Tag Archives: prompt

A Nine-Word Story

What’s the shortest story you’ve ever read?

This week’s challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community was a doozy. I needed to shave my shrinking story, Mudslide, down to 9 words! (It’s already gone from 297 to 99 to 59.) Not only that, but I was required to write an emotion into the story.

A 9-word emotional story? “Nein!” I insisted furiously. But since I don’t speak German, I ignored my outrage and took up the challenge, using the following 9-step program:

  1. I told myself I could do it. (Critical step!)
  2. I made a first draft and thought I was done:

SLIMDUDE’s call had turned Rachel’s life into a MUDSLIDE.

  1. I re-read the rules and smacked myself in the forehead. “You forgot!” I scolded myself. “The challenge was to write two stories, and they each need to include an emotion!”
  2. I then wrote this version (emotion shown in brackets):

SLIMDUDE’s call turned Rachel’s life into a disappointing MUDSLIDE. [disappointed]

       I could see now that, by comparison, my first emotionless version was pretty boring.

  1. I rewrote the sentence using a second emotion:

SLIMDUDE’s call pushed Rachel’s life down a disgusting MUDSLIDE. [disgusted]

       I couldn’t stop there.

  1. I changed it again:

SLIMDUDE’s devastating call swept Rachel away in a MUDSLIDE. [devastated]

  1. I tried making it even more emotional:

SLIMDUDE’s haunting call hurled Rachel down an infinite MUDSLIDE. [terrorized]

  1. Then, just for fun, I rearranged the structure and ended up with:

Rachel was shocked by SLIMDUDE’s call. Welcome to MUDSLIDE! [shocked]

  1. I took 9 minutes to reflect on how many different ways there are to write a 9-word story, and how important emotion is in writing.

I wonder if anyone’s ever written a 9-word novel. Just think of the trees that could have been saved by editing War and Peace down to these 9 words:

“War: What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Peace.”




The Phantom

This week, Colleen Chesebro‘s challenge was to write a poem in one of the formats she lists (haiku, senryu, haibun, etheree, etc.). It was time for me to try a haibun, which is a titled piece written in first person singular, present tense, minimal words, which combines prose and poetry. (To learn more about haibun, see the link to Colleen’s site above.) Also, this week’s writing had to include synonyms for the words “ghost” and “hollow.” I chose the words “phantom” and “empty.”


The Phantom

Something’s rattling around downstairs. I can hear it from up here. I creep silently along the long, dark, empty hallway toward the open window. I’ll squeeze through it and onto the roof, drop to the ground, and run away. There’s no other way. I’m sweating as I reach the window. I feel a gust of wind behind me. I turn and see a phantom grinning in the shadows, as it moves swiftly toward me.

full moon
howling wind
shadows pointed
like batons
frenzied rhythm
then a hush
time’s up







The Incredible Shrinking Story

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’m involved in a writing challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Part I was to write a 297-word story about a mudslide. Part II was to edit it down to two 99-word versions, each with its own POV. Part III (this week’s challenge) is to choose one of the two 99-word versions, reduce it to 59 words, and include a “nugget” from the other version.

But my two Part II versions were virtually identical — except for the pronouns! There wasn’t a unique nugget to be found! The lesson I learned from attempting Part III is that two different POVs are going to react differently to the same situation on an emotional, sensual, and rational level. When I wrote the two versions, it would have been more interesting to get inside of each “mindset” to truly experience the POV.

And now, a confession. In order to complete the Part III challenge, I cheated, going back to my 257-word Part I version, stealing a nugget, and hauling it into Part III. I think cheating is allowed here. If not, my next installment will be sent from the principal’s office.

Part III Version, 59 words (nugget in bold):

Two-fifteen. Four nights of mudslide dreams since becoming Jake’s live-in. A warning? Jake slept. Rising, I phone-googled “mudslide dream.” Jake, awake, kissed my neck. Startled, I dropped my buzzing phone, which Jake retrieved. It said, “SLIMDUDE.” “Who?” “My husband.” “Husband?!” I pondered my ex’s prison nickname. He’d always haunt my dreams, scrambling the MUDSLIDE my life had just become.

My life had just become” was the nugget I selected from Part I, because prior to the dreaded phone call, Rachel’s life was hanging on by a thread. It is now going downhill fast. This nugget of insight from the omniscient third person POV is now being keenly felt by the first person POV of Rachel.

Thank you, Charli (at Carrot Ranch) for the lesson!

Stay tuned for Part IV, in which the story will be reduced to just NINE WORDS!




The Mudslide Continues

If you read my recent post, Mudslide, you’ll know that it was only Part I of a literary challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Part II of the challenge is to reduce our original 297-word flash fiction story to 99 words. Not only that, but we have to write two versions, one in the original POV (point of view) and the other in a different POV.

I’d never done anything like this before. Cutting out 2/3 of my words taught me an important lesson: I use a lot of unnecessary words! Wait, let me rephrase that: I waste words!

But the even more important thing I learned was that POV matters, and of the following two versions, I have a favorite. Which do you prefer?

Third Person POV, 99 words:

Rachel sat upright. It was 2:15. She’d had that mudslide dream four consecutive nights since living with Jake.

She touched him; he slept. All she could do was consider her dream. Was it a warning? She rose and Googled “mudslide dream” with her phone.

Jake, up now, kissed her neck. Startled, she dropped the phone. Jake grabbed it; it buzzed. The caller’s ID: “SLIMDUDE.”

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” he asked.

“My husband,” Rachel answered.

“Husband?!” Jake sputtered.

No reply. Rachel pondered that prison nickname, his tattoo. He‘d never stop calling.

He’d always haunt her dreams, scrambling up her MUDSLIDE life.

First Person POV: 99 words:

I sat upright. It was 2:15. I’d had that mudslide dream four consecutive nights since living with Jake.

I touched him; he slept. All I could do was consider my dream. Was it a warning? I rose and Googled “mudslide dream” with my phone.

Jake, up now, kissed my neck. Startled, I dropped the phone. Jake grabbed it; it buzzed. The caller’s ID: “SLIMDUDE.”

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” he asked.

“My husband,” I answered.

“Husband?!” Jake sputtered.

I couldn’t respond. I pondered that prison nickname, his tattoo. He‘d never stop calling.

He’d always haunt my dreams, scrambling my MUDSLIDE life.

In my opinion, first person makes the story much more immediate and threatening. Jake startles me, I drop the phone, I’m terrified of SLIMDUDE haunting me forever. Yeah. Looking forward to the next challenge. Or should I simply say: Excited!



REBEL WITCH — a poem

Today I took up Colleen Chesebro’s challenge of writing a poem that uses synonyms for the words “color” and “creepy.” I chose the words “hue” and “sinister.”

Writing a poem that included both color and creepiness was quite the mental exercise. Color is fun, and creepy is not fun. When I put those two concepts into a pot and stirred them up, a conflicted character materialized.

Here’s the final brew, which took the shape of a double etheree. An etheree is a 10-line verse with a syllable count of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. A double etheree adds another verse of 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.


in the streets
red and orange
yellow, green, and blue
indigo, violet
now that I have named them all,
which hue is the one you favor?
I am forced to dress in black myself —
for that’s what all the other witches wear

and who am I to go against the grain?
witches must look sinister and plain
no colors in our closets, no!
bright colors are forbidden
prisms warrant prison
what’s a witch to do?
make rainbow robes?
break the rules?
why not?





The following “flash fiction” is my response to Charli’s challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community.  The challenge was to write a 297-word story about a mudslide. I let my imagination run wild with this one, and it weighs in at 297 words.

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

Rachel sat bolt upright in bed. The clock on the wall said 2:15. She’d just had that dream again, the one about the mudslide.

She’d had it four nights in a row now, ever since she’d moved in with Jake. What would her shrink say about that?

Rachel looked down at Jake, softly snoring beside her. She touched his arm; he didn’t stir. What was he dreaming about? She closed her eyes and tried to get back to sleep, but all she could think about was the mudslide in her dream.

What was her subconscious trying to tell her? What could a mudslide possibly symbolize? Was it some kind of a warning?

She got up, stumbled out of the room, fished her phone out of her purse, and Googled “mudslide dream.” But before the search was completed, Jake came up behind her and kissed her neck, startling her. She screamed and dropped the phone.

They both moved to retrieve it. Jake got to it first, and it started buzzing as soon as he’d picked it up.

He looked at it and held it out so Rachel could see the screen. Caller ID said it was somebody named “Slim Dude.”

Jake stared at the phone, letting it buzz ten times, and then continuing to stare at it after the buzzing stopped.

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” Jake wanted to know.

“My husband,” Rachel answered, turning away so Jake couldn’t see her face.

“You have a HUSBAND?!” Jake sputtered.

Rachel didn’t answer. She was thinking about her husband’s nickname, the one he’d gotten in prison, the eight letters in SLIM DUDE tattooed on his fingers. SLIM DUDE would never stop calling her. And he’d always haunt her dreams, even scrambled up as the horrible MUDSLIDE that her life had just become.


Do you have any recurring dreams? Care to share?

Haiku with a Little Help (from my Friends)

The word “BLOG” was written (just like that, in all caps) on my to-do list for last Sunday. How confident of me! I should have known better.

As usual, I ignored the word “BLOG” that day, but, unfortunately, I noticed it again on Monday. (Maybe I shouldn’t have written it in all caps.) On Tuesday, I avoided looking at my list altogether and just read my email instead.

That’s when I saw a post by Ritu (“But I Smile Anyway…”), who shared a lovely haiku she’d written in response to a poetry prompt by Colleen (“Colleen Chesebro – The Fairy Whisperer”).

Colleen’s prompt was to write a haiku, tanka, or other specific type of poem using SYNONYMS for “fall” and “try.”

I like prompts. They give me ideas. So thanks to Colleen and Ritu — what would I ever accomplish without my wordpress friends?

Here’s my haiku using synonyms for “fall” (descend) and “try” (strive).

a chill in the air

I strive to reverse the clock

but leaves will descend.






All That and Apples, Too

(This post is in response to a writing prompt from Lorna over at Gin & Lemonade. The prompt was “A Fall/Autumnal Food Memory.” Here’s mine — an adventure I’ve never shared in print before. And once again, thanks to Lorna for jogging my memory.)


For most young people, autumn signifies a return to school. But for me, in September of 1971, the cooler temperatures and colorful foliage of upstate New York were telling me to leave college, spend $90 (in other words, half my life savings) on a train ticket, and make my way west to California.

I had a little adventure with apples along the way.

In 1971, American kids were dropping out of college in droves. They’d read On the Road; they’d listened to California Dreamin’. They wanted to get back to the land and find themselves. So did I.

I’d planned to take a train from Toronto to Vancouver, and then a bus south to Santa Cruz, where my friend Sharon lived. I was sure I could find some sort of job (or perhaps gold) once I got to California.

At the train station, I met two women who also were heading west. We boarded the train together, and by the time we’d gotten to Winnipeg we’d decided to get off the train and hitchhike the rest of the way.

Call me crazy, but back then I believed it was safe for three 20-something ladies to hitchhike through the Canadian wilderness together. After all, the Canadian government was practically promoting it. They’d erected billboards all over the country telling drivers to “Pick Up a Hitchhiker.” And it was cheap, too. You could stay overnight at a youth hostel for only 50 cents a night.

But before you get too jealous and try this at home, don’t. My traveler’s checks went missing after a night at one of the hostels. Even worse, I had to talk my way out of a #metoo situation, and I managed to outsmart another potential perpetrator. Whew. I was lucky those times. So again, just don’t.

But I hitchhiked with the young ladies through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and half of British Columbia, and we survived unscathed. We made it as far as Cranbrook, B.C., where they decided to stay, since one of them apparently had met the love of her life named Colin. (For some reason I remember his name and not hers.) I decided to move on. Colin drove me to the Creston bus station, about an hour down the road, so I could safely get to Vancouver by myself.

Creston is a small, fairy-tale village set in a valley in the foothills of the snow-capped Canadian Rockies. It’s blessed with a clear blue lake, a nearby hot springs, and a lot of apple trees.

I was standing in the Creston bus station when a cute (in a teddy-bear way) long-haired blond French Canadian named Ernie approached me and said, “How would you like to pick apples for a while?”

To this day, I have no idea what he was doing in that bus station, or why he came up to me and asked me that question. And I have no idea why I said yes. But suddenly the whole idea of just parking myself in that beautiful little town to “pick apples for a while” sounded pretty appealing.

There was a cabin in the orchard where the apple-pickers could stay for free. It had two beds, a table, a couple of chairs, a wood stove, a parachute hanging on one wall, a collection of Cracker Jack toys, and a gentle, silver-colored German Shepherd named Mr. Morgan who was said to be part wolf. And of course, Ernie was staying there, too. He said I could stay there, no strings attached, and there weren’t any … until there were.

Each morning, we’d get up early, put on our apple bags, climb our ladders, and pick apples in the sunshine. At lunchtime, the owner of the apple orchard came by with tea and homemade baked goods, and we all had a wonderful picnic under the apple trees.

A neighboring farmer once left some turnips for us on the cabin doorstep. We roasted a turkey in the wood stove for Canadian Thanksgiving.

We made friends with a married couple who also picked apples and owned a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, and the four of us took off one day and drove all the way to California and back. We slept on the beach one night, and at a friend’s party another night.

When we returned from California about ten days later, the weather had changed. The snows were coming, and the cabin wasn’t made for winter. We had to leave. Ernie’s mom lived in Vancouver, so we moved in with her temporarily. His mom was lovely. I had my own pink room with a single bed and a chenille bedspread.

I found work in Vancouver as a waitress, and rented a tiny, furnished basement apartment. Ernie and I were doing well as a couple. I applied for permanent residency. I had no idea that you were supposed to do that before getting a job. I naively thought having a job would help me get residency.

The man at the government office told me I had gotten it backwards and that my residency was denied. I burst into tears on the spot. My parents wired me the plane fare and I was back home by mid-December.

Of course, this was before the advent of cell phones, email, or skype, and long distance phone calls were too expensive. Ernie and I communicated by writing letters throughout that winter and spring. He was a good letter-writer. I knit him a sweater for Christmas and mailed it off. We made plans. He was going to come east and we were going to bicycle our way around the Maritime provinces that summer. I would try again for Canadian residency.

But in the back of my mind, I must have known it was just more dreamin’, because when I received his “Dear Jane” letter in May I was disappointed but not surprised.

In spite of the way things turned out with Ernie, I’ve never regretted my adventure in the fall of 1971. If nothing else, I know what it’s like to live in a cabin, to climb a ladder and pick fruit in the crisp Canadian sunshine, to have an orchard picnic with tea and homemade baked goods, to eat a gift of turnips left on my doorstep, to cook a turkey in a wood stove, to travel to California in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, to sleep on a beach, and to live with a gentle, part-wolf, dog by the name of Mr. Morgan.

I had all that, and apples, too.