In this week’s writing challenge, guest contributor Vincent Mars asks us to craft a story in just fifty words.

We blog for a million different reasons, but in the end, we’re all storytellers. Creative Writing Challenges are here to help you push your writing boundaries and explore new ideas, subjects, and writing styles.

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vincent-mars2This week’s writing challenge is hosted by Vincent Mars, a 22-year old Romanian high school dropout who has learned English on his own. On his popular blog, Boy With a HatVincent publishes stories, poems, and musings about writing and life in his unique voice. His curiosity and storytelling style always make for interesting, enjoyable reading, so we’re thrilled to have him as a guest author. Take it away, Vincent!

Typing on a computer: easy, fast, and often frivolous. Noun after noun and verb after verb and adjective after adjective and adverb after adverb. I once said that while handwriting is like making love, typing is like having sex. (Worried reader, rest assured, I don’t presume to ask you to divorce your computer. As it happens, I type this on mine.)

What I challenge you to do is prove beyond doubt that your keyboard possesses that commendable virtue which, in our age of content overload, makes the difference between read and unread writing, and which this composition of mine, though no doubt enjoyable, so far alarmingly lacks — concision.

For this week’s challenge, you must write a fifty-word story. Not five thousand, not five hundred, but precisely fifty words.

Meet the “fifty”

If a novel is a passionate literary affair, one that can last days, weeks, or even months, a fifty is an intriguing sidelong glance or, if it’s really good, an air kiss. Brief, arousing, promising. Best of all, it requires no commitment. It can be read in just a few seconds and doesn’t take too long to write, either. Which means that even if Lady Literature (or Mr. Literature) isn’t your usual type, you should still go a-wooing. Who knows what will happen?

I’ve written 137 “fifties” since I started blogging about two years ago, and even collected some into a book. Their literary merit is questionable, but composing them has certainly helped me improve my writing. A fifty makes you pay attention to sentence structure and word choice and challenges you to write mostly with verbs and nouns and do away with superfluous adjectives and adverbs. Because of the word limit, you can’t show everything. You must strike a fine balance between showing and telling.

A fifty, much like a poem, challenges readers to tie up the loose ends, interpret the blank spaces between the lines, and use their imagination to fill in the gaps.

Write your first “fifty”

No rules. Just stick to the word count — no more, no less than fifty words.

Practical ideas:

  • Your fifty can be a condensed narrative, a scene, a dialog, or anything else you can imagine. It can be written in the first, third, or even second person. It can convey a message or let the readers draw their own conclusions.
  • You can wait for a flash of inspiration, or you can just write and find the story on the page.
  • You shouldn’t think too much — the truest writing is intuitive.
  • You may want to add an image that goes well with the story. If you grab it from the web, do give credit to the creator or you may receive furious emails from the artist, like I have.

Though tiny, a “fifty” can lead to great things. By composing one, you’ll understand something crucial about writing, editing, and the creative process — something that an aviator summed up better than I can:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We can never achieve perfection — we are only human. But if we aspire to it, we may attain quality; we may write well.

So, can you tell a story in just fifty words?

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