Tips to Write an #8WordStory

I know what you’re thinking. You saw #8WordStory and thought ‘hey that’s easy’, then you actually tried to write something and hit a wall.

It’s okay. We’ve all been there.

So here are a few tips to help you get those words down so that we can get them up on a billboard near you.

Remember, these are only tips, not hard and fast rules. You think you can break a rule and still create an awesome story? Be my guest.

1. Start with a simple idea.

This is not the time for your epic detective-ghost-historical-space-conflict told over six generations that sheds light on human condition and the folly of empires.

Save that one for when you have a little more space.

Your idea needs to be something simple. It could be an observation, an idea, a challenge, or a moment in time.

Eight words is all about focus. The themes we’ve provided should help you get on track.

2. One thing should happen.

More an extension of the first point, but worth remembering on its own.

The plot for a typical story involves a series of events: this happens, then this, then this.

For an #8WordStory, you need to clear away the cruft.

Out of all the things that could happen in your story, what’s the one thing that makes your story what it is?

3. Don’t use too many characters.

Honestly, how many characters can you fit in there? You can talk about people in general, but as far as characters go, you’re unlikely to get past two.

You know who makes good characters in an #8WordStory? You and me.

4. Find an emotional tone.

This is different to choosing a theme.

Just because you get only eight words, doesn’t mean you can’t make a reader feel something.

What is it? Do you want them to laugh? Sigh? Do you want to surprise them? Do you want to make them think? Do want them to feel energised or despairing?

You can do any and all of these things with eight carefully chosen words.

But don’t forget: everyone can see through a cheap emotional play, so make it good. Or the puppy gets it.

5. Use all your senses.

Picture in your head everything that happens in your story’s moment. Think of what it’s like with all five senses: sight, smell, sound, touch, taste.

You won’t get all five into the story, but which one has the strongest impact?

What your story looks like might not be as important as what it sounds like, for example.

Now put it into words.

6. Write long first, then take out unnecessary words.

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.

If you have an idea, get it down and don’t worry about how many words it takes. Use that to get to the core of your idea, to pare away all the extraneous bits until you’re left with just the bones.

If you’ve spent any time in Twitter, you would be used to this idea. Take your text and see how much of it you can remove while retaining its meaning. Consider this:

You really want to write a story for this amazing, extraordinary project, but you’re struggling to come up with an idea that you can effectively truncate to just eight words.

Yeah, sometimes it’s easy to pick up on the adverbs, adjectives and extraneous information. Sometimes it’s not.

But that’s the fun of writing!

7. Punctuate or perish!

Think about the punctuation for your story and use it well. When you’ve got eight words, those little squiggles can do a lot of heavy lifting.

Does your story work better as two sentences, or even more? Is there dialogue (ie. is somebody talking)?

And remember the old editor’s wisdom:

Let’s eat, Grandma. = Lunch.

Let’s eat Grandma. = Prison.

Punctuation can intensify the rhythm of your story, whether long and languid or short and stabby, so experiment and see what works.

8. Make every word count.

Find stronger words than the ones you first thought of. Rearrange them. Adapt and change. Keep working at it until you hit that magic number eight.

Oh, one more thing.

You might have a penchant for stories that are intense and shocking and sexy and disturbing and sweary and that’s cool, but you should know that we will only post an #8WordStory that can be enjoyed by a wide audience of all ages and from all walks of life.

No one chooses to be in the audience for a billboard, after all.