Seriously, 100 Words. Are You Kidding?

Holy bat#*!@ a serviceable story in around 100 words.  That is what I was thinking when I tried writing 500 word stories for contests at Podcastle and Escapepod a few years back.  I had finally gotten used to writing decent stories at 1,000 words for the monthly flash fiction contests at even though I hadn’t won anything.  Now they were asking me to come up with interesting material in half that length.

Needless to say, I did not do well.  I tried too hard to give them stories with the scope and back story I was giving at 1,000 words.  I tried to fit references to the larger world, develop characters, and explain ideas, which forced the word count upward so had be chopped in later edits.  By not grasping the type of writing necessary for the word length, I left the stories unfocused and unsatisfying.  The grand ideas I was trying to portray couldn’t be made to fit into the word length of the contest.

Does that mean that you can’t express grand ideas in such a small word count?  No.  It just means you need to allow the reader much more freedom to bring in their own backstory.  Or, more precisely, to chose your writing to better direct some common themes of human life to help direct the backstory the reader brings into the experience.  I did not grasp that before.

I have completed my 100 word story, which is one fifth that of the above contest and I am much more satisfied with the results because I did not try to do all the heavy lifting with the story.  In a novel you can have more than 80,000 worlds to tell a story.  With that kind of space you can give more references to guide the reader toward the world and characters you envisioned.  You can narrow the outside material readers bring to the table by explaining motivations and describing the visuals, something us flowery types take a ribbing for, but it helps direct the flow of the reader’s thoughts.  Of course, given the size of the world and human population, there will still be a lot of misinterpretation due to readers with vastly different life experiences.

You would think that decreasing the word count would vastly increase the chance of missing any significant audience.  However, I think I see it the other way around now.  The object is not to direct the reader to see your idea, but to take advantage of the most basic human experiences to become the backbone of your story in place of what you cannot write.  For example, I would find it hard to get across the specifics of religious views behind a struggle I wanted to portray in 100 words.  However, if I take advantage of the thousands of years of human history pertaining to religion and the resultant strife, I can focus on the immediate story by just mentioning the action revolved around a religious dispute.

That is what I wanted to pass on today.  Look for my story to be posted at SFFworld soon.


Art Updates (from my Patreon page)

So, I have all this extra time on my hands now.  I haven’t gotten too crazy looking for a job yet because I am cleaning up a lot of stuff that was getting pushed aside by all the stress from my former job.  Hell, I am spending all my time at the dentist.  I have been there for four visits and now have to go for a fifth because another front tooth chipped.  Damn!  However, the first application fell through but I am not overly surprised because I was not centered in the geographic area of the route.  Big thing with these kind of companies these days.  At least my resume is on file for when and if the expansions occur in the five companies that will be allowed to work in the chain my old company was in.  In addition, I may check out another company that works in this chain that is commission based.  I have my reservations, but I am not totally sure I want to go back to what I did.  I may even try for a pure merchandising job with someone like Pepsi or Coke.

Anyway, with all this extra time, I have decided to push on some of the backlog of projects and explore some new ideas.  First off, I am almost finished with the “Quiet Strength – Silent Vulnerability” coloring page reward and hope to have it posted early tomorrow.  This took longer than I wanted because the image was made years ago with no thought at all of using it as anything other than a reference.  Cleaning up the sections that where shaded was difficult because of what the scanner chose to consider dark and light.  All in all though, I think I got it licked, just some final lines to clean up.  Second, I have been itching to get back at the Termanicz image and thinking about drawing a background the will be more concrete than trying to do it from scratch on the computer.  I am not quite comfortable with that yet.  Finally, I have been looking into how to do a print project on my Patreon page.  It looks like I will be making a separate page just for that and will be working out the details of what to include in the reward, how many I will print, and how much it will cost.  I hope to have the first one ready soon so watch for updates.

P.S. I wanted to know if anyone thinks my flash fiction entry “A Word in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush” should be added to the stories I already have slated for “Mystics and Misfits”?

Lost Some Wisdom but Still Holding My Own (from my Patreon page)

Been spending some quality time with my dentist lately.  Fixed chipped tooth last week, pulled wisdom tooth today, two fillings next week, and finishing up with a cleaning after that.  What can I say, don’t do anything for a decade or so then go for it in a month.  Anyway, even though I am less wise now, I am still working away on projects.  Currently in the works:

Quiet Strength – Silent Vulnerability Coloring page


Bull Rider Painting(Rodeo short story)

Cheetah Painting

Linear Thinkers in a Non-linear Universe

Lost Contact Horror Story

Yep, pretty busy.  Working on coloring page and getting close to finishing.  I have added the Jupiter and Mars eye lines that were not in the original tiger drawing and I have cleaned out at least half of the black patches from the scanned drawing.  I hope to jump on any of the other drawings after that, but mostly Linear thinkers because there is not much left to do.  Also, now that the flash fiction contest is over, lost but got a good compliment, I hope to dive into Lost Contact.  I really like the concepts that are swirling like storm clouds in my head.  So, stay tuned for updates.


Blue Word of Happiness (from my Patreon page)


The voting is almost over for the Flash Fiction contest so I thought I would let you see my entry.  Theme was “crosswords”, hence the above image I pulled just for a graphic.

A Word in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

by Robert Garbin

The intensity of the sudden summer storm rattled windows at the old Brandstar Company while shifts were changing.  Lights flickered here and there throughout the complex as thunder shook the ground.  Bob Balleban saw Sheila Randling yawning as he punched in for his shift.

“Don’t get me started or it will be a long night for both of us!”

“Too late old man, I started yawning as soon as I heard you were here,” Sheila replied.

“Nice, I grace you every day with my charming presence and this is what I get!”

Shelia playfully swatted at the man she had worked with the past five years.  He was ten years older with a slim build and close cropped greying hair.  She was in her mid-forties and looked like your average young grandmother.

They walked in comfortable silence to the break room where they deposited their lunches in the company refrigerator.  Bob took time to start a fresh pot of coffee before they both exited.  Quiet dominated the production floor as the shift change occurred; however, the soft hum of equipment held back filled the air with a mood of frantic nervousness.

“Which side you want tonight Bob,” Sheila asked?

“I’ll take the far side dear, I don’t mind,” Bob replied as he worked his way around and over different conveyor belts to the opposite work station.

Bob had just made it to his post when the whistle blew and machinery began ramping up.  Soon the conveyor belts were running at a steady pace.  Their job was ensuring byproducts off the main production line were routed correctly to proper recycling storage facilities within the plant.  With the world in bad shape from decades of conspicuous consumption, no one was allowed to just throw out waste anymore.

For the next two hours the shift ran smoothly and efficiently; large container cubes of water mixed with different contaminants were routed to distillation facilities, while medium sized bottles of resin waste where sent to storage for external reclamation.  From time to time either Bob or Shelia would have to slow the line to reassign miss labeled containers, placing corrected labels as they went.

Sheila was just finishing another relabel when Bob jerked up from his control screen cursing loudly into the communication system they shared.  The system allowed them to talk over the equipment noise.

“What the hell is wrong with you Bob?” Shelia said with and edge of fear in her voice!

Sheila looked across the conveyor belt at her co-worker.  Bob had backed away from the line blinking his eyes rapidly while tapping is right thumb and forefinger together.  He now stood cursing, spouting strange words and directions.  Meanwhile Shelia had to scramble with the flow of waste materials filling the conveyor belt so the company wouldn’t get fined again.  She slowed the line as much as possible without setting off alarms.

“Holy shit,” shouted Bob.

“Jesus Bob, you got to get in here before I have to hit the emergency stop!  We could both lose our jobs if that happens!”

Sheila barely had time to growl out the words as she double timed catching miss labeled bottles of contaminated byproducts from the production floor.  With two people out on medical in the production line, too many bottles were not labeled right and would end up in the wrong bins for recycling.

“Four across Hawk!  Three down Snowy Owl!” Bob yelled.

Shelia, mouth a gape, desperately tried to maintain control of the looming catastrophe.

“Ah … five down, Goose, … seven across Woodpecker!”

Bob continued to spout gibberish for another five minutes as Sheila began to feel flushed from the strain of handling the line solo.

“Seven down … the common name of the duck hawk … wha …,” Bob stammered.

“Snap out of it Bob, damn it!”

“Sheila, what the hell is the common name for a duck hawk?”

“What the hell is going on Bob?” Sheila screamed into her mike.

“For the love of God, do you know the common name for a duck hawk?  I have to finish this now!”

“Quit yelling at me … ah, well, it’s not a goshawk or a redtail”

“Eight letters long, starts with a P!” Bob growled.

“P … uh, perched?”

“No, that is only seven letters, it has to be eight!”

“Wait, I remember this from my dad.  He was a bird watcher.  It isn’t a hawk at all; it’s a falcon … a peregrine falcon!” Sheila said.

“Seven down, peregrine!” Bob shouted.

Tapping his thumb and forefinger together again he let out a sigh and raced to his console where he flagged a mechanical breakdown to stop the system.  Red lights began flashing as the conveyors ground to a halt.

“What in the hell happened.”

“Damned AR contacts malfunctioned and placed a Huntingdon Star crossword up that blocked my view.  The thing wouldn’t shut down either.”

Sheila started giggling.  She looked at Bob and just busted out in laughter, which Bob soon joined.  The absurdity of the situation kept them both laughing, helping to relieve the tension of the last fifteen minutes.  They were still chuckling and drying their eyes when the shift supervisor and his boss arrived with questions about the stoppage.

Bob managed to keep a straight face as he circumspectly described the malfunction of his AR lens and that he would need a few minutes to retrieve basic contacts from his locker.   The shift supervisor frowned but allowed they had made the right decision in stopping the line, his boss; however, was not as mollified.  Bob and Sheila could hear them discussing the need for a new policy on augmented gear on the work floor.

Their shift went smoothly the rest of the night except for the number of times Bob had to repeat the story of his now famous contact lens.  As daylight began edging over the frames of the plant windows, Bob stretched then placed his station on standby.  Across the conveyor Sheila yawned deeply, doing the same.  As they entered the break room to retrieve their lunches, the next shift heard them chuckling, saying names of birds back and forth.  By the end of the week, the incident had become company legend.

Flash Fiction Update (from my Patreon Page)

Well, the flash fiction contest is closed and the voting has started.  Unfortunately, there are only two stories to choose from here.  Usually there are at least six or seven stories to choose and on occasion so many that they have to make two voting threads.  I would like to make it at least a fair contest by getting as many voters there as possible so please come and read the two stories and cast a vote.

Amber Waves (from my Patreon page)

This was my entry for a old flash fiction contest on SFFworld with the theme being “torrential”.  I am posting it here as part of a discussion I plan to post about later.  It also gives you some idea of my writing style although this is a much older tale that I currently do not plan to place in Mystics and Misfits.  One thing to note here, I wrote this story back in 2008.

Amber Waves 

by Robert Garbin

The interview was being held in the corner of the busiest bakery in New York City.  David Attel reporting for Baker’s Secret, a British pastry magazine, was asking the three time winner of the bread making championships, Andre Stephenson, the secret of his success.

“Everyone always wants to know what makes Americans the dominant bakers in the world” Andre snorted.  “You know, four hundred years ago, American baking was considered only less dubious then American cuisine.  We were thought of as crash, tasteless, and immature.”

“Why was that?” David said.

“Because we were, we had lowered our standards so far with mass produced additive loaded crap that our insides were caked with it.  For God’s sake, Hot Pockets were one of the best selling items in every supermarket.”

“So what happened to change all of this?”

“One more idiot.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m sure you noticed the strict screening measures at the airport and the fact that you can bring very little with you.  Most everything you need will be provided for you while you are in country, but, unless you have lots of time to wait to bring anything out, everything stays here.  About four hundred years ago, before the genetic manipulation bans, some bright eyed idiot with the dubious financial backing of a fortune 500 company thought he could make a higher yielding wheat crop.  This was around the time when every Tom, Dick, and Harry scientist felt that there was no danger in playing God.”

“I heard about the story in my history class, but I don’t see the connection here.”

“Well, first off, you don’t live in a country that had to rebuild its economy from scratch while battling the effects of a disastrous mistake.  Second, we solved the problem by making lemons into lemonade.”

“I don’t understand!”

“Well the story goes like this.  Some big corporation out to increase profit by cornering the wheat market found themselves a genetic engineer who thought he could make a few genetic alterations to wheat to increase yield and shorten the growth cycle.  If they could get more wheat to market faster than the other guy, everyone would switch to their product.  Maybe the engineer wasn’t a total idiot and maybe meant things for the best, but we are still living with the results.”

“From there, you have to understand how business worked back then.  Basically, the almighty dollar was all that mattered.  Companies constantly flirted with disaster in order to maximize profit.  Look at the oil industry for example.  They constantly told people what they wanted to hear about safety so that congress would allow them to do what they wanted.  But when it came time to actually implement the promised measures they cried that the share holder dividends would suffer, or worse, they turned a blind eye.  That was how the Exxon Valdez happened.”

“What people always forgot was that companies were all about maximum profit and many people equated that with intelligence.  Experience should have taught them otherwise.  How many times did the banking industry have to implode before they figured out that not having strongly enforced regulations was letting idiots and con-artists stick them with the bill?”

“Anyway, back to the point.  In their rush to get the product to market, they pressured the engineer to cut corners to save a few million dollars.  Some safety protocols were skipped and some congressmen’s hands were greased and the wheat was approved for distribution.  Initially, the crops were a great success.  There was a twenty percent increase in yield and as a bonus; the farmers got two full crops in one season.  That was when the problems began.”

“The following year the farmers brought in three full crops, then four the next.  When some tried to put in different crops for rotation, they found the wheat choked out the other crops.  Soon the government had to declare a state of emergency because wheat was turning up outside of the farms.  They first attempted to burn the crops out, but that only made the problem worse.  Some of the seeds were resistant enough to survive the fires and rode the winds further a field.  The only thing that saved the rest of the world was the last line of protocols that held the wheat on American soil for five years of testing.  By that point, the country was under strict quarantine.”

“Believe it or not, the Government was close to setting off nuclear bombs in the heartland.  That is when the country drew a line.  We instituted strict quarantine laws that almost destroyed our economy, but that was better than wiping out a third of our country.  Then we set about dealing with the massive amounts of wheat we had.  We baked our hearts out day and night.  Soon we became the foremost bakers of breads and pastries in the world.  Today one hundred percent of all wheat flour based baking comes from America.  Of course, the product is thoroughly tested to make sure no live genetic material leaves the country.  Also, we did eventually manage to contain the crops to the Midwest, but we have to be constantly on guard against mutations that could start the whole cycle again.”

“So, finally, we come to the reason that Americans have dominated the baking arena for the past three hundred years.  It’s simple really, we had to.  We had to find something to do with all the abundant wheat.”

Flash Fiction Entry (from my Patreon page)

The deed is done.  I officially placed my entry into the August 2017 flash fiction contest at sffworld.  If you would like to read it, you will need to become a member, which is free, and look for the August 2017 Flash Fiction thread in the writing forum.  The story is titled “A Word in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush”.  Wish me luck!