Outpost19 Books



What can a hundred words do?

Deliver major drama? Plumb a juicy backstory?


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.



excerpt:
Introduction



$10 - Nothing Short Of

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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.”



ella: then

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.



Hard Time

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.


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