We Love Short Shorts; or, can you do better than Hemmingway?

The English Project is running a short competition at the moment – short in terms of deadline (it’s this Friday, the 19th!), and in terms of subject matter. The challenge is to write a story in 140 characters – the length of a Twitter post – and they’re calling it Tweet Tales. Details here: http://www3.hants.gov.uk/culture-all/tweet-tales.htm.

This isn’t the first competition of its kind (I seem to remember the Guardian doing something similar) and I’m sure it won’t be the last: a story into 140 characters is perfect for the media and for the internet culture.

It would be easy for writers to be snooty about the idea, but I think there’s a lot to be said for it. For a start, it’s not easy: just have a go and see how hard it is to create a story with a sense of completeness.

And therein lies its value for writers who are serious about their work: it forces you to examine very carefully what it is that you feel makes a story. In having a go, I’ll bet you’re forced to re-examine your assumptions about plot and backstory; and your characterisation skills will have to be supersharp. And then there’s the sheer discipline of the character limit: surely there’s no sterner prose exercise in concision and editing.

There’s still time to enter this competition, and if you’re too late for this one, it’s a sure bet that another one will be along soon. Moreover, any writer can tackle this: poets should be used to working with length constraints, and scriptwriters should be adept at telling stories rapidly in dialogue and action.

If you need another incentive, see if you can match this six-word story from Hemmingway:

‘For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.’