In 1920, Ernest Hemingway’s colleagues bet him that he couldn’t write a complete story in just six words. Being Hemingway and all, he found a way. His colleagues paid up. Hemingway considered the story his best work:
“For sale: baby shoes, never used.”
Ninety years later, the rise of the Internet along with countless creative writing classes have turned the spirit of Hemingway’s story into an entirely new genre. Microfiction now comes in a variety of flavors: 6-word stories, 25-word stories, 50-word stories, 100-word stories, 140-character stories (aha Twitter, we meet again!). Leo Tolstoy and Ayn Rand, proud sharers of the “world’s longest novel” title, would be appalled. Probably.
But short doesn’t necessarily mean “incomplete.” It’s fascinating to see how much writers can achieve with so few words. Character, conflict, resolution–it’s all there, and in less time than it takes you to turn the page. And so for your reading pleasure here are 49 more stories under 50 words, including some by Joss Whedon, John Updike, and Margaret Atwood, after the jump.
It took several seconds for the car keys to disappear into the center of Indian Head Lake, leaving us to wonder why we didn’t immediately dive in after them, if that had even been possible, and how we were going to make it back to the campsite, twenty-five miles away. –Ron Stanley
She would always sleep with her husband and with another man in the course of the same day, and then the rest of the day, for whatever was left to her of that day, she would exploit by incanting, “French film, French film.” –Amy Hempel
She works cleaning rooms at the Oceanview motel. There’s no view of the ocean, but she smells brine in the air. She thinks that’s enough. –Jennifer Tatroe
Starlet sex scandal. Giant squid involved. –Margaret Atwood
One hundred and forty characters. Now I only have a hundred and six. Wait! Stop counting! I haven’t even started! And now you say I am done. –Stephen D. Rogers
As the clockwork girl confessed her love, her gears began to slow. Her hand remained outstretched as he returned her to the display case. –Thaumatrope
Man years ago I hatched and raised a little sea-monster.
He outgrew first bowl, then bathtub, then pool. I took him, tearful, to the ocean.
Last I heard, he was skirting the edges of ancient maps. I wonder if he ever thinks of me, this scaly one that I forsook. –Lisa Falzon
The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door. –Fredric Brown
The finished sculpture looked just like one of his mother’s, and when his father saw it the recognition was evident. It shattered on impact. –TwitterFiction
Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket. –William Shatner
DEAREST HAMLET STOP NUNNERY IS ALL YOU SAID IT WOULD BE STOP HAVING A SMASHING TIME STOP GOING FOR SWIM AFTER TEA STOP LOVE OPHELIA –William Reschke
As you were breaking up with me, all I could think about were those mornings when you compared the Pop-Tarts and gave me the one with more frosting. –One Sentence
The man in the shop knows me now. He says my name slowly every time I go in. “Kev-in.” He nods his head and watches me as I maraud his aisles. There’s something to be said for supporting the local community but I think next time I’ll go to Sainsburys. –Drew Gummerson
After thirty years, the spy remained completely undetected. He’d blended into the enemy’s society, becoming a valuable part of the community. He made many good friends. He married. Had children. He made sure everyone who knew him trusted him. Now was the time to act. What was his mission, again? –50wordstories.ca
Dr. Montclair was a genius. He grafted the head of a dog onto a pear tree. The neighbours complained they could not sleep at night. –Thaumatrope
The grey cathedral steps open up to arches of sky. From the garden glints the Bishop’s ring, who covers his face when I spot him. –DannyPoet
Look at him in his black shirt and russet skin, so unsuspecting, so almost-happy. And you see there’s a place in his future he’ll have to go, like being forced through a hole too small, and you can’t wait to see him on the other side, so unsuspecting, so really-happy. –Fifty Words
Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so. –Joss Whedon
His bag split open. Pencils and paper cascaded down the sidewalk. As he bent down to collect them he saw bright red shoes. A happy accident. –MicroFiction
You’re high in protein.
I’m hungry. –Mathew Ferguson
“The customs have made a swoop”, he confides to me, this Burroughs figure, indicating the nearby fracas, leaning into my space and spitting the words with relish, lips forced into a grin, fading teeth on display. “Little and often, that’s the secret you see. Little and often”, touching my leg. –Ricky Haggett
Janna hated Ferris Wheels.
She dreamed of them sometimes, breaking free and making for their homeland in packs, somewhere far from children and fair food. –Empress Vesica
His parents had told him never to talk to strangers, so he and the man walked together in silence. The woods were very dark. –Steve Calvert
In his attempt to hitch a ride, Derek was plumbing new depths in coarse language. Through the dark rain, the saviour appeared – warm, dry, female, and very fast. The road swerved. Unfortunately, the split-second that ‘seat-belt’ echoed in Derek’s mind was not really long enough for him to replace it. –Bill Collins
“Time travel works!” the note read. “However you can only travel to the past and one-way.” I recognized my own handwriting and felt a chill. –Ron Gould
“Forgive me!” “What for?” “Never mind.” –John Updike
These are for you, she said. Give them back to me when you mean it. They were my letters to her, wrapped in a pink ribbon, penned in medium black ink, written over weeks that turned months. Hopelessly devoted, they said. But never doubt, they said.
I still have them. –Fifty Words
She took down memos with laser precision. He said he loved her for her mind, and she believed him. Every pencil was sharpened to a point. –TwitterFiction
Defenestrated baby, methamphetamine, prison, rehab, relapse. –Jeffrey Eugenides
A man in the launderette with a head like a pumpkin, lips like frankfurters, talks on his mobile.
“No, it’s Little Dave. I met you this morning, yeah? I’ve put all our stuff in the same wash, yeah?” Who washes clothes for people who don’t even know them?
I leave. –Ben Myers
Cuddling with her toilet, Lani regrets that fifth Long Island Iced Tea. The naked man on her bed is past caring, for which she is grateful. –C.S. Eastman
At the last, all the world did diminish; empires fell to ruin, monuments into sand; heroes faded, forgotten: even Gods give way to Man. –Lily Silverheart
Found true love. Married someone else. –Dave Eggers
When Gibson hit that homerun in the fall of eighty-eight, my old man had never been so happy. He hugged me for the first time. I was eleven. –Thelonius
He loved walking through the dusk from the station to the house that awaited him. Which house tonight, he wondered, jingling his ring of tools. –R. Stewart
“Here’s a neat trick,” he said.
He opened his mouth, real wide. He inserted his hand, then his arm, down his throat. His shoulder dislocated to go farther down. He stopped. Then his arm came back out, and he pulled himself inside out.
“What do you think?”
“You’re still ugly.” –50wordstories.ca
“Oh nevermind!” thought the drunken professor. “My wife’s dying of MS and my classes, no one cares anymore. Vodka. Yes. I’ll drink and sing, drink and insult. If I suffer, then you’ll all suffer. Don’t mince words. Damn cutesy poets. Storytellers. Well I have stories. I’ll drown telling my stories.” –Gregory A.K. Straynj
LOVELY SPRING WEATHER BUBONIC PLAGUE RAGING –Evelyn Waugh
Eddie lost himself sitting on Father Rex’s overstuffed couch, ruminating in the dark odor of altar wine and years of premature communion. –Chris Lindgren
A kiss won’t make us married, she said. Just a kiss, she said. He strokes his ring. 20 years later, hers are still the only lips he’s known. –J.S. Graustein
The last troll raged against the flooding river; bridgeless, homeless, jobless and not a goat in sight. No one to blame. The water took him. –Thaumatrope
My nemesis is dead. Now what? –Michael Cunningham
Their love life was fantastic.
They could talk for hours and hours.
He used the good towel.
It was over. –Clayton Hove
He knew it. Sensed it. A dreadful feeling shot up to his mind just a moment before she spoke. It was over. Her husband knew. He had to hide. –TwitterFiction
We got up and had some fights. Blood, that sort of thing. Then we got drunk. It was night now, the moon slaughtering the cold endless sky. Christ almight, my fucking hands, I can’ t hardly close them, said Jimmy. We didn’t say nothing back because nothing was all we had. –Jon Cone
As she fell, her mind wandered. –Rebecca Miller
“I’d give my right arm for that Picasso.”
The curator cocked his brow, “Serious?”
John rode a figure of eight in his wheelchair, “Dead serious.” –David Phillips
From torched skyscrapers, men grew wings. –Gregory Maguire