the very short story
If you’re a writer on twitter it’s likely you’re familiar with #vss, the Very Short Story. The hashtag is mainly associated with writing prompts. There’s #vsshorror, #vssmagic, #vssnature, #vsspic, #vssdiverse, #flexvss, #vssnonsense—it’s prolific. I regularly participate in #vss365, for which a guest host chooses a daily prompt word.
Something I find interesting about #vss is it isn’t cherished. Unlike poetry and longer fiction forms, very short stories don’t tend to be collected in anthologies. It’s impermanent, and I think that’s one of its best qualities. It is precisely this quality, however, that contributed to my developing an unfortunate and embarrassing writing habit.
subject verb object
While making extensive aesthetic changes to my blog, I was surprised to find that I had a shameful secret—secret only from me of course, as it was displayed for the world to see: I began all of my stories the same way!
“Timothy tapped a finger on the fraying arm of his wingback chair.”
How could this have happened? Easily. Because my very short story tweets were so quickly ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ it wasn’t until all my short stories were lined up in a row that I could see it: the tactic I had been using to ‘cut to the chase’ with my #vss—person does thing—had become a crutch, and I was still hobbling around on it in my other writing.
vary your very short story styles
Now I’m not suggesting I think it’s a bad way to start a very short story, short story, or anything else—but it’s not the only way. Today we’re going to talk about ten different ways! It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but I think it’s a good jumping off point for the kind of variety my writing needs. I feel confident that by diversifying my approach to very short stories my longer pieces of writing will be vastly improved as well.
1: leave ’em in suspense
Build intrigue into your twitter feed with a suspenseful situation that leaves the reader wondering what happens next. Describe the moments before your character finds the dead body, or horrifying monster, but withhold the reveal. No need to deliver on your promises (or premises) here!
2: asked and answered
In this version one character asks a question, and the other answers it in a way that is interesting, surprising, or funny. The question sets the scene. Perhaps there’s a mystery: “Where’s that giant cloud of smoke coming from?” Or maybe someone did something unusual: “Why do you keep putting your socks in the dishwasher?”
3: upping the ante
For style three we have the classic ‘first person reveals a secret, something embarrassing, or confesses to a crime; and the second person out-does them with a more outrageous revelation’ bit.
4: dollar store flip-flops
For this variation, two characters speak back and forth. Things are good, then not good, then good again, then worse.
A humorous very short story tweet is similar to a comic strip—you have to establish the scene, the set up, and the punch line in very few words. You likely noticed styles two, three, and four are classic set ups for jokes.
5: everything is perfect…but is it?
In classic action movie style, something has occurred—you have the item/someone performed a task—and now you can achieve your goal! Except for one thing…
6: no, I’m fine, I’m just monologuing
An easy way to summarize this style is, “If you’re reading this, I’ve passed away.” Basically, someone is talking to someone who isn’t in the room. They usually accuse, reveal, ask for forgiveness, or ask for an explanation. Sometimes it’s a letter, sometimes they’re talking to god. The intended listener isn’t always named, but they don’t get a chance to respond.
7: personified trees, mainly
Style seven is a description of a scene; sometimes with emotional resonance, sometimes with an indication of an action to come, or one that has already passed. The inverse also fits here; when an emotion is metaphorically described as a scene.
8: is it just me or is it bright in here?
In this style, your character thought that after some event things would be one way, but it turns out they’re not. Or that life was one way, but it’s not. In other words, they see the light.
9: a wrinkle in time
This is effectively style one with an important difference: a passage of time is conveyed. I think it warrants it’s own spot because the effect is different. Plus, if you can make hours pass in 280 characters: earnest slow clap to you.
10: after the storm
This version is a reaction shot of something we didn‘t see happen. An event occurred and this is we’re witnessing the aftermath—typically immediate aftermath, otherwise we’re into style seven territory, where the tone is more contemplative. Style ten is more engaged and energetic.
Did you recognize styles you use in your writing, or ones you’d like to try? I’m really excited to use these ideas in future short stories. Plus, now my very short story contributions won’t all be one-note! Thanks so much for reading!