A story composed entirely of one-syllable words

One of my most read posts ever is this one, a piece on why inflated, pretentious writing sucks. Part of what shaped that view was an essay I read in college that only used single-syllable words to demonstrate the beauty of simplicity. The title and author of that essay has long since left my memory, but the idea remains an important one to me.

I don’t know what made me think of it, but I decided tonight to try something similar with a work of flash fiction. Normally I revise the hell out of my stories and agonize over every line, but this is a raw experiment. That’s the fun of blogging, I suppose, not worrying about perfection or publication or adding to your body “legitimate” work. Tell me what you think, or try one like it on your own blog and post a link in the comments.


Barb Meant It

I know she saw me. I heard the noise, turned, and our eyes locked. Her teeth were bared, like a dog’s.

She meant to hit me.

In court, Barb tells the judge I “ran out.” She says she could not stop in time. Blah blah blah. It was pure chance she hit me, of all the scum on Earth, she says. Or, she tells the judge, it was guilt. That is, I ran out in the street to snuff it on a car hood from guilt for what I did to Gail, and by pure luck it was her car hood. A death wish, she calls it, which is a bunch of shit. I have no guilt, and, trust me, no death wish. I like it here. Well, I liked it back when I had yet to be mashed by a car.

Be straight, Barb. Own it. You meant to hit me. You meant to bounce me off your hood. You meant for my bones to break, my flesh to tear, my life to bleed out. I don’t blame you. You knew what I did to Gail. Worse, you knew I had fun with what I did to Gail. Poor Gail, still not found.

In court, I want to shout, “I know where she is, Barb. No one knows but me.” I want to taunt her with, “I played with her for days, Barb. She was lots of fun, first warm then cold.”

What would you do? Barb just lied! She said she did not see me, and they buy it for God’s sake. I want to hurt her soul with talk of Gail and all the bad things I did.

But Barb can’t hear me or see me. No one can. Not since I heard that car noise, saw Barb’s teeth and mad eyes, and felt that big, hard slam. A man turned to a bag of blood and bones, in a flash. A bag of bones deep in the cold ground now, just like Gail.

A ghost, doomed to walk that space not light or dark, up or down, in or out (or some crap like that… it’s not like they tell you), I go to court to hear Barb lie. She lies real good, and I guess she thinks court oaths are a joke too.

I mean, how could I have known Gail had a twin? A twin who is a stone cold bitch, natch.


My inspiration for this subject matter came indirectly from a “literary suspense” novel I just finished in which the killer, a mutilator of women, escapes at the end. I don’t mind dark or violent content (duh, I write horror stories), but I do find this conclusion distasteful and unsatisfying. Many good books have forced us to identify with a bad person or a criminal. However, this particular work left me feeling that the writer had two agendas: to set up a sequel and to screw with reader expectations, the latter of which is fine in some circumstances, but not in this one. Either that, or the writer truly thinks we like this repugnant character. I hope not. Anyway, the killer in the above story gets no such mercy from me.

Update: A two-syllable word found it’s way in thanks to a last-second tweak before I posted. Example # 753 why you can’t edit your own material.


47 responses to “A story composed entirely of one-syllable words

  • nrhatch

    Very forceful writing . . . with no extraneous syllables to get in the way of the push forward.

  • Kevin Brennan

    Good work! You sure pull it off. I think it could win a prize. 😝

  • skywalkerstoryteller

    Was missing your words today, so you rewarded me well with this very entertaining and well written story. I like simple too and the twist in the end of the story. Give us more.

  • Bee L. Kirk

    Love it! You’re good:) Writing is definitely your gift.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks, mate.*

      *See how I related to you just now?


      • Richard Leonard

        Yes, brilliantly done!
        I must apologise for semi-pointless comment. Last night was not a good night for reading blogs, let alone posting comments. To illustrate allow me to briefly go where you don’t want to go: I’ve been averaging >2K words/day on NaNo. Yesterday I wrote 242.
        That one-syllable exercise was very interesting. It reminds me of a lecture on obfuscation I once went through. Don’t use big words when diminutive ones are sufficient! As you showed, it can work.
        Abbreviation shouldn’t be such a long word, either. 😉

  • change it up editing

    I was so caught up in the story the first time that I had to go back and decompose it to really appreciate the simplicity. I think this will be my new example for writers who insist they need to use 75-cent words to sound “literary.” Nice job!

  • 1WriteWay

    Excellent story, Eric! Yes, it’s a great example of simplicity in telling a story, but it’s a really good story too!

  • Dave

    Great read, Eric. Liked the simplicity … and the story, but then I’m a horror/dark fiction kind of guy 🙂 Good example of keeping things simple making a piece of writing better.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    You know me, Eric, I’m all about keeping it simple. Great job…loved the pace! I’ve missed your posts. Dave and I thought you were hiding out until NaNoWriMo is over. 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      What is this N-thing you speak of???

      Actually I’ve been busy with a freelance edit, a process changeover at work, a convalescing wife, and a bunch of other things that zapped my time and will for blogging. Thanks for sticking with me. I hope I didn’t miss one of your posts.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    I was surprised at how undistracting it was that that story was written in monosyllables. Well done. Also, well done on your motivation for writing it. Personally, I don’t especially care for stories that force the reader/viewer to identify/sympathize with repellent characters. It may make for edgy storytelling, but does it really do anything to inform or improve the human condition? I don’t really believe it does.

    • ericjbaker

      I think it can work, like in Silence of the Lambs, for example, perhaps because Hannibal Lecter is helping Clarice catch another killer. Elmore Leonard certainly had a way of making criminals likable. Morally upstanding citizens make for good neighbors and boring main characters. That said, anyone with a sense of justice and empathy would want the murderer in this book to swallow a bullet. I sha’nt be reading the sequel, that much I know.

  • Uzoma

    This is effectively executed. When I read about your idea of sticking with one-syllable words for the sake of this narrative, I instantly knew that this would require a lil’ more work than usual to make the read enjoyable. Of course, you didn’t disappoint. I love the voice of the narrator … the monologue … and the twist in the end. Very clever.

    I learn something from you whenever I visit.

  • jumbledwriter

    Very nice. Would write more, but the mono way is hard work, even for this note. What I write here may not make sense.

  • Gry Ranfelt

    isn’t “turned” and “bared two-syllable words?
    the idea of simple writing makes perfect sense to me. The language is only the form of the message (story) but the message is what needs to be conveyed.
    My only problem with your flash fiction here is that it’s not clear what happened. Not to me, anyway. And then, again, the message is not clear and then it doesn’t really amtter that the language is “simple”. In fact a several-syllable word or two would probably have made it more coherent.
    But cudos to what you’re trying to prove.

    • ericjbaker

      But then I’d have to call it “A story composed entirely of one, two, three, and perhaps even four-syllable words,” which would be rather unwieldy! But seriously folks, it was tough to use one-syllable words when longer words would have worked better, and the vignette would have looked different if I didn’t restrict myself. It was more of a writing exercise than anything else: Pushing myself to be creative and avoid using my usual bag of tricks, as it were. I can say definitively, however, that “turned” and “bared” are one-syllable words, and Merriam-Webster and Oxford will both back me up on that.


      • Gry Ranfelt

        That’s fine then 🙂
        Yeah, I totally get that it was an exercise and a good one at that. It’s good to challenge ourselves 🙂 I just wanted us not to forget that there’s a reason we got all the high-prose mumbo jumbo to begin with – because sometimes we need longer words or fine prose.
        Suffice to say it got a bit out of hand, though …

  • LindaGHill

    This is a really great story, though I have to admit it took me a while to start getting into it. I have to wonder if, had I not known ahead of time it was all one-syllable words, it would have been easier to read. I found myself distracted by the fact.
    This is an excellent exercise and must have been a tough challenge. Very well done, I must say. 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks. While we’re admitting things, I have to admit that this is not normally the kind of story I would write, and I can totally get why it would be hard to penetrate at first. I think I said in one of the other comments that an exercise like this is valuable not because it produces a particularly great end result but because it pushes the writer to think differently and not rely on habits. I find myself turning to the same types of constructions without consciously meaning to, so maybe this will help expand my thinking.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      • LindaGHill

        Mmm, yeah. I did the same thing, experimenting with compressed writing. If you’re interested you can check it out on my blog. There’s a heading at the top called “Boy Series, One Through …” It’s a series, but obviously each part is short. 😛
        It was a fun exercise which came out much more prose-y than I usually write.

  • livelytwist

    I like that you took the challenge and published the results for us to see. To me, the story is very forceful. You have inspired me & probably others too, to stretch ourselves beyond the familiar. I’m looking forward to taking up the challenge, as soon as I can find time…

    Btw, what’s the two-syllable word? I tried to find it, and gave up 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      Somewhere in there I used “between,” but I spotted it and took it out. It was actually a better sentence with it, which shows that there are no absolutes in writing (except the one I just stated…)


  • Huw Thomas

    Ohh… yes. Very nice (or nasty). But also very… damn! I’m trying to think of a one syllable synonym for effective but it’s been a long day and my brain won’t co-operate.

  • lectorconstans

    That was great! If you had not told us up front, I would not have guessed what the deal was.

    It made me think of Hemingway – short, blunt sentences.

    Gry Ranfelt: Sometimes the syllable count is not that easy. “Fire” could be either one syllable or two – or maybe one-and-a half.

    Trivia: the longest one-syllable word: “strength”. (Or one of the longest.)

    I think I’ll try writing a 1200-page novel without once using the letter “Q”.

    And see if anybody notices.

    • ericjbaker

      Without the letter Q, eh? That seems like it would be quite eas-Damn!

      “Strength” is a word that trips me up whenever I have to type it. Too many consonants in a row. Feel free to compare me to Hemingway any time you want, by the way. I don’t mind living the fantasy for a couple of seconds.


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