I wrote this 24-word story in response to the National Writing Day #247 Competition, alongside the other members of The John Roan Creative Writing Club. You can read my reflection on my first attempt and find out what inspired me here.
I was determined to write a form of narrative for my second attempt, because that is how the others had interpreted the task. However, I was stumped as to how to structure it. I’d made a start but was running out of words. Fast. So, I asked the other writers if they could share their attempts, to provide some insight to how they were approaching the challenge. I noticed that most of the stories featured animals, whilst a couple were pretty gory.
The writers in The John Roan Creative Writing Club have become so comfortable sharing their writing within one other at any given point in the process, resulting in a ‘workshop’ environment that provides support and inspiration to all. I was enjoying listening to their creative successes and stumbling blocks, when the truth and humour of the following line grabbed me: ‘Everything will return to normal, including maths homework.’ Yes, inspiration had struck at last! ‘Everything will return to normal’ is a comforting truth, simply expressed like the moral at the end of a traditional tale.
As a moral provides a succinct way of expressing high principles for proper conduct, this seemed like an excellent way to give a story with skimpy word count some weight, like a poem or a slogan. However, I didn’t want to write a poem or a slogan, because I was stubbornly clinging to the story goal. I asked the young writer if they could re-read their story, so I could focus on how they achieved the challenge within the word count. This time, I recognised a simple two-part structure that felt I could mimic: a summary of the action in the narrative, followed by a moral.
This inspired the writing I shared with the group:
After the group session, I redrafted my story, considering the action more closely from the ant’s perspective. Immediately, the ant troubled me, I couldn’t picture it clinging to a monkey’s tail. It seemed too tiny and insignificant to truly appreciate the dramatic action, surely it would be nestled in fur? So, the (slightly less) tiny creature became a centipede, swerving to avoid the branches.
I was also unhappy with my ‘moral’; it felt disconnected from the narrative. So, I searched for quotes about authenticity, as I only had six words with which to convey my moral. This lead to me lifting and adapting the following from author Teal Swan: “Authenticity is the highest state of being”, as I felt the language reflected the action in my narrative.
Changing ‘the trees’ to ‘branches’ also reduced the word count and I now viewed the remaining ‘the’s as wasted opportunities. I adopted the technique used by Rudyard Kipling in the Just So Stories. No, I didn’t use my precious word count to address the reader directly, Best Beloved! Rather, I mimicked the way Kipling capitalised the names of different animals and removed the article in instances where they speak to one another. For example, from ‘How the Leopard Got Its Spots’: ‘That’s curious,’ said the Leopard. ‘I suppose it is because we have just come in out of the sunshine. I can smell Zebra,and I can hear Zebra, but I can’t see Zebra.’
Removing these two words, allowed me to introduce a new character, Parrot, and provide a motivation for Centipede’s perilous journey. Here’s my final version of ‘A Tail’: