At the end of March 2023, Sumitra from the Twitter #WritingCommunity announced a #30Words30Days challenge. During April, Sumitra and Writing Dani would tweet daily prompt words at 8 am and invite writers to share a 30-word story inspired by the prompt. “No prizes, just for the joy of writing together!”
The timing was perfect because I’d written a 61-word story for my sixty-first birthday on 30 March. And when I shared the blog post about this and my other microfiction in early April, I commented I was also taking part in the #30Words30Days challenge on Twitter.
As I observed in my 2017 review of Loopholes (shared on Tall And True), a microfiction collection by Thirroul-based author Susan McCreery, brevity is the key to good microfiction. With no time for plot and character development, every word must count. And even more than longer-form genres, it relies on a writer’s skill and the reader’s imagination to tell a story.
And if Hemingway could write a six-word story, how hard could it be to write a thirty-word story? Or thirty of them?
The Creative Process
I composed most of my thirty 30-word stories in April first thing in the morning, as the challenge became a fun and creative kick-start to my writing day. Typically, the ideas came to me quickly after reading the prompt word, and the stories were random creations. But some were inspired by topical events or memories.
For instance, an Easter egg hunt was an obvious setting for the Sharing prompt on the 11th, and my fear for the fate of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament Referendum in Australia inspired the Support story on the 17th.
I may have been thinking about a “kitchen sink” social media platform when writing the Ideology piece on the 21st, and memories of a Native bunch of flowers I ordered for my dear Nan in 1996 came in handy on the 26th. And I conspired to finish the challenge on the 30th using the Belong prompt to thank the Twitter #WritingCommunity for their affirming feedback over the month.
A few stories required an edit after tweeting, typically tweaking a word here or there. But I rewrote the Clan tweet on the 28th (twice) because, as I admitted on Facebook, after listening to more of the Irish band featured in my story, I realised I’d insulted The Clan’s punk rock credentials.
My 30-Word Stories
I tweeted the following 30-word stories during April for the #30Words30Days challenge. The stories are in date order, with the prompt words in italics and linked to the tweet and any comments on Twitter:
1. They say it takes a village to raise a child. But we don’t live in a village. So how do I raise my child when we’re homeless on the streets?
2. My dog is on his side at the vet, staring at me with worried eyes. Dogs don’t talk, but they communicate with us. I’ll stay here till the end, buddy.
3. Commander in Chief. He smirked. No more firing dumb bimbos and beefcakes on TV. He had the codes again. And this time, he’d use them to fire his great legacy.
4. The house is quiet. The kids are at school, and my wife left early for the office. No words again. I gather an overnight bag and leave the family home.
5. She stared through the razor wire-topped cyclone fencing at the laughing children playing on the beach. Her people had once camped and fished on those sands. Now they were outcasts.
6. A mob in black marches down the street, shouting and waving fists. Another mob in white confronts them. He watches from the footpath, a solitary figure not supporting either side.
7. Nerves jangling at the checkpoint. There’s a short queue, women crossing to shop on the black market, and an old man. I pull out my identity papers and wait, sweating.
8. One block, two blocks, three blocks, four. If only life could be as simple as a LEGO build. I sigh, stand and wince painfully, stepping barefoot on a stray block.
9. She no longer watches TV news to avoid feeling the oppression in the world falling upon her shoulders. On some nights, she even felt as though gravity was crushing her.
10. After our endless history of tribal conflicts and brutal wars, few thought anything could unite humanity to act together as one. But then, NASA detected an object hurtling towards us.
11. “One for you and two for me. Three for you and four for me.” My big sister is sharing our Easter Egg Hunt. Her counting sounds right, but something’s wrong!
12: “What you need to understand and respect,” the senior partner explained to her, “is our hierarchy.” She smiled and nodded. But glanced up at the ceiling and thought, Not likely!
13. Golden Arches services ahead. I want to push on for another hour, but the family gang up on me. “Please, Dad!” “Yes, yes, please, Dad.” “Let’s take a break, Darl.”
14. She stared at the divorce papers. It had taken thirty years, but she finally realised his suggestion of the Mötley Crüe concert for their first date was a bad omen.
15. The ourGov app on his phone pinged the notification of a summons for Civic Reeducation. He had expected it after exceeding the demerit points limit for Individual Actions and Thoughts.
16. Food spilled from the table at the global conference feast. I felt nausea rising, remembering the line of gaunt, hungry faces on the other side of the barbed wire fence.
17. Initially popular, the proposition lost support after scare-mongering by conservative commentators and politicians and attacks in vested interest media. Yet I held out hope for a fair and just outcome.
18. “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Uncle asks. I bounce my ball. “Play for a college basketball team.” Uncle smirks, but I keep bouncing my ball.
19. Dad told me I mustn’t talk to strangers, so I didn’t thank the old white-bearded man who stopped to help me straighten my handlebars when I fell off my bike.
20. His culture demanded the offer of hospitality to visitors. But he wondered whether this included extending it to his bug-eyed, green-skinned guest whose flying saucer had squashed his vegetable garden.
21. It had been a forum for the frank exchange of ideas. But the online debates had grown heated, and opposing sides entrenched. And now, it was a battleground of ideology.
22. The priest and mourners had left, but I remained at the silent graveside. After all the years of shouting at each other, Mum and Dad lay adjacent, finally at peace.
23. He stared at the creased and stubbly face in the mirror and, for a moment, was tempted to reach for his razor. But that morning ritual was in the past.
24. The uniform of the writers’ circle was slacks and cardigans. And watching from a corner as cliques mingled over tea and biscuits, she knew she wouldn’t be back next week.
25. His back ached from cleaning the dorm floor with a toothbrush. But the initiation was worth it because now he would graduate and be one of the old boys club.
26. “Happy Birthday, Gran,” the card with the flowers said. The grandkids were a joy. But she wished they’d learn she preferred the banksias of her childhood bush to non-native proteas.
27. The discovery of the space-time portal heralded the dawn of interstellar travel. But the prospect of meeting alien intelligence raised uncomfortable questions about humanity’s existence and place in the universe.
28. The singer wanted the band to become Celtic punk rockers, playing our traditional songs with thrashing chords and vocals. So we sacked him because we’re more Clannad than The Clan.
29. “Son,” the foreman said on my first day, “do right by the company, and you’ll have a job for life.” Now I’m retiring. Is it the end of life, too?
30. Imposter syndrome wracked him and his work. But occasional kind words and positive feedback eased its severity. And they left him feeling like he belonged and inspired him to continue.
As an experiment during the #30Words30Days challenge, I signed up for ChatGPT and asked the AI bot to compose a 30-word story using the 22nd prompt, Adjacent.
As I shared on Twitter, it took a dozen attempts to get ChatGPT to follow the brief and not use more or fewer words. And most of its stories were romances between lonely people living adjacent to each other and, interestingly, featured cats! But eventually, it came up with a decent effort:
The adjacent room was empty, but the sound of shuffling feet and soft whispers continued. She pressed her ear to the wall, longing for a connection she could never have.
I tried again on the 23rd for Ritual. And this time, the ChatGPT story was spot on 30 words the first time, not a romance, and there was no mention of cats:
As the full moon rose, she lit the candles and began her ritual. Her heart pounded as she whispered her intentions, feeling the power of the universe at her fingertips.
I had one more play with ChatGPT on the 27th for the daily prompt word Meeting. Unfortunately, the story was only 27 words and was enough to put me off AI-generated microfiction for life:
They met at the cafe, strangers with a shared love for books. The conversation flowed like ink on paper. Months later, they married among shelves of novels.
I enjoyed April’s #30Words30Days writing challenge, and it’s hard to believe I’m no longer starting my days searching Twitter for the 30-word story prompt.
Apart from being a creative kick-start to my daily writing, the challenge felt serendipitous because I had just shared the blog post about my 61-word birthday story and all my other microfiction pieces.
And this has inspired me to publish a collection of microfiction later in the year, from my 400-word short-short stories to the 61-word birthday story and other 50 to 20-word pieces, and even my Hemmingway-esque one-sentence story.
And, of course, I’ll include my #30Words30Days stories!
© 2023 Robert Fairhead
N.B. You might also enjoy listening to the Three Minute Microfiction episode featuring my writing on the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast.
Note: This post originally appeared on Tall And True.
Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.