Often called “micro” or “nano” fiction 55 fiction is the art of creating a complete short story in exactly 55 words, no more, no less. Not an essay, not a poem, not a bunch of random thoughts, no musings. Just a potent piece of pure fiction that you’ve dexterously composed in 55 words.
55 fiction is among my favorite forms of writing. Fun to write and an easy read, this is perhaps one of the best writing exercises to practice your fiction-writing skills, and a great way to inspire yourself to experiment with longer fiction pieces. It is quite like sculpting a work of art from a tiny block of stone – seemingly hard to crack but a pleasure when you hone your talent. It teaches you to focus tightly and improves your ability to express, besides boosting your vocabulary.
The Origins of 55 fiction
55 fiction was born in 1986 when New Times, an independent alternative weekly in San Luis Obispo, California organized a short story writing contest. Steve Moss, the founder and publisher of the paper proposed the idea. The contest is an annual affair and receives more than a thousand entries globally.
55 fiction – the rules
Like haiku, 55 fiction challenges you to pack in a lot in just a few words and has a structure to it, with four elements:
- A setting – the story must happen somewhere – in your mind, in the forest, in your neighbor’s house, in your garden
- One or more characters – can be people, animals, an inanimate object.
- Conflict – involving an event. Can include a fight, a chase, a conspiracy, why, even silence
- Resolution – a solution that wraps up the story, giving the reader a good takeaway.
If you think this restrains your creative muscle, don’t worry. You’ll enjoy it more than you think.
Here are some examples
One of my all-time favorites is this one:
Count ‘em (by Doug Long)
“1, 2, 3, 4…”
“7, 8… Counting words. 11, 12…”
“Numbers are words?”
“They are in Shorties.”
“What are Shorties?”
“55-word stories. 26, 27…”
“What about hyphens?”
“How can you possibly tell a story in 55 words?”
“43, 44… It ain’t easy. 48, 49…
Damn, I’m short a word!”
Here’s my very first humble attempt at 55 fiction:
Could this be it?
She stood there, motionless, shoulders hunched. Making quiet sniffing sounds.
The mother watched, worried. She could not recall another time like this. As her daughter slowly turned, tears streaming down her face, she saw the knife in her hand. Panicking, the mother reached out.
Then she noticed the bowl of cut onions on the table.
Back in 2011, I had the honor of judging a 55 fiction contest and especially loved Ruchira’s entry – go read it! (Yes, I went and looked for it!)
Here is what you need to remember
- Hyphenated words are two words. Exceptions are when you remove the hypen and it does not result in two standalone words. Blue-eyed is two words but non-verbal is one word. (Learn more about hyphens).
- Contractions are one word. “She’ll” is one word. “She will” is two words. So take advantage and economize!
- Short forms of words is one word. “Can’t beat ‘em? Join ‘em” where ‘em is one word
- An initial is one word. “S. India” is two words since S is just an abbreviation
- Acronyms are one word. Examples are YOLO, ESP, UNESCO
- The title’s word count is not part of the 55 words, but shall not exceed seven words.
- Have a doubt about a word? If it is in the dictionary, it is a word.
- I know what you’re thinking. What about numbers? 4, 6, 24, 2013 are all one word
- 24 is one word but twenty-four is two words
- And oh, punctuation marks are not a part of the word count
Now, time to get started.
- Begin by noting down some ideas
- Write without editing
- Be suggestive.
- Use implication
- Avoid the use of a / an / the as fillers
- When your story is ready, start chipping away the extra words to sculpt your story
- Edit to 55 words exactly.
- Give your masterpiece the once-over.
Here’s your prompt:
Choose one of these genres: Love or Mystery.
Keeping in mind the rules, go forth and create your 55 fiction!
And for the veteran 55 fiction writers here, dare yourself to:
- Write your 55 fiction where each word starts with the same letter.
- Write the entire story in one sentence.
Enjoy! I am looking forward to the treat of reading all the entries!
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