NanoWeen Stories

By Phil Plait | October 31, 2011 5:07 pm

I used to dabble in writing fiction when I was younger, and really enjoyed it. I’ve had some interesting ideas filed away for years now, and then, in 2009, Wil Wheaton wrote about a site called Ficly, which inspired me to cold-start my fiction chops. Ficly only allows you to write micro-stories, with a total of 1024 characters (that is, letters, numbers, and punctuation; not story characters). That limit of only a few hundred words can really hone your skills! I had a lot of fun writing a couple of stories on Ficly called Deep, and Random Walk (the second of which is good for Halloween, though they’re both on the eerie side).

This morning, I was reading Twitter and suddenly wondered if it were possible to write even shorter stories. Twitter stories! They would have to be very short — duh — but still imply some story behind them. And this being Halloween, they had to be creepy. So I wrote one, gave it the hashtag #NanoWeenStories, and posted it:

I know, it’s a bit silly and tongue-in-cheek. But after posting it, I started thinking about this more, and realized it really could be fun. So I posted some more:

See? There’s an implied back story there, without any real set up or detail. I realized this was way too much fun, so I kept going:




The next thing I knew, a bunch of other folks started writing their own, too. A lot of those are really good, so if you have some time between doorbells, check them out.

I’m currently suffering from what I call "typewriter key jam", named for the condition when you hit too many typewriter keys at once and they all stick together: I have too many ideas to write, and they’re all stuck. I need to pick one and go. But in the meantime, these nanostories are a great way to keep the fingers busy.

Hmmm, busy fingers. I bet I can use that…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Geekery

Comments (29)

Links to this Post

  1. Ficly | Riverside Rambles | November 1, 2011
  1. Sounds like Flash fiction – shorter than short stories. A sub-genre of its own with problems of its own which is pretty hard to do well. (Click on my name for the wiki-basics.)

    Here’s the shortest thing I’ve successfully (???) written and apt for Halloween at a 100 words exactly including the title :

    Inheritors :

    They scurry, black bodies hid under brown wing-cases across blast-melted ruins, ash covered plains that were erstwhile cities. They crawl through bleached bones. It has been thousands of years since the fire brightness, the artificial sun-power burst and faded. When amid a different world; underfoot, meek, meaningless they’d chewed wires, frayed and electrocuted themselves, were drawn by roach bait into the dusty innards of the machinery of ultimate death. It had been a computer glitch, inspired by cockroach mouthparts, that had turned the world to fire and ashes and left us all as dust. The cockroaches had exterminated us.


    A bit of downer I’m afraid. Hope its not too grim for y’all.

  2. Keith Bowden

    Brilliant, Phil!

    (Neil Gaiman’s much too busy right now to do this sort of thing…)

  3. Pete Jackson

    Having enjoyed how homo sapiens are the pinnacle of evolution, she stretched her wings and thorax and flew off through the eye socket.

  4. tmac57

    The creature was “too short to be intimidating” they thought. His benign keening, lulled the masses into passive submission…easily dismissed as no more of a nuisance than the feral cats that howled in the back streets.
    But…how wrong they were.
    Like so many threats to human civilization before,the creature was underestimated.Like a shiver before a lightning strike,or a second guess before making a horrible life changing decision,humanity came AWAKE!!! Awake with the realization that their fate was sealed the day they unwittingly embraced, what would ultimately become the synonym for evil…Bieber!!!

  5. Harold

    I first heard of this kind of thing through game designer Andy Looney’s Nanofiction , which crams a setting, one or more characters, conflict, and resolution into 55 words.

  6. Bigfoot

    The gargantuan planet-eating creature moped at the blue and white orb his mother floated to him, sad that she always made him eat the crust.

  7. @ ^ Bigfoot : Lol. Great one. :-)

    Here’s another gruesome flash fiction tale for Halloween for y’all. Although, alas, I’m not sure all the non-cricket fans will get it :

    (You need to know a little cricketing terminology.)

    The Unfortunate Ending of the Saudi Arabian Cricket Tour :

    Run out by his batting partner for a diamond duck* with his partner then run out himself the following ball, a furious Bruce Kutt returns to the dressing room. Where heated words quickly turn into something far nastier and Kutt commits a brutal quadruple homicide with his bat. Arrested and convicted before a Saudi court, the judge invites one of the victims from the team to do the honours and personally carry out the death sentence by beheading as is Arabian custom.** Offer accepted. So it was that the surviving batsman executes the Late Kutt** for four.

    NB. The remainder of the tour like the late batsman was cut short.

    * Run out without facing a single ball.

    ** Yes, that is apparently what happens. In the Saudi system the victim can be offered the job of executing the criminal responsible.

    *** A type of shot – click on my name for example as executed by Indian batsman Rahul Dravid.


    120 words including title but excluding footnotes. More “gallows” humour with a bit of horror mixed in when you try to imagine it.

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ MTU : This link may hopefully provide some helpful explanations for the non-cricket fans here :

    For the Saudi criminal “justice” system see :

    which notes :

    Families of someone unlawfully killed can choose between demanding the death penalty or granting clemency in return for a payment of diyya, or blood money, by the perpetrator.

    Pretty sure I read somewhere the victim or relative can, if so desired, act as exceutioner themselves although I could be mistaken about that. Guess the surviving batmsman who executes Kutt would have to be the brother of one of the batsman. We’ve had some good cricketing brothers in the Aussie XI – eg. the Chappells, Waughs and Husseys – so that’s entirely plausible! 8)

    Plus, what do you know – Saudi Arabia actually has a cricket Eleven :

    which I didn’t know before and which means that story may be somewhat more likely to come true (yikes!) than I first thought! 😉 😮

  9. Darren Evans

    Deep really lit my fusion reactor. Nice work Phil.

  10. Kevin

    If you like short fiction like this try out the Drabblecast podcast, they do some great stories of 100 words and also 100 charictors

  11. Note to my widow: A) I’m not made of money. You let the funeral home upsell you on everything, didn’t you, Sweetie? B) If you’re going to pray for your husband to come back to life, don’t bury him first in a $10,000 bronze casket inside a concrete burial vault. It’s an exercise in frustration for the resurrected, I can tell you, and — seriously, Babe, $10,000? What were you thinking?

  12. tmac57

    Three thoughts entered the 60 year old widower’s mind,as his one leg dangled through the ceiling,and the rest of his injured trapped body lay painfully wedged between the rafters.
    I should have called the exterminator to check out the scratching!
    No one knows!!
    The RATS!!!

  13. Thomas Siefert

    Hmmm, short horror story:

    Congratulations BA, we just sold the film rights for your book to Michael Bay.

  14. Gary

    Actually, what you are doing is writing the initial “grabber” line and letting the reader write the rest of the story. A nice trick, but generating something of quality to follow is harder. Here’s an idea for a contest: you write the grabber and readers can write the stories that follow. You must have some extra schwag around for a prize…

  15. Reading these bits of flash fiction just gave me an idea for an AI test. If a computer can figure out the entire story based on these teeny, tiny cues, we should consider it to be even more intelligent than a machine which can pass the Turing test… I’d say I’m off to the lab but this is one of those decade long projects that needs a lot of funds and I don’t want to give the impression that I might have a definitive answer for how to make it work.

    @Thomas, #14:
    “Congratulations BA, we just sold the film rights for your book to Michael Bay.”

    That line would make H.P. Lovecraft void his bowels in abject horror. And the man dreamed pure nightmare fuel as it was.

  16. GrogInOhio

    That was a GREAT deal of fun!

  17. Joseph G

    “The rest of the night went swimmingly. It was only once he dumped out his bag under the bright kitchen light that he realized it wasn’t a caramel apple. It wasn’t a caramel apple at all.”

    EDIT: D’oh! I didn’t realize that Phil already covered the “thing in the trick-or-treat” bag angle. I need to read more carefully!

  18. Joseph G

    @Greg Fish: Just wondering, do you spend any time on “Nightmare fuel” is something I’ve only encountered from Tropers :)

  19. Joseph G

    I loved “Deep”, Phil. Talk about scary!
    Reminds me of Stephen King’s short story “Jaunt”. The setting is different, but the source of horror is the same :)

  20. Joseph G

    @1 MTU: Talk about a killer bug in the system 😛

  21. Checkmate1

    There is the classic “shortest short story” Six words: For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
    I do not know the original author. To this could be added: For Sale. Casket. Used once.

  22. @Joseph, #22


  23. Joseph G

    @24 Greg: Ahhh 😀 There’s probably some overlap, there. I read Cracked obsessively, myself. Almost as much so as BA 😉

  24. Joseph G

    When I first saw “NanoWeen,” I was envisioning something like this:

    “More and more of them appeared, even as the trees were dissolved, the grass dismantled, even the animals taken apart molecule by molecule. Humans tried to escape the spreading onslaught, but they too would be taken – not destroyed, exactly, for nothing is ever truly destroyed – but changed. The landmasses of the world changed from green to yellow to orange, visible from space, but there were none on earth left to behold the scene. When the technicians had tested the assemblers, they had given them all the instructions they needed, but had forgotten the most crucial step – when to stop. Were the test undertaken around Christmas, the results might have looked at first glance far more natural. When it was over, the land was covered, horizon to horizon, sea to sea, with grinning orange jack-o-lanterns.”

  25. Tesseract

    A podcast called the Drabblecast has something they call a weekly “Twitfic” contest.


  26. Rick Pikul

    @Checkmate1: That’s by Hemingway.

  27. Ron Lane

    When I saw:

    “…and that’s when the pumpkins decided to carve back.”

    What immediately popped into my head was:

    Next, on Sick Sad World!

    La la la la laaaa…


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