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Creating something out of nothing: Writing short fiction
Ron Coia

  • Invisible Card trick: creating something out of nothing

  • Writing can overwhelming for some. To write a story is daunting. I want to show how when we break it into smaller parts, we can create something out of seemingly nothing.

  • Let’s take something small. A small word: Love. Use a fixed amount: 100 words. 100 words is manageable. Write a 100-word story dealing with love. Also, let’s make the elements of the story closer to nothing: each word can only be one syllable.

  • Writing time (8 minutes)

  • Share aloud

  • The one-syllable writing is the start of a structured writing assignment. From here, we will further develop the “something out of nothing” idea. It’s called 55-Fiction. The rules are simple: write a complete story in 55 words or less. Can it be done? See The World's Shortest Stories, Steve Moss, ed., for this technique.

  • Show “Headed for Trouble” and “In the Garden”

  • Pass out packets; read pages 218-222 aloud. This is where students are introduced to conflict (and the most difficult part to write in these)

  • Silently read the remaining 8 stories in the packet. How effective are they? In what way?

  • Writing time: (20 minutes) Tear out a piece of paper. We will work on the following three stories:
1. Opposite gender POV
2. Teenager in high school
3. Your choice of a topic

  • Turn in and randomly pass out. People will read one they like and pass on again. (keeps author anonymous).

Read student work:

Delivery
He and his wife had waited for the day their daughter was born for so long. In the car, she was breathing heavily. He squeezed her hand in reassurance. At the hospital, they were rushed to room 301. He sat down at the end of the bed.

"Hello Kelly," he said to the surrogate mother.

From the Top
After thirty years of dedication to music, I had made it. My mom said I couldn't do it, so I moved out. My dad said I was stupid for trying, so I stopped talking to him. Now they're gone.

I take one more swig from the bottle, and watch the ground come up very quickly.

The Sound of a Corner
The ticking of the clock pierced the ears of Frank White in the dark night. "One day I will leave this place, Margaret," said Frank. Silence fell heavily on the dark street corner where they first met.

"One day I will see you again," said Frank, and walk away, alone.

True Love
One morning Joe was walking down the street when something caught his eye was this love at first sight? He stopped to stare at this beauty she was dressed in all red just sitting there. He went over to her and within fifteen minutes he walked away with the keys to his brand new car.

Last Rites
Harold twirled the cigarette between his fingers, occasionally stopping the rhythm to take a long drag. "If this is my last one, I'm gonna enjoy it." A mask was pulled over his eyes. His wrists were strapped. His feet were fettered.

Harold flicked the cigarette and skied down the mountain a new man: smoke-free.

Playtime is Over
Seems like we've been trapped in here for weeks. I'm hungry and cold. The only source of food is my comrade, resting quietly in the corner of our snow-cave. Moral dilemma? Survival of the fittest? God forgive me...

"Boys! Dinnertime," Mom yells from the porch. My little brother and I race into the warm house.

Love and a Round Table
Kyle again avoided his English homework. King Arthur meant little to his world of skateboarding and stolen downloadable music. He glanced around the class and noticed Gwen, an exchange student from England. Kyle smiled as he imagined himself in Camelot rescuing his princess from ominous dangers..

He picked up his Excalibur and began to write.

Paradox
After twenty-two years, Thomas's time machine was complete. Sirens and flashes interrupted his tinkering. A machine identical to his own materialized in the laboratory. A bloodied clone of Thomas stumbled out. "Stop!" the stranger shouted, "Don't finish it!" Thomas grabbed a pistol and fired. As he nervously adjusted his glasses, his hand seemed to fade.

Needed: the Grace of God
Stanley remembered the day of his ordination from the church. An organ blared and echoed against the walls before landing on the ears of a smiling congregation. Speeches, vestments, and handshakes followed his first fiery sermon. That was seven years ago. A sleeping woman stirred as he wept toward his unfamiliar face in the mirror.

How can we use this in class?
  • Starting point for a story
  • Ending of a story that we read in class. Write what happens to a character in 55-Fiction format
  • Writing for film (read “Unmasked Murder” and show film)

Unmasked Murder
She woke in a cold sweat and instinctively grabbed her husband’s hand, which lay on her hip. Snuggling up next to him, she said, “I had a dream you died.” She rolled over to face him and found blood dried on his pillow. Confusion hit, followed by hysterics when her eyes fell upon his gun.

More examples:

www.newtimes-slo.com/55_fiction/55_fiction.html
These are the published winners from the contest.

www.mrcoia.com/creativewriting
These are more examples from my students