By Phil Plait | July 6, 2009 1:38 pm

When I was in high school, I wrote a lot of science fiction short stories. These were uniformly bad, mind you, bordering on unreadable. But it was good practice. It exercised my mind, I was always looking for ideas, and it helped me hone my writing skills. Well, maybe only a little, but I am technically a professional writer now, so it seems like maybe there’s something to be said about all that.

I’ve toyed with writing fiction over the years. I’ve got some novel ideas I may one day wrestle to the ground… but really, I need to cut my teeth first on some simpler writing first. I’m not really planning on using this blog for that, but then an interesting thing came my way.

A little while back, fellow professional writer Wil Wheaton posted a link on Twitter to a story he liked on a website called Ficly. It’s a free website where you can write and post stories, but the catch is they can only be 1024 characters long. Including spaces.

The story he linked to was fun. And Ficly allows you to write prequels and sequels. When I read it I was having a rough day, and was having a really hard time nailing down some writing I needed to do for work (yes, I work). So I thought, what the heck, and wrote a prequel. It’s not all that good, but it was fun to write. At first I felt guilty spending time on it when I had so much else to do, but what I found is that it shook loose some mental cobwebs, enabling me to finish the difficult writing job I had to do for work that day. Call it a palate cleanser.

… but then I remembered an idea I had for a story back in high school. It was a pretty good idea, but I couldn’t make it work. Now I realize the problem: I was putting in too much exposition, too much explaining. Ficly doesn’t allow you to do that. Hmmmm.

So I wrote the story, and it’s on Ficly now. Titled "Deep", those of you who have read my latest book may recognize some of the science in it. But there’s a twist…

I suspect that in the coming months there will be opportunities to write more. I may have to dig through my old high school stuff. You never know where the 1024 characters will come from.


Comments (51)

  1. The story somewhat reminds me of 1632 by Eric Flint (he has an entire series and spinoffs from the book). An Appalachian town is transferred in Time and Space from ‘modern day’ to 1632, in Europe (been a while since I read it, so don’t recall the details, but aliens and super-high tech was involved)


  2. About the new story: heh heh, careful what you wish for!
    Edit: hey someone beat me to that comment in the Ficly page comments!

  3. Nice story, I really liked it!

  4. Michelle

    Nice! Man that ficly place is pretty cool.

    …I wrote things back in high school too. All as horrible as the other. I still have most of them. In a drawer of my bedroom, full of them horrible stories and old artwork from as far as grade school.

    I… I’m scared of opening it!

  5. “When I was in high school, I wrote a lot of science fiction short stories. These were uniformly bad, mind you, bordering on unreadable.”

    Why don’t you let us be the judge of that. And if we decide to laugh, well, what are friends for?

  6. I like the sequel, too. Very entertaining, all ’round.

  7. That is what has always worried me about Captain Scarlet.

  8. inuk

    Great story

    Just small nitpick. Isnt 10^92 years too long to be near anything you could see given the expansion of space? The only black hole the guy could potentially see go off in this time is the one which was formed of his local group of galaxies, to which he is gravitationally bound. But it is hard to stay in orbit around something that loses mass overtime. Wouldn’t he spiral out after some time just to be carried away by space beyond the red shift horizon?

  9. Awesome! I have a few stories I could submit to this. I will bookmark this site!

  10. Brian Schlosser

    Great website!!! I have been writing “microprose” as writing excercises for the last year or so, but didn’t think to look for a community to support them.

    Oh, and, I had to write a sequel. So which of the two sequels is canon? 😉

  11. When Wil first tweeted and blogged about this I thought hmm maybe this will help me find my creativity again and then never gave it a second thought cause it got buried in the million thoughts that run through my brain at any given moment.

    Now you are blogging about it as well and now I am thinking hmmm maybe I should not let this piece of information get buried once again as it is really bumming me out lately that my creative spark appears to have faded.

  12. JeffS

    In the interest of accuracy and nerdiness, the article title should actually be “kibichars”.

  13. @ 13

    “kibichars” sounds like a Pokemon *giggles*

  14. Sili

    I hate being a prescriptivist, but why, oh why, do people insist on calling 1024 a kilo?

    Would you claim 128 words qualify as a drabble?

  15. Grizzly

    Puts me in mind of a great Asimov short story (not that yours is derivative, they’re not alike except perhaps in terms of timespan). The end of that had the ultimate computer declaring “Let their be light…”

    Great piece of fiction Phil. And as an author myself I have learned that at times we might be our own worst critic. Put your work out there, I think from this sample that it’s safe to say that you have a lot that deserves to be read.

  16. Grizzly, that was “The Last Question”, and what a corker it was.

    And Phil, please open up the tap on that creative writing, that was great to read!

  17. Damon

    Well played sir, very well played.

    And thank you for introducing me to that site!

  18. Great short story. Puts me in mind of some of Larry Niven’s very short, succinct tales. Well done, Phil!

  19. Stark

    My friends and I have been doing #140Story for a while now on Twitter, check them out and see what you think. :)

  20. Finally! Good stuff Phil. Keep banging them out.

  21. bill ringo

    Of course the prequel must include the flying spaghetti monster.

  22. dragonet2

    go you!

    I went from writing some fairly good, straightforward poetry to trying to write a novel in high school. I found it when I was cleaning out my files a while back, I had written about 150 pages. But. It was one plot complication after another, and to finish them all off I’d have had to written a metric ton of book….

    Since college I’ve written and had published heroic fantasy stories, and just sold one to a new publisher, Hadley Rille, that is a fantasy story set at a Renaissance Festival.

    I’ve also done public relations and technical writing and editing.

    But goodness, I’m hard pressed to keep a story under 3,000 words. Again, go you!

  23. Al

    Great Idea, Well written, sir.

  24. I’ll have to check out that site. Thanks. Once, a long time ago, in High School, I wrote a few science fiction stories. I even sent one off to be published. (Unfortunately, it was rejected.) Most of my works, in hindsight, aren’t that good, but I have two that still stand out to me. One is a short story and the other is more of a concept for a world that a story takes place in. (The story I wrote for that “world” wasn’t that good, but the concept of the world was.)

    On and off since High School, I’ve felt the urge to write more. Maybe I should take up writing again.

  25. Peter B


    Great story!

    Perhaps this would be a good time to invite you to become a member of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. Okay, it’s intended for Canberrans, but we have a fairly flexible definition of Canberra…!

    We’ve published eight anthologies of short stories, though I don’t think any of the stories we’ve published is as short as “Deep”.

  26. OK, you talked me into it (that and the next story). I signed up to ficly. I even posted a Bio and a first story.

    My God, what have you done to me! 😉

    By the way, your 1k story really is a fun read.

    (click my name above for my ficly link, likely the only time I’ll use that here).

  27. Greg in Austin

    You wrote a book?


  28. I haven’t read the short story yet, but I will. I wrote some horror stories when I was a kid -very bad horror tales. I wanted to be a writer from a very early age. I didn’t give up the idea for years, even after I realized I had no talent, and that I didn’t even like to read fiction. Ooops, forty years later, and I am finally, as if by accident, writing for a living.

  29. @Peter B
    Ah yes Canberra. Perfect place for spec fic. I don’t think there is a more fantasy prone area of Australia. 😉

  30. Would you be interested in writing the screenplay for Asteroids: The Movie?

  31. FenrirKar

    Heh, and to think, I just finished reading the final chapter in ‘Death From the Skies’ not 30 minutes ago! A neat little way to wrap up one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while.

  32. Fordi

    Sweet heads-up on the site. I’ll be participating – the story so far looks to have the potential for a VERY entertaining round-robin.

  33. TEO

    I really liked the story. It made me wonder. Who is this guy at the end of the universe? I know who or what I think it is, thats why I didn’t like the sequel. It made the guy (?) to human which I don’t think was Phils intention from the start.

  34. Big Al

    Phil, Phil, what have you done? I could have gotten along just fine without knowing about Now I’ll surely get fired. Damn your eyes.

  35. Shrike

    Thanks for the link! Nice story too.

    I have had this brewing on my mind for a long time.

    I’d really appreaciate comments.

  36. As I said in a comment on the story (posted under the name “Zerrakhi”), I had an idea for how it might have all started, specifically where the power to become immortal might originally come from, but not for what happens in between.

    Because you can’t write a pre-pre-…prequel without a prequel, I wrote it up as a separate story instead. It’s story number 3907 and I hope you can make something of it.

    Do I need to apologise for the fact that it’s unashamedly silly? Of course not. That’s what “unashamedly” means.

  37. Ken


    That story was *great*!

    It sounds to me like it would be perfect for the Drabblecast.

    Norm does an awsome job of reading and producing short stories, and this sounds like it would slot right in. :-)

  38. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Good one, I LOLEd (LOL, for Eternity).

    Even though I just saw a physically more interesting analog, about a quantum fluctuation that lasted a universe. The last two punch lines are eternal classics. 😮

    [That is also a very good back story to the main one.]

    I’ve seen The Very Short Stories before. Wonder how Hemingway hit on the 6 word format, but it’s perfect. Always liked Moore’s the best. (“Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time”)

    Let’s see, what can one do with 6 words?

    “The ninja vanished as a ”

    you can’t write a pre-pre-…prequel without a prequel

    So it’s prequels all the way down? That explains the immortality thingie in the first place.

  39. maidden

    You should participate in NaNoWriMo[]. I’ve tried twice and failed to reach the 50K words goal, but maybe this year…

  40. Gary Ansorge

    Phil : My brudder, the Rocket Scientist, had for several decades been intent upon writing the Great American Novel. While enrolled in a writing course with some famous writer, he was advised to take up writing poetry. Why? Because poetry is rife with metaphor, analogy,simile, etc and it’s best when verbiage is used most sparingly.

    Since undertaking that endeavor, his poetry has been published internationally, even in Britain and you know what sticklers those Brits are about THEIR mother tongue,,,almost as bad as the PArisians.

    One of the finest poets I ever knew was an electrical engineer/physicist. His attention to detail and use of metaphor was amazing.

    GAry 7

  41. Stone Age Scientist

    Hmmm, I believe it is the element of game which makes this fun and stimulating.

  42. Pieter Kok

    That’s a very nice story. Halfway through I thought it was the mind of God who, after he set the universe in motion, had overlooked a flaw in the design… However, that works only for a non-omnipotent, non-omniscient God, so your ending is much more satisfying! :)

  43. Stone Age Scientist

    Space Pocket would be at home in The Twilight Zone, or even Tales of the Unexpected. The latter if Phil’s dreamlike paranoia turns out to be actual horror at being kidnapped by “stewardess” aliens, who are about to conduct “sexperiments” on him.

    And of course, Deep would also serve as a nice sequel to this, whereupon Phil descends into coma after a “grueling” sexperience. In another dreamlike sequence, he blames his inadequacies (idiot) upon himself. And at the end of the black hole, he wakes up in a sunlit room, on Earth, with his wife staring lovingly at him. All’s well that ends well.

  44. Quiet Desperation

    My favorite ultra short story, of sorts, is in “Sirens Of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut. A peripheral character claims that, in the year 10 Million, the collective history of humanity has become so cumbersome that the first million years is simply dumped/erased/burned and replaced by the phrase, “Following the death of Christ, there was a period of readjustment that lasted for approximately one million years.”

  45. Paul M.

    Cool story.

    As I write this you are featured on the front page of ficly… you’re famous on the internet!

  46. NancyKz

    Discovered you through the featured story on ficly and decided to check out your blog. Texas and Arizona have me hooked. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff, both here and on ficly – which I also discovered through Wil Wheaton’s tweet.


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