while, they’d have a blockbuster.

Though Chet didn’t think it was a very efficient system, Hollywood found it cheaper than training monkeys to use a typewriter. Chet certainly wasn’t going to complain. It beat crunching numbers.

Today’s story is exactly 150 words, but you get it for the same low price as always!


A Genetic Predisposition To Solving Mysteries

by thegooddoctor in 100 Words

I found the broken glass of the window scattered over the shag carpet. Across the room, beneath the armchair, there was a dead sparrow. We had ourselves a mystery.

Ryan’s first conjecture, not unwarranted, was that the bird struggled before it died, coming to its final resting place several feet from the window. But he ignored the bullet hole in the far wall.

Ryan was always attracted to the easiest solution. And after discovering that our parents had once been international assassins and were now in quiet retirement, I wished that I had listened to him and ignored my curiosity.


The Clowns

by thegooddoctor in 100 Words

When the clowns first appeared, the media tried to downplay it and sensationalize it at the same time. “When will the clowns strike your home, tonight at eleven!” contradicted with studies that claimed the clowns were simply a result of too many clown schools churning out too many clowns. Where would the clowns find work? It was an epidemic of clowns, but they were mostly harmless.

We eventually got used to them. A few families were killed, but based on how many clowns there are now, a few of them are bound to be bad. Mostly, we just ignore them.


Peace Of Mind

by thegooddoctor in 100 Words

Gus was only able to survive day-to-day under heavy sedation. It was always a mixture involving alcohol, barbiturates, and valium, with a healthy dose of cocaine to taste. He’d learned ages ago how to fake his drug tests and before today he’d never suffered from even a minor forklift accident.

The foreman didn’t care much about Gus, and certainly didn’t care about his bouts with depression, but he did care about his safety record. Forgetting the fact that he had killed Gary by leaving his body hidden in the foundation shaft would be best for both their peaces of mind.


The Grave Diggers

by thegooddoctor in 100 Words

Bill and Greg had worked as gravediggers for the New Horizons Cemetery for more than twenty years, but their feelings about the job couldn’t have been more different.

Bill hated digging graves. He detested manual labor, felt weirded out being around so many dead people, and frequently complained about his increased risk of skin cancer. He regretted not having finished high school, leaving him with few options to feed his family.

Greg, on the other hand, approached his job with a more optimistic demeanor. He responded to every one of Bill’s complaints the same way.

“Well, it beats digging ditches.”


The Secret To The Answer Is The Correct Question

by thegooddoctor in 100 Words

“You may begin your journey,” she said.
“Wise One, how far must I drive?” he asked.
“Until the pollution of light dims into darkness and the stars shimmer free,” she answered.
“How far, Wise One, must I then walk?” he asked.
“Until the pollution of noise fades into the distance so that you can hear cicadas harmonize with the wind,” she answered.
“How long, then, must I stay, Wise One?” he asked.
“Until the pollution of your mind drifts away like smoke,” she answered.
“Then, Wise One, what must I do next?” he asked.
“You may begin your journey.”

From Guest Contributor, Karen Burton.
Karen is an MFA student at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.