The TUFFest Ride Fourth Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

October 22, 2018

By now, I hope writers have experienced the value of exploring options and discovering nuggets within the reductive revision of a single story. Revision is pure writing, but we don’t always know what we are looking to revise. When we reduce the word count, we force our brains to puzzle out what is most important.

When I read the posts and comments of our challenge writers, I can see the sparks of insight.

Writing calls to us through the discovery of meaning. Art communicates that meaning between artist and reader/viewer/listener. But before we can get to that sweet spot of communication, we must first discover the meaning percolating in our minds and hearts.

The writer who thinks has an idea perched in the brain. The writer who feels has an emotion tickling the heart. Both can feel like that word one has on the tip of the tongue — it’s almost recalled but not quite. TUFF searches for that word, defines the idea and captures the emotion. A writer cannot do this in one draft. And yet, who has time for thirteen?

Back in college, under the tutelage of  Dr. Stottlemeyer, I practiced revision the way a pianist might practice — every day I wrote. And still, every day I write. But what does a pianist practice? What does a writer practice? We all grow weary of exercises because we want to hit the keys — piano or laptop. Our brains want to problem solve.

I’ve talked about this before with word constraints because scientists believe constraints encourage the brain to problem solve. Often writers who start to regularly practice 99-word challenges begin to feel more creative or experience breakthroughs in writing. It feels like magic, but it’s science. What if I told you that pianists practice to problem solve?

Writers can do the same. What is the idea of the story? What is the emotion? What meaning does this story hold for me? For readers? TUFF allows you to explore, discover nuggets and fix problems. It offers the kind of writing practice that affords problem-solving.

Of course, the judges and I have had to keep TUFF tough. Each week offers a new technical challenge. First, we offered a prompt that had to be included, interpreted or expressed. Next, we asked for two different POVs. Then we wanted one POV but with a nugget the second POV provided.

Let’s hear from our Fab Flash Five and how they managed the third challenge:

Some of you recognized a nugget as a brief insight. And you think that is the 9-word strategy. Oh, no. It is not! The 9-word challenge is not a nugget, though both might be expressed with brevity. Sure, one of your discovered nuggets might be offered as the 9-word challenge, but first, you have to understand the tightest flash fiction word constraint as a punch.

Not that I’m a violent person, but I do advocate writers punching their readers in the gut.

Pause for a moment on what we all learned in composition: crafting a thesis statement. It’s one of the earliest structures of writing we learn — to make a claim, or a point. It gives the reader an idea of what your essay is about. In journalism, we summarize the most important aspects of a story by opening with a lede. In creative writing, we begin with a hook. Write a book, and agents, publishers, and readers will all want you to “hook” them with your first fifty pages. Many fiction writers study first lines because it’s often the most important.

That first line (or opening sequence) is your punch.

In TUFF, the 9-word constraint captures the essence of your story. To come out punching, your hook must have emotion for that is what hooks a reader. The next technical challenge is all about crafting the emotion of your punch. It is not enough to rely upon a nugget. You must infuse a meaningful nugget with emotion.


  1. Reduce the story to 9 words.
  2. Write it two different ways, using two different emotions.
  3. Use [brackets] following each of your two 9-word punches to indicate the specific emotion.
  4. Each emotion must be different, like [happy] and [sad], or [disgust] and [trust].

Contestants turn in their entries by11:59 p.m. (EST) Friday, October 26. Challengers can post or link in the responses. It’s time to come out punching with your TUFFest Ride!

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  1. loristory

    Wow! I wrote a bland 9-word sentence. Then, using emotion, I managed to punch it up a notch. It was such an improvement that I tried again and the result was even punchier. On my third try, punchier still. By my fourth and last attempt, I had reached the terrorized version! Will post a link tomorrow, assuming I don’t get even more emotional overnight!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Lori, you are a natural born prize-fighter! Look at you punch away! Often, as writers, we get so focused on the words, we forget to add the punch of emotion. I’m glad you had good results, punching out the 9-words. May you have a restful night!

  2. calmkate

    lol let’s come out punching … and I’m anti-violence but I call my writing short and sharp! Love six word stories, have written so many of those maybe I should start again, now for nine 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Short and sharp works! Nine words are going to feel like a luxury… 😉

      • calmkate

        absolutely … far too long 😉

  3. Ritu

    Oh wow!!! Time to get a thinking!!!!

    • Charli Mills

      Put on your boxing gloves, Ritu!

      • Ritu

        I did indeed !

  4. Jules

    Just mind blowing?

    Emotional enveloped episodic,
    entertaining, evolution erupts;
    enthusiastic elastic electrons!

    (Will post a link to my challenge pieces later… once my brain cells reorganize!)

    • Charli Mills

      Excellent, Jules!

  5. Ritu

    Eeeks! Posted!!!
    Good luck my fellow riders!

    • Charli Mills

      Best to you all!

    • Charli Mills

      I like that word — summation. With emotion, of course! 😉

  6. loristory

    This was fun! I threw in a few extra ones, including a 9-word version of War and Peace!

  7. Liz H

    Sent a couple of days ago, and resent now to be sure.
    A tough assignment, for sure!


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