A (cheesecake) Treatise
Ivy Tseng, Grade 12, Penrith High School
To construct a story in 500 words is no mean feat.
Instead it requires a certain amount of courage, ingenuity and cerebral excellence combined with an unnatural obsession for words and a pair of woolly orange workmen socks.
First, one must think of the perfect scenario- not too long but not too truncated that it flounders in shallowness and hackneyed cliché. A study of an individual within a setting or an excerpt of an important event such as an argument or a gushing sensory description of the natural environment are fairly good topics.
However, one must then think of originality. If one believes the propaganda put out by educational institutions, plagiarism is a mortal sin right next to murder and adultery, when, really, plagiarism is just plain stupid in common sense terms. Nobody, at least nobody in a sane state of mind would want to read a second- class, amateurish rendering of an Annie Proulx piece, where the plagiarist tried to hide the fact that they plagiarised by changing the names and using uglier words. Originality suggests freshness, originality suggests ‘never before seen’ and ‘once in a lifetime’ all painted in bright, shiny red letters with flashing lightbulbs all around them. Originality comes from thinking. And thinking comes from experience. And experience comes from- well that would be letting the proverbial cat out of the bag, now wouldn’t it?
Another thing one must think of when creating a short story that is limited within 500 words is to reframe the restrictions. Instead of thinking of it as, “Oh no, I only have 500 words! That’s nothing!” (exclamation marks purposely placed there), one must instead think, “Oh no, how can I possibly stretch my already short story to 500 words?”
Arthur C Clarke could do it. So could Ernest Hemingway. There have been multitudes of short stories considerably shorter than 500 words. The few sentences below constitute an entire story within itself:
She picked up the phone.
After listening to the dial tone for a while, she sighed, replacing the phone on the receiver.
Within those 23 words, one feels that one has been able to express a sense of longing, loneliness and separation. Despite the fact that nothing much happens, it is within the minutiae of daily life that the most excellent, bone cutting stories, of considerably shortened length are able to emerge. 500 words are as powerful, if not more so, than 5000 or even 50000 words- each word is the sinew which connects each sentence into a chewy, satisfying mouthful of ideas, imaginings, characters, relationships, settings. That each word is a suggestion- what I believe to be central in achieving an excellent short story lies in what is not said. Let the reader and their senses expand beyond the 500 words you have carefully selected and printed onto the page. What makes a story short and sweet like a mouthful of cheesecake is that it is the only key available to the reader to travel to another place.