Not Too Much to Say

Man sitting at computer desk

Hone your skills to write creatively within specific character counts.

Don’t Talk Too Much

Creative writers, like me, hear voices in our heads—entire conversations to which we must respond. The surging river of voices becomes so strong that we divert them to written words. That’s how the stories begin.

Refining Process

As a writer, matching a specific word count can sometimes lead to mediocrity. Often, the flow of creative expressions continues after the keyboard rests. Additional insights or better phrasing may come to mind before, during, or after the composition. How do you handle it in a manner that produces optimum results?

First, establish whether word count is critical. Next, highlight divergent thoughts in one color, and less important expressions in another. With this tricolor approach, you can edit out material to hone in on what’s most salient. The refined script can still reach a proscribed word count with better clarity.

What about alternate conclusions in a fictional story? Again, such divergent thoughts appear in a different color. At times, they may warrant a sequel. Don’t be afraid to leverage the reader’s imagination. With a proper foundation, the mere mention of someone entering a room can speak volumes.

Perfecting Your Craft

What if an editor decides that only the most essential words of your story will be published? How much of your work will land on the cutting room floor? A good practice is engaging in exercises that push you to value your word choice.

Members on some social media platforms challenge followers to write stories with short word- or character-counts. You might see the hashtag #sixwordstory on X (formerly Twitter) or #VisualWritingPrompt on Mastodon, with a 500-character limit. Typically, submissions describe an image. This forces you to expunge a needless diatribe. Some examples follow.

In 500 Characters or Less #WritingPrompt

Prompt: Enormous fish carcasses float the skies like dirigibles…

🐡 These massive sea creatures consume up to 16 tons of marine organisms daily. Global warming diminished sea levels, exposing the huge carcasses. Enterprising seamen refashion them as worthy vessels to ascend into the heavens. Over land, the sailors now hunt for humans to fill the belly of the great fish.

With sightings over North America, US defense dispatches fighter jets to eliminate what they publicly call balloons.

Prompt: Large hairy beast stares down little girl in an alley…

🧌 A little girl boldly stares into the amber glowing eyes and asserts, “You can’t be a real monster, because you can’t fit under my bed. I don’t know who you are. But you don’t scare me!”

The three-meter-tall monster motions for the petite child to come closer. Then his enormous mouth opens and swallows her whole, leaving only her house slippers.

The hairy beast then descends into a trap door beneath the child’s bed.

Prompt: Man with tool for a hand works on head of huge reptile with several rows of sharp teeth…

🐊 In a bid to suppress Florida crocodile proliferation, veterinarian Leonard Skylar proposes altering their DNA. During an oral presentation, Skylar theorizes if their offspring are infertile, they will die out.

With approval, Skylar begins injecting modified DNA in 10% of the croc population. As with the Covid virus, mutation occurs, resulting in abnormally large reptiles, that thrive on the flesh of humans. (Longer ClinicalNovellas short story scheduled.)

Prompt: Photo of old man sitting at desk in dimly lit room with stacks of paper on shelves…

📚 On Hallows Eve, vandals of the mind removed the covers and spines from all the library books. Then they powered up huge turbine fans.

Henry, the youthful librarian, was aghast to discover the outrageous deed. Yet undismayed, he began methodically sorting and stacking each volume on shelves. “Where has the time gone?” he wonders.

Prompt: A large plant monster looks timidly in the window of an older midwestern couple…

🌱 With her cataracts, Elenor never paid attention to her full-length mirror. Aghast by her 87-year-old appearance with a clear vision, she wishes she hadn’t undergone the surgery.

Her husband, Jules, considers telling her what she sees is not a reflection. But he determines she may be more frightened by her true self than the monster in the window. So Jules suggests implanting inferior intraocular lenses.

Prompt: A barracuda-shaped submarine departs underworld city…

🧜‍♀️ The population has expanded to occupy every square mile of land, from the coastal communities to arid deserts, forcing the Barracuda generation beneath the seas. Aliens to their planet, the males only emerge from the depths of their liquid habitat during exigent emergencies. When land-living humans poach the amphibious women, the Barracuda males risk blindness, boarding their battleship to retrieve their mermaids. (Longer ClinicalNovellas short story scheduled.)

Writing such short stories can provide a challenging mental exercise. Every word must have value or be expendable. At least one popular Mastodon #VisualWritingPrompt author boosts submissions and later removes his original posts. This leaves submissions dangling without context, but you still get an exhilarating opportunity for creative writing.

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