Monday musings on Australian literature: #8wordstory

Do you like writing challenges?

Last year I started a Monday Musings sub-series on Australia’s state writers centres. So far I’ve written on four, and I should be getting on with it. However, I can’t resist returning, today, to the Queensland Writers’ Centre (previous post) to share a wonderful campaign they ran late last year. Called #8wordstory, it asked participants to pen a story in 8 words. The response was astonishing.

#8wordstory ran, officially, from 30 October to 26 November last year, and, as they say on their About page, involved asking “everyone, young or old, writer and non-writer alike, to share a story …”. The project was a partnership with three companies, but most significantly with, a large Queensland billboard and signage company, who have a Community Partnership Program. Are you getting the picture? Because what happened was that each week 20 8-word-stories were selected by the judge – author Nick Earls – and displayed on digital billboards around Brisbane, and via QWC’s social media, such as Twitter (which is where I discovered it, and add it to my list of ideas for Monday Musings.)

In a Books + Publishing report on 27 November – the day after the campaign ended – the QWC is quoted as saying that it “surpassed all expectations with over 10,000 entries submitted”. This report goes on to say that the entrants included “the entrants were New York Times bestselling authors, Australian award-winning writers, Australian and international publishing houses, the Queensland Police Service and hundreds of school children.” Wow, eh?

So, why 8 words? QWC explains this on the above-mentioned About page. They say that “a billboard gives you a few seconds to read, register, and understand. And 8 words gives you just enough canvas to make an impact. It is the perfect number where storytelling and advertising meet.” They provided Tips for people to help them get started, tips which look generally useful as well as to the goal of writing a story in 8 words. The tips are (and they are further elaborated on their page):

  • Start with a simple idea: this and the next tip, in particular, make me think of haiku
  • One thing should happen
  • Don’t use too many characters: haha, sounds sensible to me, otherwise your story might be all people and no action.
  • Find an emotional tone
  • Use all your senses
  • Write long first, then take out unnecessary words: sounds like my blog post writing! Except I don’t take out enough words, I know.
  • Punctuate or perish: all I can say to this is Yes, Yes, Yes!
  • Make every word count: well, yes.

They also had a special page of advice and resources for schools.

And, of course, they have a page listing ALL the stories, though when I say page, I actually mean 83 of them, presented in reverse order of submission. The stories apparently had to be written to one of four themes – Home, Love, Change, Play. There is a search box at the bottom of each story page, though it doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to.

I’m not sure about copyright, but I’ll share just a few assuming that it’s OK as long as I don’t share them all!

Surrounded by complete idiots. Damn those mirrored walls. (Donny Hawthorne, Change)

I woke with wings, stolen in a dream. (Isobelle Carmody, Change)

Once upon a time there was the earth … (@julescdr, Home)

Holding her fractured cheek she said “I’m sorry”. (Rebecca Hafner, Home)

In the pages, another world is my home. (JWilliams, Home)

You shouldn’t confuse ‘Don’t! Stop!’ with ‘Don’t stop’. (Lynne Lumsden Green, Love)

Your letters in the compost. The roses blooming. (Nike Sulway, Love)

He complimented her smile and then erased it. (jessicalim, Love)

Words can inspire and words can destroy. Choose. (Byron, 12, Love)

Can we all fit in the band wagon? (Jane Meehan, Play)

All seven numbers! Panicked, she swallowed the form. (@KrissyKneen, Play)

With confidence he plays the cards he’s dealt. (@VacenTaylor, Play)

Some are by published authors known to me – Isobelle Carmody, Nike Sulway and Krissy Kneen  – but the others I chose because they attracted my attention in my random browse and offer some variety in terms of tone and intent.

Author Jessica White (whose Entitlement I’ve reviewed here) blogged about her #8wordstory, which was selected for a billboard. Check it out to see the inspiration and how it looked. And Queensland crime author, MT Ellis, also blogged her billboarded story.

If you’d like to make your comment an 8wordstory, I’d love it. But if, like me, you suffer from verbal diarrhoea, don’t let that stop you commenting. I’d love to hear your thoughts regardless …

30 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: #8wordstory

  1. I had an 8 word story published to a billboard. So exciting, but then my crappy internet didn’t allow for me to view my story on the billboard at its specified screening time and I’ve had no success in locating it using the search funtion on the website. I saved the email though, it did happen! Even though I missed it!

    • Oh congratulations Theresa, well done. Care to share it in the comments here? The search function is absolutely hopeless. You can’t search in the names of the authors, and I struggled to find some by words in the stories too. A real shame. With 10,000 stories over 83 pages it would be hard to find – though if you have the date you might be able to narrow it down as I think page 1 contains the last stories and page 83 the first ones, but I didn’t look more carefully to see if they are listed completely chronologically.

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