Economizing words, or “How I learned to say more by saying less”

This year as I was working on my novel, I entered several writing contests. Most of them were fairly prescriptive demanding so many words about a specific prompt. Regardless of the constraints, it was easy writing, and I was able to successfully complete several entries before summer had ended. There was one contest that I struggled with, however. The Museo de la Palabra, or Museum of Words, sponsored by the Cesar Egido Serrano Foundation was a definite challenge. Their goal, “to unite people by using words,” through fiction writing.  Sounds innocuous enough, right? The catch, though, is that all stories had to be 100 words or less.

Let’s be real for a minute. Brevity is not my strong suit. I like to write and have the tendency to be fairly verbose. There is something so intoxicating about seeing one’s thoughts written out for all to see that it can be difficult to get to the point. Yet here I was presented with a unique challenge–to create a complete story in 100 words. It was a struggle to find that one experience that could tell a story that was meaningful  in so few words.

In the end, I picked two experiences, snippets really, of what my students experience in their daily lives as they navigate life and culture in America. Since the contest is still being judged, I cannot share those with you; however, I can share my first attempt at writing micro-fiction. This story entitled, “The Translator,” is based on a real experience I shared with one of my students when I first started teaching. Since the contest specified fiction, I didn’t feel it would be fair to submit this work, even though it was pretty funny and is one of my favorite stories to tell. It did help me to narrow my focus on one particular experience and to practice economizing my words.


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“A favor, please, maestra,” he begs, so when the doctor has quieted, he watches and waits.  My mind spins grasping at words, a synonym or a phrase that comes close.  I reject them all.  Desperately, I lower my clasped hands in front of my stomach and wave them back and forth like a snake.  A low “psst” emerges from my lips.  “¿Difícil?” I ask.  He reddens and shakes his head no.  When we leave, I tell him, “Let’s never speak of this again.” Later, I find that elusive word, “orinar,” forever destroying my dreams of translating. Defeated by urination.

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