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Hello, writers.

The topic for tonight is help, largely because I need some. SenSho is still dealing with family medical issues, and I'm far too unreliable to handle Write On! myself. So if you're willing to write an installment of the series every so often, drop a comment. (Looking at you, Tara ...)

Now for the good stuff. Have you heard about microfiction, like Fifty Word Stories and  Six Word Stories, Microfiction Blog, and Six Sentences?

Some examples:

"We kiss; I remember someone else."

"Shoplifter chased into traffic; sneakers fly."

I don't know if those really qualify as stories, but that's the challenge tonight. Can you write:

  1. A story in exactly six words?
  1. A story in less than 50 words?

Or 3, an outline using only three-word-phrases.

I read this is Jon Franklin's book, Writing for Story. The subtitle mentions writing 'Dramatic Nonfiction,' which is perhaps why I never used this method: I mostly writing fiction, and my nonfiction is deeply non-dramatic. But I think the same system might apply--at least as a fun writing exercise.

Franklin says that a story is based on a character encountering a 'complicating situation' that he or she confronts and solves--and that what's satisfying about stories is that we see exactly what the complications are, and we see them resolved. (For better or worse.)

So he recommends that writers start with a summary of the complication the main character faces. In three words.

His example: Company fires Joe.

Then the resolution: Joe regains job.

That's the biggest test--that the chracter resolves the complication, instead of resolving something else. So if the primary complication is 'Company fires Joe,' the resolution can't be, 'Joe finds love' or 'Mars destroys Earth.'

So you've got the beginning and the end. Now for the middle, Franklin says you should list three major actions or obstacles related to the complication.

Depression paralyzes Joe
Joe regains confidence
Joe sues company

That's for a fairly short nonfiction story. I'm pretty sure he says for a novel that you can have 'nested' sentences, so within 'Joe regains confidence,' you might have 'Joe visits Baltimore,' 'Joe adopts cat,' 'Joe wins contest.'

Can you outline your current story that way? Would cutting the plot into snack-sized bits clarify a project you're revising?

Originally posted to GussieFN on Thu Dec 23, 2010 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers.

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