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Better Word Economy

September 17, 2012

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. ~ Truman Capote

I admit it. My word count is the equivalent of a gas-guzzling Hummer SUV, and so I’ve been looking for ways to practice writing and editing for length. A contest at Janet Reid, Literary Agent’s blog presented just such an opportunity.

The challenge was to write a story of one hundred words or less including these words:






My entry, after a considerable amount of free writing and editing, came out like this:

Bob bent over the computer screen, the chicken wing forgotten and suspended between his thumb and forefinger.

“Holy shit,” he muttered before the rest of his curse was swallowed by the techno track that blasted from the speakers at SETI Central. The pattern repeated; a blip followed by a row of bubbles superimposed over the otherwise unremarkable sequence. He catapulted his dinner over the instrument panel as he pulled out the intercom, ignoring the barbecue sauce splattered over his khakis like bloody evidence of murder.

His voice shook as he spoke. “Mission control, we got ourselves a real life alien!”

Exactly one hundred words! Not quite the Chevy Volt of word counts, but I’ll take a mid-sized sedan for now.

How about you? Do you practice writing for word count? Can you write a one hundred word story including these five words?

  1. September 17, 2012 10:17 am

    This sounds hard. The only time I write for word count is when my agent wants a blurb or a synopsis. That really makes you focus on each word. Can’t say I want to do this too often . . . it’s just too hard 🙂

    • September 17, 2012 9:44 pm

      I have a lot of trouble with writing prompts and exercises myself, which is strange I think, because I don’t have nearly as much trouble writing actual novel drafts!
      Now that I’m editing though, I think I need practice cutting words without losing meaning, and this seemed like a fun challenge. It was hard, but I set a time limit and accepted what came of it.

  2. September 17, 2012 5:45 pm

    I’ll try…

    The alien blew bubbles with his wing. Suddenly, Bob barbecued him.

    Not exactly a roller-coaster ride of a yarn, I know 🙂

    • September 17, 2012 8:22 pm

      Wish I’d thought of that. Thanks for making me laugh, Mike!

    • September 17, 2012 9:47 pm

      Word economy extraordinaire. You win the Chevy Volt! Nice one. 🙂

  3. September 17, 2012 8:20 pm

    After a bit of a struggle, I managed to create the riveting piece below:)

    After ten interminable years, the steaming bath was as alien to her as the rainbow bubbles on the water’s surface. She leaned back in the tub, inhaling the exquisite aroma of Dad’s barbeque ribs sizzling on the backyard grill. This moment of domestic bliss was a life defining experience.

    A bob white landed on the bathroom windowsill, flapping one delicate wing for balance. Already, her envy of birds was a fading memory. She had done her dime and flown away home, stretching her wings, sailing into the thermals and watching the prison shrink below her.

    Tougher than I thought but fun!

    • September 17, 2012 9:52 pm

      It is fun, isn’t it?
      And I like your piece. It amazes me how much sensory information can be packed into such a small amount of words.
      Sometimes new challenges can take us to some unexpected places. 🙂

    • September 20, 2012 8:35 am

      This is pretty great, with provocative imagery. Nice work 🙂

  4. September 17, 2012 8:36 pm

    Wow, so much pressure! I think you’d make a great journalist . . . The press is quite good at making up stuff on a deadline/word coutn demand;-)

    • September 17, 2012 9:54 pm

      And they do make up some crazy stuff don’t they? 😉
      I really didn’t expect to be able to do this at all, wordy woman that I am, but I managed to squeeze my mini-story into the required word count anyway. Who knew?

  5. September 17, 2012 9:52 pm

    Sounds hard, but you did an awesome job. I love it:)

    • September 17, 2012 10:04 pm

      Awww, thanks!
      I was kind of surprised by this. I thought for sure I would hate what I got, but … well, I posted it. 🙂

  6. September 18, 2012 6:50 am

    This is the perfect revision break for the brain! Feels nice to write a different voice. I gave myself 10minutes so this break doesn’t become a procrastination outlet 😀

    I never believed in weird shit, you know like aliens and crap like that. My sister did and now she’s dead and it looks I’m next. My sister pleaded with me to not go to the barbeque. What was I going to do, tell my girlfriend I couldn’t go because my sister thought she was an alien? Turns out she is an alien but that’s beside the point. I am now shackled to an angel. Whatever. Blood bubbles from his broken wing and I cannot help think we are both screwed
    “Bob.” The alien comes before me and smiles.

    • September 19, 2012 6:57 pm

      So cool! I loved how you brought the angel into the story, and I really enjoyed the narrator’s cynical voice.
      I was surprised by how much fun this was, and it looks like you had some fun too. 🙂

      Great job! (I might be doing these more often. 😉 )

  7. September 18, 2012 7:28 am

    Wow, look at you go, Kirsten,

    I *love* doing Janet’s 100-word contests (and had started my own Bob story Saturday, but I ran out of time (and cheap red wine 🙂

    I’m impressed you got a few awesome peeps to try it out themselves… no one ever does it on my blog 🙂

    Aren’t they fun 🙂

    PS…. you get a WORLD SCOOP….. Save the Date for an awesome 100-word contest…. Nov. 19, 2012 🙂

    • September 19, 2012 7:01 pm

      Oooh, thanks for the scoop! I’ll mark my calendar … hmm, a 100-word contest in the middle of Nano should be interesting.

      I would have loved to see your Bob the alien story! Guess I’ll have to wait for the next contest …

  8. September 18, 2012 7:52 am

    Ha! Love it!

    Writing for word count is tough – especially blurbs and log lines, but it’s getting easier for me. 🙂

    • September 19, 2012 7:04 pm

      Yeah, practice makes progress is what I say. Someday when I have to do blurbs and synopses these skills will come in handy.
      That’s the plan anyway. Meanwhile, I’m writing about Bob and the aliens!

  9. September 18, 2012 4:47 pm

    So wonderfully concise 🙂 I want chicken wings now. That’s actually a great idea. I tend to overwrite like a maniac!

    • September 19, 2012 7:07 pm

      It took me awhile to whittle this down, that’s for sure. Making choices about what to keep and what to toss was a good exercise, one that I hope will help me make these kinds of decisions where it counts–in my novel. 🙂
      I’m a major over-writer, and a putter-inner to boot! So you’re not alone. 🙂

  10. September 22, 2012 4:23 am

    A bit of a challenge there but you nailed it! I love your writing 🙂

    • September 22, 2012 5:14 pm

      I was rather intimidated by this challenge, but that seemed like a good reason to give it a shot! Thank you.

  11. September 24, 2012 1:55 pm

    I actually have the opposite problem. As a child, one teacher complained to my parents that I would write one original sentence and then spend the rest of the story explaining it to to death. I focused on not doing that, and now I find I don’t write enough. I have to go back in and fill in details of setting and character reactions because I am inclined to put down a dry list of events just to avoid the dread “over-description”. Your response to the 100-word task is perfect. I can see it all!

    • September 24, 2012 9:36 pm

      Isn’t it funny how one or two teachers in early life can influence our whole process?
      It was when I stopped caring what anyone said and poured my descriptions all over the page that I fell in love with writing. Trimming back or adding in, it’s all editing, it can all be changed, and that’s one of the things that makes it so much fun.

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