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Want to learn to write 99-word stories?
Carrot Ranch is an international community of Rough Writers who craft creative stories in 99-words, no more, no less. World headquarters is located near Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, known as the UP. The UP gets to connect with the UK and participate in the Buxton Festival Fringe, one of the country’s largest open-access arts festivals. In 2020, open-access means online.
Flash fiction is a literary art form simple enough for anyone to write and yet challenging for seasoned writers. At Carrot Ranch, we define flash fiction as 99-words and publish a weekly collection of stories in response to a challenge. Writers participate from around the world. When individual stories explore a single prompt, perspectives expand. This is literary art, giving voice to the people.
For Buxton Fringe, Carrot Ranch will host an international flash fiction challenge and reading. Anyone can write 99-word stories — go where the prompt leads and count your words. You can write in any genre, including the creative expression based on a true story. It can be funny, sad, romantic, or weird. Submissions are accepted from July 1-16. When you submit your story, we’ll email you a link to the live reading event on Zoom to take place on July 17 at 5 pm UK Time (time zone converter for your time). The reading provides the chance to interact with international writers, share your work, and experience the power of collective voice in literary art. Hosts will select the stories to be read. Use the submission form below.
THE ART OF THE 99-WORD STORY
As a writing prompt, flash fiction gives the brain a problem to be solved: Write a story in 99 words, no more, no less. The constraint triggers the brain to go into creative problem-solving. It’s like magic; but really it’s science (from the book Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less and Achieve More Than Your Imagined by Scott Sonenshein). Creativity opens when the busy brain gets to count words and allows the creative brain to wander among the realm of stories.
As literary art, flash fiction requires skill. Craft skills for creative writing include setting, characterization, dialog, plot twists, and more. Short-stories have long been the proving grounds for great writers. Every word counts and the brevity hones skills. You should write your story first as a fast draft. Then, come back to it and refine the skills you have used. Does the setting influence the action? What emotion underlies the dialog? Does the ending create a surprise? See the examples below for how to edit your first draft into a piece of literary art.
As a story, flash fiction is long enough to have a beginning, middle, and end. An entire lifetime can evolve in 99-words or it can produce the snapshot of a single moment. A story is about someone (protagonist) somewhere (setting) who does something (action). Think of how to include those three elements in your story and what your narrative timeline will be. Who tells the story? The protagonist or a narrator? You decide.
TIPS FOR WRITING FLASH FICTION
- Use word association with the prompt. Don’t overthink it; go with the first idea that pops up.
- Write the flash fiction like a stream of consciousness. Then, give it shape and contrast.
- If you want an extra constraint, put a time limit on your writing (you can write 99 words in less than five minutes).
- Revise words to 99 words. Let your story sit overnight. Read it out loud the next day. Revise the flow of language. Let it sit. Look for any words or ways to improve the original.
- Proof your work before submission. It’s a good writerly habit to develop.
- Use the Story Spine structure that begins (like “once upon a time…”); introduces an event (something happens); which leads to dire consequences (one to three); until finally the character succeeds or fails (climax); conclude.
- Answer the questions, Who, What, Why, and How?
- Write from your experiences.
- Write from your imagination.
- Emotions are universal. How can a trip to the grocery store reflect love and loss? Stories are about people and feelings.
Here’s what Rough Writers, the regular flash fiction writers at Carrot Ranch, advise when writing 99-word stories:
“It’s good to think out of the box. I don’t have a formula. I tend to go with my gut instinct and imagination and see where it takes me.” ~ MJ Mallon, UK, Author
“My approach is to tell the story first, see how plus or minus I might be and then start shaping to meet the requirement. Don’t know what others do, but I need to know that I have something that is worth shaping first, then seek some elegance in reducing or increasing to meet the requirement.” ~ Frank Prem, AUS, Poet
“My strategy while trying to write 99 words is first shaping the plot (in my mind–depending on the prompt) Write freely. Then chop off the extra words to make it 99 words. That way the essence of the story is right there courtesy the free write.“ ~ Ruchira Khanna, US, Author
“If you struggle to control the flow of words, to tell and not show then flash might be the answer. The discipline of a word count can seem daunting. You have an idea but you’ve barely set the scene when the limit is breached. Worry not; you’re not alone. The beauty of using a prompt is you get to see how others do it; how they pare back to the fundamentals, how they leave so much unsaid yet the reader knows what they mean. In essence, flash makes you trust the reader. Once you’ve acknowledged that trust you’ll fly.” ~ Geoff Le Pard, UK, Author
“What can be done with 99 words? Anything at all. A revolution can happen. A world can change. A couple can fall in love. A heart can break. 99 words can lend hope to those in need. It’s a moment or a lifetime. A quick, touch of contact in passing. It’s inspired. It’s the last rays of sunset held in a hawk’s outstretched wings. A cloud of breath on a frigid night. It can be a new dawn, a realization, a gasp of salt water mist. But most of all, it’s a story. It lives through words. Choose wisely.”~ Pete Fanning, USA, Author
“I tend to read the prompt, let it hang for a minute or two then bash out what first comes to mind. Sometimes I use that first ‘bash’, but more often, something else emerges & the final version ends up totally different. For instance, my last flash started off with a murderous wife with a chainsaw which morphed into a flash about a loving wife planting 64 sunflowers! Go figure, the creative beauty of flash!” ~ Sherri Matthews, UK, Memoirist
“When I get the chance to participate in the Carrot Ranch 99 Word Story, I read the complete post that Charli Mills has written before I look at the prompt that I know is waiting form me at the end. Depending on whether the prompt says “use the word xxxx” or “use the sentence xxxx” will often determine where my mind goes. My next thought is do I have a picture somewhere in my archives that I can post (on my site) as a visual to go with my story about the prompt. Like Sherri Matthews, sometimes the 99 words happen right on the spot or it may wander off for a few days. I just don’t try to overthink it because that ends up being a train wreck and 500 words that I need to cut back to 99.“ ~ Ann Edall-Robson, CAN, Author and Photographer
“I try to plan my 99 word story in three stages. I use a beginning, middle, and end. That way I introduce a problem and solve it by the end.” ~ Colleen Chesebro, US, Author
EXAMPLES OF HOW TO EDIT FLASH FICTION
(Examples provided by Anne Goodwin)
PROMPT: No ice
FIRST DRAFT 112 words, excluding title
Sex on ice
No ice could kill their ardour. Nor would they want it to. But both agreed it would be fun to test it out with a second honeymoon at an arctic ice hotel.
Bucket-list experiences don’t come cheap, especially when they’re half a world away. Through sweltering summers, they wooed each other with dreams of making love on ice blocks topped with reindeer hides, of sipping vodka from glasses made of ice.
Their lust still flamed when they finally found the funds to finance it. They made love, put champagne on ice and went online. They couldn’t book it. Tourism-fuelled climate change had melted the ice caps. The once-hotel now swelled the seas.
FINISHED VERSION 99 words, excluding title
Sex on ice
No ice could kill their ardour. Nor would they want it to. But what fun to test it out with a second honeymoon at an ice hotel.
Bucket-list experiences are pricey, especially half a world away. Through years of sweltering summers, they dreamed of making love on ice blocks topped with reindeer hides, of sipping vodka from glasses made of ice.
Their lust still flamed when they finally found the funds to finance it. They made love, put champagne on ice and went to book it. Unfortunately, climate change got there first. Melting, the ice hotel swelled the seas.
PROMPT: Strawberries and mint
FIRST DRAFT 80 words, excluding title
Her taste is traditional, her habit a herb. Whereas he was weaned on fruity flavours and has never let go. Their first kiss was tinged with garlic, tomato and marjoram layered underneath. Neither of them noticed, since they’d chosen the same starter and main. At the time, she thought it signalled they’d be soulmates. Now, unloading her toiletries on his bathroom shelf, she’s not sure. Their mouths won’t sanction taking things further. His strawberry toothpaste won’t mix with her mint.
FINISHED VERSION 99 words, excluding title
Her taste is traditional, her habit a herb. Whereas he was weaned on fruity flavours and won’t give them up. When they kissed for the first time, their breath was tinged with garlic; tomato and marjoram layered underneath. Neither of them noticed, having picked the same starter and main. At the time, she thought that signalled they’d be soulmates; she happily skipped desert to go back to his flat. Now, rummaging through her washbag, she wonders. When her torso presses closer, her mouth might pull away. Afraid his cloying strawberry toothpaste would defeat her clean fresh shield of mint?
Participants of the International Flash Fiction Challenge will submit their 99-word stories prior to the July 17 Zoom event. Hosts Anne Goodwin and Charli Mills will select stories for reading. Writers can read their selected stories and it might go something like this:
Ready to write?
GUIDELINES FOR PARTICIPATION
Write a 99-word story, no more, no less, about something fringe. You can play with the word’s different meanings — hair fringe, fringe on a surrey, something marginalized to the fringe. Follow your creative impulse and go where the prompt leads.
- Interpret the prompt in your response.
- Respond with 99 words. Exactly. No more. No less.
- The title is not required or included in the 99-word count.
- Go where the prompt leads (it’s about creative problem-solving, not accuracy).
- Join the live ZOOM reading event (if your story is selected, you may choose to read it or have it read by the hosts).
- Use the form to submit your 99-word story.
In 2018, Carrot Ranch published The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1. Thirty international writers began with 99-word stories, explored memoir and fiction, extended stories, and explained how to use flash fiction to build community.
Preferred Seller: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/The-Congress-of-Rough-Writers
Join the community building that is literary art told in 99-word stories around the world. Hosts Anne Godwin and Charli Mills will lead readers in an exchange of stories on July 17, 2020, at 5 pm GMT on Zoom. Submit your story using the prompt and join the reading with the Zoom link provided.
Thank you for joining us in an international flash fiction challenge! You are welcome to join the weekly challenges at Carrot Ranch and support our community through the purchase of books by our Rough Writers. Support the arts!