What if a hundred words is all you’ve got—
to do everything? To reveal a character’s essence. To
deliver telling moments. To take a reader’s breath away.
What if everything relied on hints, tiny details, and
what’s left out?
What different types of stories would arise if told
through concision and compression—as if seeing
through the fixed lens of a camera? Could an arbitrary
word-count inspire compositional creativity?
These were the questions we asked ourselves in
2011 as we began this tiny venture, 100 Word Story,
which has ended up becoming a big thing. We were
introduced to the 100-word form (often referred to
as a “drabble”) through Paul Strohm’s collection of
100-word stories, Sportin’ Jack, and we soon became
addicted to writing 100-word stories ourselves. In this
age of online distractions and fragmented attention
spans, we thought a 100-word story was the perfect
length to capture life, the perfect length to read. Our
selections have been chosen for both the annual Best
Small Fictions series and Wigleaf “best of ” awards for
short shorts. We decided to publish this collection of
the very best stories in our first six years to show the
many inventive ways writers have told stories within
such a tiny compartment.
To write with such brevity seems like it should be
easy, but it’s not. Every word, every sentence matters.
These miniature stories communicate via caesuras
and crevices. There is no asking more, no premise
of comprehensiveness, because the 100-word story
is a form that favors excision over agglomeration.
Nonetheless, the writers in this anthology will take
you to highways, beaches, bars, and freak shows, into
bedrooms, and to faraway lands. You’ll meet lovers—
young and old—children, animals, tormentors,
memories, an inflatable girlfriend, and ghosts—
characters conjured into three-dimensions from a
single gesture, a turn of phrase, the sparest of details.
Writer Deb Olin Unferth says, “The short makes
us consider such questions as: What is the essential
element of ‘story’? How much can the author leave
out and still create a moving, complete narrative? If I
remove all back story, all exposition, all proper nouns,
all dialogue—or if I write a story that consists only of
dialogue—in what way is it still a story?”
Over the years, it’s amazed us to read wildly
differing answers to these questions, all fitting within a
100-word box. The restriction to 100 words is similar
to the requirements of a poetic form—whether it’s a
sonnet, a villanelle, or a haiku. Such constraints make
the creative act more difficult, yet push the writer
to look beyond obvious associations and consider
different words that fit into the rhyming or iambic
scheme. Likewise with the requirement to use precisely
100 words. Imaginative leaps don’t necessarily happen
by thinking “outside the box” as the popular saying
goes, but within the box. In this collection, you’ll find
“Snapshots of a Crash,” in which writer Melanie Taylor
Herrera follows a clock backward to tell what set in
motion a tragedy. With “The White Album,” by Lee
Romer Kaplan, young lovers are introduced, separated,
and reunited in middle age. Ashley Chantler gives us
a glimpse into stream-of-consciousness to hilarious
effect in “A Day in the Life of Steve.”
The stories in this collection call attention to the
spectral blank spaces left around stray moments. The
gaps within and around the stories—the gaps between
words, sentences, and paragraphs, the gaps around a
story itself—speak as large as the texts themselves.
“Is not the most erotic portion of the body where the
garment gapes?” wrote Roland Barthes in Pleasure of
the Text. It’s in those gapes where the vaporous whorls
of suspense reside.
Shorts require immediacy; they’re a flicker of light
in the darkness, a pinprick, a thunderclap. The writer
has to hone focus, to practice a Zen-like concentration
in a way that longer pieces don’t require because they
privilege the layering of detail and exposition. Telling
a good flash story is similar to playing the Ouija board.
You discover a small part of the story and let your
imagination communicate with the other side to know
the rest of it.
Concision is the quiet stepchild of the writing family.
It’s Cinderella. It doesn’t cry out for attention, and its
benefits are easily forgotten because writers generally
prove their worth with more words. But what is hinted
at or even left out can be as key in making a story work
as any promulgation of words. The most haunting
stories are those that don’t provide answers, but open
up questions. As Ku Ling wrote, “A good short-short is
short but not small, light but not slight.”
by Tara Lynn Masih
Ella likes things tiny. Tiny toy dishes, tiny dolls. She
even wants her dad to be tiny. Like the Incredible
Shrinking Man she saw on the Telly. He could live in
her Lincoln Log Cabin.
Ella has a tiny pet. From her dad’s Ronson cigarette
lighter, a flint. Red. Blowing the bead across the floor,
she takes it for a walk. Till it falls in a canyon between
floorboards. He won’t give her another.
Ella’s father does not shrink to a point of control. He
smokes, stares, strokes, rolls her around. She goes tiny
and red to disappear in cracks.
by Courtney Watson
Joe ordered his first kit from a hobby magazine sent to
his cell mate. The house was an antebellum plantation
with a blue-papered bathroom and white columns. It
had staircases and a library full of tiny books with real
pages. The house was populated by little doll people,
also ordered from the back pages, who would never,
ever in their little doll lives rob the doll bank, armed
with a tiny doll gun, shoot two of the doll tellers, and
be sent to doll prison. It just wouldn’t happen. Not
when they had a place like this to call home.