50 Sentence Story

pixars-rules-of-storytelling-finishThis story is based on an assignment I thought of giving my creative writing class and wanted to try myself first. I made fifty rules, and determined which five I would have to follow by using a random number generator. Some were technical and some were more comprehensive, but one rule I envisioned everyone following was only being allowed 50 sentences. I still haven’t decided if I will use the assignment or not—it seemed hard—but here are the five rules I ended up with.

  • Write at least eight sentences of four words or less
  • Include dialogue
  • Use at least one flashback.
  • Talk about storytelling as well as the story
  • Produce a sad ending

Here is the story I wrote:

1. He knew what was in the boxes before anyone opened them.

2. He just knew, and not by peeking if that’s what you think.

3. Leon wasn’t the sort of person to peek, and, if you met him, you’d sense that in him.

4. No magic influenced his knowing either—at least, none he accepted—but, perhaps that’s the way with magic, it only seems extraordinary to others, never to you.

5. Once, when he was a boy, his uncle produced a nickel from his nose.

6. That old trick.

7. And he “Oohed,” and delighted in the nickel’s delivery.

8. He thought it magic because from nothing came something.

9. His own magic appeared solid from the start, truth he understood without doubt or self-consciousness the way you know a pen is in your chest pocket or you’re wearing shoes.

10. Magic would be mistaking those facts, nothing where you expected something.

11. Sometimes Leon hoped for that sort of magic, desperately trying to believe himself wrong.

12. You might not like knowing either.

13. Before he could restrain himself, Leon announced, “That is a baby blanket, that’s a sponge to use to bathe the baby, that’s a chair that hangs from a door frame, and the big gift is a wind-up swinging chair.”

14. He wasn’t crowing or sneering but said each flatly and factually.

15. But the others laughed, thinking he meant to speed things along.

16. You can imagine how his wife Anna felt.

17. She’d been skeptical about this couples’ baby shower in the first place, and now this.

18. She scowled.

19. “Leon!”

20. She slapped his thigh.

21. Her half-smile was forced and said, “We’ll discuss this later!”

22. And the other guests read her signals, making noises indicating their response.

23. The men howled and the women scolded.

24. You might wish their reactions were less sexist, but they weren’t.

25. Most moments speak to what you want, release or suspense.

26. You don’t have as much control as you think.

27. Release or suspense.

28. Those are the two choices, at least to everyone but Leon, who knew.

29. Leon neither smiled nor frowned.

30. Anna was right he wanted to be finished.

31. He did not want to be there and didn’t want to realize what others couldn’t.

32. As for the givers, they accepted his knowing their gift, but guessing the others surprised them.

33. When Anna opened the third gift, a strange stillness filled the room.

34. The couples glanced at each other at first, then one of Leon’s buddies said, “How’d you know? Everything was wrapped.”

35. Maybe this moment, the moment before his answer, is more critical to you than to them because you see possibilities line up.

36. He can tell the truth and be disbelieved.

37. He can come up with a covering lie like, “We’ve done so much baby shopping lately, I recognized the shapes.”

38. He could be mysterious, smile, and say, “I just knew.”

39. Arching and unarching his eyebrows would be useful in that case.

40. His eyes dropped into his lap instead and then—shocking to them all—tears dropped after them.

41. Why was he crying?

42. Anna asked, “What’s wrong, honey?”

43. The ensuing silence meant something to them all—and maybe to you—but it’s hard to say what.

44. When you invent something, you have an out.

45. You can edit and revise, rewrite and repair.

46. Nothing is truly known.

47. Leon didn’t look up.

48. Though his voice was thick with weeping, he spoke clearly.

49. “They’ll be no baby,” he said, “It won’t make it.”

50. You see, he knew what was inside her too.


Filed under Aesthetics, Art, Education, Experiments, Fiction, Fiction writing, High School Teaching, Numbers, Teaching, Voice, Writing

4 responses to “50 Sentence Story

  1. Love love love love this! But I love anything melancholy. Kind of Raymond Carver. Clever assignment as well. I think I need to try it .

    • dmarshall58

      Thank you. I still think it a little strange to be teaching this class that’s largely about writing stories. I’m not much for writing stories, really, and need reinforcement and structure like these rules to accomplish anything. But I suppose some of my students may be like me. In any case, I still may try the assignment… even if it’s in a less elaborate form. –D

  2. Great limits set; and should make for a hellovan exercise for your class. In spirit with you and your students I’ll take a stab at this one too. Love what you pulled out from yourself – and I bet it was much work. A a bit daunted, though. G

    • dmarshall58

      I hope you will try it. A number of my students seem to rely on inspiration and won’t take to something so restrictive, but sometimes limits can, paradoxically, be liberating. They cut down all the decisions you must make and set a more manageable course. My goal now will be to revise the assignment so it’s not so much work and more playful. –D

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