Whilst absorbed in the busy world of editing for various projects, I’ve felt like I haven’t had that same buzz that comes with creating new work. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy editing and honing my writing to the best it can be, with redrafting and restructuring. But editing for me exercises different writing muscles. So, to keep a bit of that creating-new-ideas-buzz going when I don’t have the time or headspace to focus on longer projects, I’ve been dabbling more in micro and tweet-length fiction.
Micro fiction requires a really close look at every word used, and can spark new ideas with mini-scenes, especially when based on prompts. For me, I started out with the Curtis Brown Creative #WriteCBC monthly prompts. I realised how nice it was to pause and try to think of something completely new, based on a fun exercise. I had a couple of successes with that, so spent some time looking around for similar opportunities.
Below I share a few of my favourite regular opportunities for flexing those tweet-length-story and micro-fiction muscles. If you’re looking for prompts, I also wrote a blog piece here with fifteen ideas and aim to share more in the future.
- #WriteCBC: Run by Curtis Brown Creative, #WriteCBC is a really fun exercise that may even spark some inspiration for future stories. On the first Thursday of each month they pair up with an author who provides a writing tip and a prompt for a tweet-length story. Writers then have a day to share their contribution, and winning stories are selected the next day. The overall winner receives a fully paid place on one of their excellent 6-week writing courses, and runners-up receive a book from the host author. More details on their writing opportunities here.
- Retreat West: Retreat West have a great range of opportunities throughout the year. From monthly 100-word micro-fiction, to opening page, short stories, flash and everything in between! I particularly enjoy the 100-word ones which come with a monthly word theme. Judged anonymously, shortlisted stories are all put to a public vote each month with the two winners receiving a decent cash prize. There are small fees to enter each competition. More details on their active competitions here.
- Scottish Book Trust: Each month, Scottish Book Trust run a challenge to write a 50-word story, with adult and young writers categories – they are usually in the form of ‘write a story featuring/about…’ and are accompanied by a photo prompt. Winners are published and prizes include books and/or gifts from The Literary Gift Company. The current prompt for August is here, and ends on the 25th.
- Lightbox Originals: Lightbox Originals have a range of opportunities, but one of the things they’re doing recently are regular #100words prompts and I highly recommend checking them out here. They ran a competition earlier in the summer too, with a photo prompt, and they run regular opportunities for submissions via their social channels and website. Here are their current submission calls.
- #Vss365: If you haven’t already come across this on Twitter, #Vss365 is a daily writing prompt – a word prompt is provided, and the task is to write a tweet-length story. For me, it’s a fun occasional activity, and sometimes helps prompt a new idea for a longer flash or short story. Or, when confined to so few words I’ve come up with favourite lines I’ve then stolen as narrative for my novels.
- Lunate fiction: A literary journal for flash, short stories and poetry, Lunate Fiction also run regular flash and micro competitions, some with themes and prompts. Their current monthly flash competition is for stories 300-words or less on the theme of ‘Music’, due 22nd August. Prizes include publication, a book and 50% of the cash pot (generated from fees to enter). Their next competition will also be trialling a system of public voting on the shortlist, similar to Retreat West’s model. Check out more about Lunate here.
- Ellipsis Zine: This is a fantastic literary magazine that does both web submission and anthology submissions for stories under 1000 words, and I’ve seen a number of excellent micro-fiction pieces published there. Their submission schedule is here. I also enjoy that you can click on their ‘Random Flash’ heading and see one of their published online flash fiction stories at random!
If you have any other recommendations for competitions, regular opportunities or writing exercises, please do comment below, I’d love to find more!
And if you feel like reading further, below are a few of my micro-pieces that have come from some of these prompts and competitions.
‘Micro and Tweet-Length Fiction’Tweet
#WriteCBC: I was delighted to win in July, as well as get a couple of runner-up ones before that. I’m now looking forward to starting my CB Creative Short Story course in September! Here’s a few of mine below.
July Prompt: Your character has been given some shocking news – but how does this news make them feel, and what funny/bizarre memory is called to mind by that feeling? It might be quite unexpected! Write me your mini-scene using a humorous comparison
Winning story: The image of her son teetering on stage in a lion costume flashes into her mind. Because why have a normal nativity play? He roars then trips over his tail, knocking baby Jesus from the crib. The head falls off. Mary cries.
June Prompt: ‘Lou hadn’t been outside for months …’
Tweet-story: That first trepid step was like walking on air. The sun shone warmth on his skin as birdsong rang all around. Life was bursting from every corner.
On the other side of the garden, his son smiled, a tiny coccooned bundle in his arms. ‘Your grandson wants to meet you.’
May Prompt: Find an object to use as a writing prompt – anything from a book to a bus ticket. Someone has left it behind, and your character has found it. What is it and what happens? Write a mini-scene, and you could attach a photo of the object too …
Runner-up Story: The cutting belonged to my gran, and my mum after that. Parts of it live across the world and generations, sprouting new stems and roots. Mum left it for me – to bring good luck and bind us together. A tear falls as I cut a piece for replanting. It’s my turn to pass on.
April Prompt: He’s sitting at his bedroom window, just across the street. He’s looking out at me – and from my window, I’m looking back.
Runner-up story: I smile at him and he smiles back then holds up a pen. I squint as he scribbles something down and sticks the sheet to the window.
‘What’s his name?’ it says, and he points over my shoulder with a Cheshire grin.
I frown and look at my cat; carefree, lazy. Of course.
Here’s a few pieces of micro and tweet-length fiction for competitions that I’ve done over the past few months or so:
Retreat West: Second Prize ‘Flesh and Blood’ – July Micro Fiction Competition – read it here.
His cheeks are like mango flesh, soft and spongy. Fragile. When I hold him in my arms, I know I’ll never let him go. That I’d peel my own skin away to keep him safe.
I think of when I first met his father, a tropical summer day, a cold lassi in hand as the sun seeded the white sand beach with its warmth.
‘This spot taken?’ he had asked with his sugar-sweet smile.
I felt something in the pit of my stomach then, like the weight of a stone being lifted away. A single moment, ripe for the taking.
Lightbox Originals: Shortlisted for 100-word story prize – ‘Second Skin’ – read it here.
She arrived as the sun lit the sky a rusty orange. Her first step on land was like learning to breathe again, toes curling on cool pebbles, bare skin feeling the chill of dry air.
As she climbed cobbled steps to the house, a man stepped out, hunched over. The years had been unkind. He waved her inside.
From the corner of the room, he unlocked a wooden chest, pulling from it a coat as dark as night. A flicker of life returned to his eyes.
‘You’ll protect the land dwellers?’ he asked.
She nodded. ‘Goodbye brother, the sea calls.’
Ellipsis Zine Twitter Prompt: Water – Tweet story here.
My feet sink into the sand. Waves encroach, tickling my ankles with a soothing touch, whispering in their secret language. I tilt the vessel. Fragments drift away and I imagine they’re seeds, ready to take root in the endless swell. I close my eyes and wish we’ll meet again.
#Vss365 – these are just a few of mine based on the daily word prompts, some of which I’ve taken for longer pieces or used as lines in my novels:
Prompt – Inflitrate: I try not to let the words #infiltrate my mind. But they twist around it, tugging at synapses and striking cords. My head swirls as if a thousand angry bees are trapped inside it, until I can no longer fight back. The words have won – and how could anyone blame me for it? #vss365
Prompt – Invincible: Its force is #invincible, wrapping it’s way round every muscle, cell and orifice. Spreading, it intertwines with flesh until the surface is unrecognisable. Then, the host shifts, blinks, and takes its first breath. It no longer remembers its name. Only a desire to kill. #vss365
Prompt – Tangled: Churning waters force it to icy depths. #Tangled amongst slimy tendrils it waits, until a chance encounter with fins sends it swirling back to land. Home again. But too soon, impulsive fingers reach. A wave of exhiliration as it skims, 1,2,3,4, before sinking once more. #vss365
Prompt – Willow: Remember the #willow tree we had in the garden when we were young? Its spindly limbs that sung as they danced in the breeze. We used to hide under its withered boughs and pretend we were in the house of the fairies. I plant one over you, hoping they will protect you now. #vss365
Prompt – Reverie: In my #reverie I missed the train. I was thinking of you and the last time we stood here together, waiting for our trip north. If I had known that I would return alone, I would have missed the train then too. #vss365
Prompt – Vacant: Her eyes are #vacant when I ask her what she did today. Yet when we pass a roundabout she regales a memory from twenty years ago. Grandad, mischievous, took it too fast. She told him off in faux-outrage. We giggled, co-conspirators. Now she laughs like it was yesterday. #vss365
Prompt – Vase: The #vase hit the floor and shattered into a thousand pieces like thrown confetti. It had been a wedding present from her sister, a symbol of flourishing love. She tried to piece the shards together. Fragile petals lay crushed to the side. Separated and hopeless. #vss365
Prompt – Syrup: Pancake day was a disaster. When the artificial gravity malfunctioned, the #syrup floated around the spacecraft in a gloopy mess. We tried to clean up every drop, but some found its way to the control panel. We’re bracing for the emergency landing now. #vss365 #amwritingscifi
Prompt – Bow: She asked me if I’d rather be an arrow or a #bow. The all powerful instigator or the one that does its bidding. But neither can make an impact without the other. I decided I’d be an arrow. A bow has too many drawbacks. #vss365
Prompt – Verdant: She knows the trees are virtual. Statue-like imprints of ones lost long ago. But it doesn’t stop her imagining their scent, yearning for the oxygen in her polluted lungs. The #verdant leaves whisper a secret language, one she never hears in her real jungle of concrete. #vss365
If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading! Hope there’s been some nuggets in there to inspire you – happy writing!