February 20: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

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

February 20, 2023

The world needs literary artists. They are more than the storytellers of the moment; they are the artistic minds open to the unconscious prompting of our era. We tell stories to understand our world and we let the world understand us.

In her latest novel, Our Missing Hearts, author Celeste Ng explores the harm we all experience when government silences the poets, literary artists, and knowledge keepers. She understands the role storytellers play:

“Why did I tell you so many stories? Because I wanted the world to make sense to you. I wanted to make sense of the world, for you. I wanted the world to make sense.”

Celeste Ng, Our Missing Hearts

We keep an archive of sorts through stories big or small, realistic or speculative. Literary artists do more than spin stories — we spin magic. When we write, we access a part of our brain where few humans dare to go. The imaginal is the deep realm where we dream and the heart still whispers the symbolic language all beings understand. Literary artists can talk to bees, flowers, and uni-horned dragons. The magic happens when the bees, flowers, and uni-horned dragons talk back.

Literary Artists can share a walk in the other’s boots to break down the myth of otherness. We can observe the world around us as well as the one within us. We write from a space of empathy and we teach empathy through the stories we tell. We encourage diverse voices to join the arts and we fill in the silenced spaces to give light to those silenced. Even a small story can evoke kindness. Even a dark story can offer redemption.

When literary artists use lenses previously withheld, we remove blinders. We can craft our work from lenses that expands perception. I write from the lens of women, looking for stories accepted as definitive in the psyche of the American West. And there are many more lenses excluded from the western experience that we could recreate entire genres just by retelling the stories from different perspectives.

On top of all the superpowers literary artists can claim, we can also shine at wordsmithing. No one can verb a word, dress a noun, or lyricize an awkward language like English but literary artists. We cause language to evolve not only through our wordplay but through our expansion of ideas into the lexicon.

Yet, how do we define ourselves?

The more I tend dreams, the better I understand why I’ve connected to the term literary artist. Tending dreams is all the fun stuff I love about creative writing. I can go where an image leads and get blissfully lost. Writer is broad and easy to digest for most, well, writers. Author speaks of professionalism or publishing status and novelist is a specific type of author. We can find many names to fit our roles or identity, but literary artist captures the imagination.

For me, there is a rawness in literary art because there is vulnerability in the process of creating it. It can be hard to define. But that’s exactly what I’d like us to do. What does it mean to be a literary artist? You can take the question to the page in a 99-word story and you can share your thoughts in the comments.

February 20, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about what it means to be a literary artist. You can pull from your own experience, re-imagine the idea, or embody something else in a character. Be playful, go deep, and let your story flow. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 25, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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38 Comments

  1. Norah

    Literary artist does indeed capture the imagination. It can be the stuff of dreams, be they sleeping or awake. I love that you are refining the terminology so we can find the one that suits our own wordsmithing.

    • Charli Mills

      I feel like imagination has been our playground all along but like you say, refining terminology to understand what that all means really makes the play more tangible. Thanks for being a friend on the playground, Norah!

      • Norah

        I think the terminology helps us refine our own rules, Charli. The ones that work for us. We create our own on the Carrot Ranch playground. Thank you for welcoming us in.

      • Charli Mills

        That’s a great insight, Norah. We get to evolve as we play, define and refine without getting stuck. Thanks for playing! <3

  2. Kriti

    Lovely prompt! ????????

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Kriti!

      • Kriti

        Lovely prompt! ????????

      • Kriti

        ??

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Ring a Fire

    “Kid, who’s thet?! I ain’t never seen anyone catapult themselves inta the Poet Tree like thet. Whoa! Now look’t! Twirlin on thet branch an now spinnin through the air— amazin!
    Howdy Stranger. You could be in a circus!”
    “No thanks. I’ve run away from the circus.”
    “Why?”
    “I want a life that’s colorful; full of characters and danger even. The circus wasn’t adventurous enough for me.”
    “Ya left the circus with its lions an high wires an sech fer Carrot Ranch?”
    “Yes. I saw all these risk takers, thought I’d step into the ring as a literary artist too.”

    • Charli Mills

      Yes! The circus is too tame for those who dare to be literary artists! Kid has a new friend in the Poet Tree, eh?

    • Charli Mills

      Whoa! What an image of the dangers that lurk within a pen, Simon. Well-done.

      • Simon

        Thank you Charli ????????????

      • Charli Mills

        🙂

  4. Christy

    I loved this blog. I loved being able to share this blog with my creative writing students. The idea of being a literary artist speaks to so much more than the idea of being a “writer” because it opened up the idea that creativity in all its forms, painting, molding, writing, is art. Thank you.

    • Charli Mills

      Christy, that makes my day! Yes, I think literary artist becomes expansive as an aspiration and practice. May your students experience wholeness through their creative expressions!

  5. Jules

    Charli,

    Thanks for another insipring post. I’ve got some added info to mine since I did some smooshing.There is also some additional ‘art’. 🙂

    All in 99 words,; please enjoy; Dedicated Literary Artist

    • Charli Mills

      Jules, your smooshing is delightful art. Thanks for sharing!

      • Jules

        🙂

    • Charli Mills

      You have me nodding back as I say, “Wow, really wow.” This is the exchange we make as we inspire each other as literary artists.

  6. Nicole Horlings

    Charli, this is a beautiful, reflective post, and I am so excited for this prompt, and the upcoming collection that it’s going to create. I love certain descriptions you used, like, “They are more than the storytellers of the moment; they are the artistic minds open to the unconscious prompting of our era” and “The imaginal is the deep realm where we dream and the heart still whispers the symbolic language all beings understand.” I’m going to be using “literary artist” to describe myself in the future. i

    • Charli Mills

      Who needs a soul when you got talent? That could be a long discussion, C. But great 99-word story.

    • Charli Mills

      Wow, great reflective post, Ann. It’s amazing to see all those changes in retrospect because I don’t think we fully appreciate the transformations we’ve witnessed until later. Congratulations on 10 years of thoughtful blogging! I’m wondering what changes you’ve seen in those ten years regarding the evolution of literature as a dedicated reviewer of contemporary global novels?

  7. StonerGypsy

    The world indeed does….

    • Charli Mills

      We hear the call!

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