Can you pack vivid descriptions, original characters and surprising plot twists into a story of only 420 characters? Well, it ain’t easy! That even includes spaces and punctuation. Back in the Dark Ages of social media, Facebook used to limit its users to 420 characters for status updates. A brilliant author named Lou Beach decided that was plenty of space for a super-stingy writing style. So he scribbled furiously and produced a whole book of them. It’s called, appropriately, “420 Characters.”
Here are a few of my efforts. I will be adding more, when the mood strikes. Many libraries are now hosting competitions for the best Tiny Stories. Try it. You might surprise yourself. Good luck, and remember: think small!
A Turn of the Wheel
-This one’s still alive.
Cy prodded her supine form with his toe.
-What should we do?
He glanced up at the mangled guardrail. Rain beat into his face. A headbeam broke through the gap.
-Check her pockets.
Flo’s mouth opened. She stared at the woman whose eyelid slid up, like a blade. Her lips bled as she tried to speak. Slurred liquid sounds. Cy knelt in the wet scrub to listen.
-It was your fault, she hissed.
The Kid from Outer Space
Miss Els withered the boy where he sat. She rolled her eyes.
“Chris, where is your homework? Did the aliens steal it again?”
Snickers broke out in the room. The boy sank lower in his desk, clutching his Buzz Lightyear comic book.
“Your head’s in the stars young man,” she sighed. “All right then, class dismissed.”
He escaped quickly. Miss Els shook her head, muttering.
“That Hadfield kid’s never going to amount to anything.”
A Portrait of the Arsonist as a Young Man
On his first day in the world, Sparky’s incubator shorted out. When he was two, his crib caught fire. At three he lit up the cat’s tail. His fourth birthday cake burned down the family home. In first grade he torched teacher’s desk. Sparky’s parents moved a lot. He graduated from Piromont High—before it burned. His dream job as Fire Chief would elude him for the rest of his life. But he was finally cremated.
Hansel and Pencil
SNAP! Hansel stared at the broken stub. Barely enough to grip, and now this. Rain lashed at his window. The storm raged. A dash to the neighbour’s on such a night would be fatal. The forest would swallow him. Yet the story would not let him go—had Hansel by the throat, as it were.
I must finish! MUST FINISH! he screamed and tore through the cabin to find a knife.
Finding one, he whittled desperately at his stub, thumb and fingers, unleashing more blood than lead. It leaked across the stillborn manuscript: his finest opus ever. He fell upon it like a madman, writing furiously in his own bodily fluids.
The lifeless body of Hansel Schickengluber was discovered next day by his neighbour Gretel when she delivered the fresh baking.