Recipe for a 250-Word Story

Diane Callahan
4 min readFeb 20, 2022
Title thumbnail that reads “Recipe for a 250-Word Story” alongisde a person with a notebook and cup of coffee

The secret recipe for an enticing story is the same, no matter the word count. But if you can cook up a concise and coherent story in only 250 words, those skills will help you tackle bigger and more complex creations.

You might be wondering, “When would I ever need to make a story that short?” There are a number of online venues that publish flash fiction (typically under 1,500 words) and microfiction (typically under 300 words), such as Brevity, Wigleaf, and Daily Science Fiction. NYC Midnight also hosts a Microfiction Challenge for 250-word and 100-word stories.

Plus, it can just be a fun exercise to write a complete story in under an hour!

Below is my personal recipe for writing microfiction, along with a story I wrote using those steps. You might find variations that work better for your tastes. This post was inspired by my collaboration video on Joe Webb’s YouTube channel, where we both wrote a story using the same prompt.

A spread of baking ingredients, including eggs, salt, and flour

Ingredients:

+ A genre and/or prompt constraint (e.g., write a ghost story featuring the action of “singing” and the word “hourglass”)

+ 1 to 3 characters (more than that would be overpowering)

+ A point of view and verb tense (first, third, or second POV; past or present tense, or maybe even future tense if you’re feeling spicy)

+ Primary emotional flavor (e.g., whimsical, mysterious, dark)

+ Final “twist” or “turn,” where the character’s/reader’s understanding of the story changes, or there’s a shift in mood (e.g., from happy to sad), or the reader is given a vivid final image

Instructions:

1. Brainstorm ideas based on the constraints. List different ways you could interpret the prompt beyond the obvious (for “hourglass,” I considered an hourglass-shaped city or a cat with an hourglass-shaped patch of fur).

2. Write without worrying about the word count. Remember that your first line needs to feature an engaging hook — it should involve some type of conflict, such as death, an argument, or…

Diane Callahan

Fiction writer and editor, a.k.a. YouTuber Quotidian Writer. www.quotidianwriter.com