Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words was published more than seven years ago—about the time I started this website—and I decided to take another look at the book. The result of this look is a new edition. I edited and revised some stories, deleted others and added about a dozen new stories with twist or mystery endings.
Can a 100-word story have a surprise ending? Yes, it’s part of the challenge. As I wrote in the introduction to the previous edition of the book, the challenge to tell a complete story in exactly 100 words is the lure of this genre.
Here is the Amazon link for the ebook: https://amzn.to/2mIfC0s It will soon be available at barnesandnoble.com and the other places.
Extremely short, tiny, miniscule bits of fiction have been around for a long time. Aesop’s fables are a good example. Written in the sixth century BCE, Androcles (and the Lion) contains only 265 words, and The Ant and the Grasshopper uses only 150 words. Ernest Hemingway reputedly wrote a six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Welcome to flash fiction. Books and a broad variety of online literary magazines and some print magazines feature these short-shorts. Actually short-shorts is not an appropriate description as it often refers to short stories of a few pages or more, not a few paragraphs or a few sentences. Flash fiction seems to be the most commonly used name for these snippets of creative writing, although some online magazines refer to micro fiction, nano fiction, sudden fiction, or quick fiction.
As to the best length for flash fiction, there’s little agreement. Even though the 100-word limit is common, a variety of print and online magazines and published anthologies restrict flash fiction stories to 1,000, 2,500, and even 5,000 words. Compared to a 100-word tale, the longer stories could hardly be read in a flash. Wikipedia does little to establish a common length saying, “flash fiction is a fictional work of extreme brevity.”
Journals such as 100 Word Story and 101 Words need no explanation. Some other online publications are looking for what Wikipedia calls twitterature, that is, stories of 280 characters or less. Everyday Fiction sets the limit at 1,000 words but encourages writers who can tell a story in 50.
Before publishing the first edition of this book I published stories in a variety of online flash fiction literary magazines, including my favorite, 100 Word Story. Editor Grant Faulkner says the 100-word limit is an arbitrary marker that “forces the writer to question every word.”
It’s a good discipline. A number of years ago a friend of mine told me his writing group was working on an exercise in which they had to tell a story in just 100 words. I had never heard of flash fiction before and was intrigued. At first I wrote cop stories, then branched out into the variety of genres represented in the book. More than half the stories in the new book have to do with detective work, crime, or general law enforcement. The balance include humor, speculative fiction and a little romance.
Yes, each story contains exactly 100 words. And you have to know the rules. Hyphenated words count as one word and titles are not included in the word count. Numerals, even those separated by commas count as one word. The counting function on MS Word seems to have its own rules, so I count by hand as well.
I agree with Faulkner. This genre makes you question each word. But now that I’m spending most of my time on novel-length mysteries, I still try to remember the value of each word.
Here’s a sample story from Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words:
On the House
Starting her workday baking before sunrise always made Sophie’s concentration sag by 9 a.m., but looking across the counter at a gun barrel got her immediate attention.
“Gimme the money,” the gunman said.
Sophie glanced over the man’s shoulder, moved toward the cash register—then ducked.
The cop standing behind the robber threw him against the counter, as another officer grabbed the gun.
“You gotta be the dumbest crook I ever met,” said the first cop. “Okay, maybe you didn’t see our car in the lot, but really…”
“Thanks, Kelly,” Sophie said. “From now on, doughnuts are on the house.”
“…it is rather remarkable that the author is able to introduce a cast of characters, set a stage for them to act upon, and play out a scenario—sometimes involving cops and crooks—in which something unexpected happens, all in exactly 100 words.”