Seventy Words or Less — Guest Blog by JA Konrath

I’m very happy to welcome guest blogger author JA Konrath here today!  He’s got a great writing exercise to share.  Give it a try and post your results in the comments.  Also, check out Joe’s blog and his new book (links at the end).

Seventy Words or Less
a guest blog
by JA Konrath

As writers, we’re told that every word counts. But how can we tell, for sure, which words are necessary?

Here’s a fun writing exercise that will teach you what is required, and what is extraneous.

Write a complete story, with characters, a setting, a conflict, and a resolution, in 70 words or less.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Once you have an idea, you’ll discover that you go way over the word limit.

That’s where craft comes into play. Paring down your story to just seventy words takes a great deal of thought and skill. It makes you aware of how valuable each word is, and forces you to defend your choices.

My horror novel, AFRAID, comes out at the end of March. It’s written under my pen name, Jack Kilborn.

Even though it’s a regular length novel of 90,000 words, I tried my best to be economical with my words. As a result, it has more action than most 120,000 word novels.

Because AFRAID is scary, here are two examples of 70 word stories with some delightfully twisted themes.

After you read these, I encourage you to post a 70 word story of your own.

Less is more. So show me less.


by Jack Kilborn

How long? Three days? Four?
No light. No water or food. The closet door is thick. Solid. He’s banged on it until he bleeds.
This isn’t punishment. It’s murder.
He cries. No tears come out. Dehydration.
“Please open up.” His voice is hoarse, raw. “I promise I won’t do it again. I’m sorry.”
The small, precious reply:
“You haven’t learned your lesson yet. Be brave. That’s what you tell me, Daddy.”

Available March 31, 2009

Available March 31, 2009

by Jack Kilborn

The first layer comes off easy, using a fine grit sandpaper. Things start to get sticky, so I have to use steel wool. By layer seven I’m using a wood planer, shaving off a quarter inch at a time.

Sweaty, achy, and cramped, I’m finally halfway done.

Now I need someone to help me. With the other side.

I can’t hold the planer in my skinless right hand.


Now it’s your turn. Show me what you’ve got.

Let’s make this a contest.  Post your 70 words or less entry in the comments section, and the winner gets a signed copy of AFRAID.

Contest ends on Friday the 13th.



32 Responses

  1. Hi Laurin,
    Thanks for having Joe I’m enjoying following the tour. Hey, I just realized, I’m a Konrath groupie. hmmmm wonder if there’s an age limit?
    My comment on both of his 70 word stories is “ick”. :o) But I’m going to try the exercise. Mine will just be about fluffy kittens or something. lol
    I’ll check in tomorrow too.

  2. Karen,

    Thanks for stopping by. Make sure you post your 70 word story in the comments by Friday. Joe’s giving away a signed copy to one lucky poster!

  3. Love these type of challenges! 🙂
    Rich, slimy, a stench that tears through your soul.
    Water, cold, slippery, unforgiving.
    Weighted down by clotted fur.
    The seal surges up.
    A push.
    A cry.
    Sludge gives way.
    For a moment sunlight breaks through.
    Exhausted. Laden with fatigue, he slips beneath.
    To blackness.

  4. Well, here’s a little change of pace for the gore fans — still gross, in its own way.

    Must. Stop. Changing. Diapers. The kid is three. When will it end? He thinks he can’t “GO” until he is four, and believes it with all his heart. Sometimes desperation is the mother of invention. SO, then, today he “is” four! We will have cake with four candles! And sing the song!

    And he went. Just like that. Calendars become irrelevant; just need the belief that today is the day.

  5. holy crap! I think I’m afraid to read the book!

  6. Okay, just because I have zombies on the brain today.

    Here goes:

    Overfeeding zombies is the key. They explode. It’s that lack of metabolizing thing. It pays to be alive, able to digest, and of course – poop.

    I fed them Jack first. I knew the others wouldn’t be suspicious when he went down. He was limping from the first attack, bringing up the rear. He didn’t realize what I had done until they bit into him.

    The best plans are simple.

  7. –I hope the title doesn’t count.–


    Jill inched closer to the edge and stared out at the waves exploding on the rocks below. She turned and looked back over her shoulder. Something in her expression had changed, grew heavy.

    “You okay?” Jack asked.

    Jill nodded. “Will you do something for me, Jack?”

    ”Of course.”

    Jill turned back, lost in the sound of the ocean below. After a moment she spoke. “I want you to push me.”

  8. I will work on this on my own time. The talent is daunting.

  9. Hi Laurin,
    As it turns out my story isn’t about fluffy kittens. Didn’t know I could go this dark. I personally loved the diaper story. Been there, done that.
    Heads up to anyone who’s been raped, don’t read this story. And if I win, I want an autographed picture, I’m too scared to read Afraid.

    Blindfolded, bound and gagged, spread eagle. The dead rapist’s weight nearly suffocating her.
    Finally, rescue, in the form of a gentle voice.
    “Shhh, I’m here now, just lay still “
    The rapist is rolled off her, his head thumps on the floor.
    Water sloshing, a warm cloth swabs her wounds.
    Puzzled, Gina struggles, panic rising, mutely begging release from her bindings.
    Then she hears the zipper.

  10. Oh my! The talent here is amazing. I think Joe has brought out the dark side — yes, potty training is definitely the dark side! I’ve got to get to work on my own 70 word story now. Thanks to everyone who has posted. I’m enjoying the heck out of this!

  11. I’m stalking, uh following Joe, J.A., and Jack on this everyday blog tour. I’ve already read Afraid and can say it will scare the pants off you. And that will makeJoe happy.

  12. This reminds me of a short story form called a drabble – 100 words or fewer. There are LJ comms devoted to nothing but this format. In a way, it’s almost like writing poetry in that you have to condense everything until it’s practically verbal molasses.


    He knew he’d run out of time when the sky began to lighten. The dogs would be loosed soon. Chalk lines were unbroken, candles lit. One squinted eye to the horizon, he enunciated the consonant-heavy words, heart stuttering.

    The air thickened. Beyond, a dog growled.

    “Too late.”

    A thunderclap hit on the heels of the last syllable, sending his lover to the next world.

  13. condense everything until it’s practically verbal molasses

    Aimee, this is a great visual. No WAY am I trying this in public but I think I’ll sneak away from some private self torture.

  14. Hi Laurin,
    I had a friend have a FIT about my 70 words or less story earlier. The funny thing is, ALL the things that she got upset about, she provided for herself via her own imagination…..I had not expressed any of her assumptions in a concrete way in my story.

    Apparently you don’t have to go into a lot of detail to push emotional buttons. Good lesson Joe,
    this was my first try.

  15. All right, here’s my entry – 50 words exactly in case you were wondering.

    I still stand outside forming the picket lines. “It’s wrong,” I say again as I pick up my sign and lead the protests. I used to be able to look you in the eyes. I can’t anymore. You recognize the one that asked you to get rid of the fetus.

  16. Very challenging and quite a learning experience. Thanks!

    Here’s my go at it…

    The carnage beside me has stopped moving.

    I’m bleeding badly from the slice in my stomach.

    He squats down beside me and tears open my shirt; the dark gash glistens in the moonlight.

    “I’m quite disappointed. Your friend died too quickly,” he says, sticking his fingers into my wound making me scream. “I prefer taking my time with a man.

  17. Loving the tour. This is a great exercise. Let me try and snap a short one off here quickly.

    I sing a song of pleasure.
    I sing a song of pain.
    I sing a song of children,
    Dying again.
    What’s that, the wife, asking.
    Nothing, I’m saying, just singing.
    Going out, nagging, needing to bother, asking again.
    Just for a stroll.
    See you soon, yes, the kiss passionless.
    And the door opens, and the real passion begins.

  18. I think it’s fascinating how so many of these little storylets are dark and sharp. It points out how intense the emotion needs to be in order to be communicated in such a short bit of text. Trying to encapsulate something more delicate would be a big challenge.

  19. These are great so far. Keep them coming. You have until midnight, Friday the 13th. I’ll post the winner on the 14th.

  20. Always up for a fun challenge …

    Half Past Midnight

    by Robert Swartwood

    Jimmy had gone into the closet to prove to Kevin the boogeyman didn’t exist. That had been over five minutes ago.


    No answer.

    He approached the door. Stood very still. Listened.

    Inside the closet came the sound of chewing.

    “Jimmy, stop it,” he said and opened the door.

    The boogeyman was crouched over Jimmy’s body.

    “Tastes just like chicken,” it said, and offered Kevin a piece of Jimmy’s arm.

  21. So many great stories! I was thinking the same thing Aimee said, about how it seemed dark was easier to accomplish in so few words, but then Robert had me laughing out loud — though it’s definitely black humor. I don’t tend to write dark and I’m having trouble coming up with something that works. Guess I’d better access my dark muse and see if she has any ideas for me.

  22. I thought I’d attempt another one, this time with a more delicate emotion.


    Her eyes are so dark as to be nearly black, gazing unblinking into mine. One sliver-shot coil of hair fell across her pale white neck, pulsing with the heartbeat there. The moment stretched like spider-silk as her fingers inched closer to my cheek. I couldn’t move, diaphragm fluttering.

    Then she pulled back, and I could breathe again.

  23. Me again. Here’s my offering, though it feels a bit more like a poem than a story, but then I’m a wordy kind of gal usually:

    Howling screams. Skin crawling whistles. Smothering noise, railing, shattering, devouring courage, until you cower, praying fervently, though you don’t believe in God.
    Darkness falls and the world fractures.
    Crashing, splintering, baptizing with fear.
    Will it never end?
    Tears at all that is lost.
    Next morning, it’s a painted sky, a stunning dawn shedding light on devastation.
    There is no choice. You take a breath and begin again.

  24. The picketers outside the clinic stab the air with angry shouts. Murderer, she hears. The procedure doesn’t take long. Doesn’t hurt much, the doctor explains. She nods, legs in stirrups. She lies back. Eyes clamped shut, the face of her molester flashes. The knife jerks suddenly, slicing her belly as a firecracker pops. The doctor slumps forward, brains spilling between her legs. The protestor’s last stand.

  25. I’m usually a morbid one, but i figured I’d swing it the other way:


    My senses are numb. My vision is hazy. Words hardly register on my ears. My skin is cold and I feel sweat freezing on the surface. I am aware of shapes all around me, standing in a silent procession.

    A male voice speaks but the consonants dissolve, leaving only vague vowel sounds.

    Then she speaks the words, “I do”.

    My new life begins, sharper and clearer than ever before.



  26. So here’s my submission. Thanks for the opportunity! It was a great exercise.


    “Eww! What’s the horrible smell?” She tosses her schoolbooks onto the kitchen table. Empty pill bottles roll onto the floor. “Smells like death warmed over.”

    “It’s your father.” Her mother smiles and continues to slice the juicy red meat. “He finally came home for dinner.”

    The oven timer buzzes.

  27. I want to thank everyone for the great stories you’ve shared here this week! And thanks to JA Konrath – Joe – for offering up such a simple yet incredibly effective challege for all of us. Joe will choose a winner for his book and one or the other of us will post the winner here sometime tomorrow.

    I’ll have a new challenge posted for your writing pleasure (or pain, perhaps) on Monday!

  28. One last entry to slip in before the midnight deadline. Lots of great thriller submissions here, but even mundane errands can be fraught with conflict…

    * * *

    Warm Pie

    Identical schedules, parallel lives. How else to explain Rusted Minivan beating me to Nick’s Pizzaria every Friday?

    Wouldn’t be so bad if Minivan didn’t gloat, cackling as she whipped into the prized loading zone, sentencing me to another death march past Wienerschnitzel.

    But not tonight.

    Cutting work early, I pass my doppelganger outside 7-11. She busts an illegal U-turn, jumps the median, and cracks an axel.

    “Eat that, Space Pig!”

  29. Some great stories here!

    I’ll restate the point of this exercise, even though I’m betting all of you realized it in the editing: Make every word count.

    If a word isn’t needed, lose it. If a sentence or a paragraph isn’t needed, definitely lose it.

    This is 2009. People have a myriad of entertainment choices other than reading. If you want to hook your reader, and keep them hooked, get to the point, fast. That means your stories must have zero fat.

    It was tough to pick a favorite here, and I read each entry a few times.

    I finally had to give the win to Karen, just because it’s so evil. Email me with your address to get your book. If you think Afraid is too scary for you, I can send you a different title.

    Thanks again for having me here, Laurin!

  30. Laurin,
    Thanks for hosting the contest. I enjoyed all of the stories and am really pleased that mine was picked out of the lot.

    For JOE to say that my story was evil….that’s high praise indeed.

    I’m going to post my full name, just in case some other Karen from Mentor is thinking about taking credit for my trek into the dark side. After all, I worked a full twenty minutes creating it, I don’t want someone else to steal my sick twisted idea.

    I’m going to ask Joe for a copy of Fuzzy Navel. I really am too afraid to read AFRAID.

    Thanks again,
    Karen Schindler
    Mentor, Ohio

  31. […] reading this post, I tried my hand at a short-short-short story of less than 70 […]

  32. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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