Friday Writing Experiment No. 1: A Novel In 1,500 Words

Read ‘Growing Pains’ by Caryl Phillips.

Note how it mostly uses showing rather than telling, creating vivid little scenes that reveal so much through their details and their actions and gestures. Also note how it is made up of ten self-contained sections of roughly equal length, spaced out through time at (mostly) equal intervals. Observe how these sections are stitched together to create a larger narrative: storytelling. There’s a whole novel’s worth of narrative content here.

Your challenge: create a story of your own in 1,500 words, consisting of ten sections of about 150 words each.

Guidelines: Show, don’t tell (at least mostly …); tell us a story; concrete and specific images; no transitions and none of that linear quality that can get tedious (And then … And then … And then). Think of snapshots through time. And most of all, don’t be boring.

Some variations: You can go a little longer (Phillips’s story is in fact about 1,750 words), but not too much – the purpose of the exercise is economy. You might have a different magic number of sections (e.g., twelve sections for twelve months). You could shuffle the order of the sections around (print them out, a page a section, and jumble up the pages), and see where you arrive. You might want to play around with sections whose lengths vary more. And why not mix in other genres? E.g., sections made solely of poetry, a photograph, a newspaper headline, or some item of found material.

You could also expand this into a novel. If you are writing a novel, in fact, you could try this out with the fabric of your novel in order to give yourself some fresh perspectives; this can be a great exercise in revision as it enables you to wrap your arms around the whole story (most arms can just about manage 1,500 words at a time). See what arises, see what you flush out.

Deadline: Midnight on Sunday (or midnight that follows 48 hours after you read this).

Once you are finished, share your writing with a writing partner or beta reader – ideally one who’s also done the same exercise.

And if you know of short stories that follow a similar episodic format, let me know – it’s always useful to have models as departure points.




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