Volume; #SixSentenceStory

Volume  by D. Avery

How excited they’d been on their wedding day, naively going through the rituals, blithely echoing and agreeing to conditions far off in the future, so unimaginable then, and now here they were, till death do them part. Elsa could say how many years they’d been married in total, but for better or for worse couldn’t say exactly when the time had become interminable.

How long had his chewing been so audible, she wondered, and had his breathing always been so loud? From her corner chair she could hear every whistle, wheeze and expectorant of various states of matter that had cause to enter or exit his aging body, yet when he directed speech her way he seemed only barely able to muster an incoherent mumble.

Removing one blaring ear bud he finally looked up from his phone, and repeated for her, louder and slower, “I said, we have so many memories to celebrate on our anniversary.”

“Yes, volumes,” she replied, but he didn’t hear her.

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six sentence story copy

The word from Denise at GirlieOntheEdge is “volume”, the rules are to use that word in a six sentence story. The  link is HERE

TUFF Schooling

prompt-chompWe have all heard that teaching is tough. That’s not why this teacher got going and got out, but were I still teaching I would want to teach TUFF and use it with students and colleagues.

TUFF, The Ultimate Flash Fiction, developed by Charli Mills, is a tool of reduction, revision, and refining one’s writing. She explains it further in a recent interview at The Saddle Up Saloon, or see Charli’s explanation HERE. I have discussed and shown the TUFF process at ShiftnShake with some of my fiction writing, for example in Tuff Love, and in Styling. And to clarify, though I may use the term flash fiction out of habit, the applications (and the Carrot Ranch challenges) are certainly not restricted to fiction writing.

At the heart of TUFF is the 99 word piece of writing, at least that’s the word count arrived at by Charli and her Carrot Ranchers for the weekly writing challenges. The main idea is a word restriction, no more, no less, but I believe a number near to a hundred is good for both writer and reader. As schools are full of writers and readers, let’s examine these flash fiction tools, the 99 word constraint and TUFF, with students and teachers in mind, for these tools are advantageous to both groups.

In many ways teaching is like blogging. Even before Covid and remote learning, much of the communication is digital and many teachers maintain a website and social media accounts related to their classrooms. For those communications and word snapshots teachers should want to become effective at a ‘less is more’ style of writing. Specific emails or messages, especially those difficult ones that teachers sometimes must write to parents, principals, or colleagues, also benefit from the steps proscribed for TUFF. Write the one you will not send first; pour it out on the page, uncensored. That’s the free-write. Then pare that down (or build it up) to 99 words, words that might be more suitable for your audience yet still maintains the point that has to be made. To be sure of that point and your word choice, go the next steps; reduce those 99 to 59 then 9 words. You will see your word choice improve, your point made stronger and more clear with these reductions. You will also be much calmer and clearer than when you spilled the free-write. Now pick and choose from these versions to build another 99-word version. In this application, the difficult email, 99 words is plenty, and is about the most people are going to want to read. You may even want to revise the 59- or 9-word version and keep the message even briefer.

A teacher would also benefit from using TUFF for vision statements and goal setting, whether it’s at the beginning of a new school year, term, or unit of study. Bloggers were encouraged to do something similar at Carrot Ranch’s Saddle Up Saloon; you can see my take on that HERE. For teachers this could be a powerful exercise personally and professionally and again, could be helpful on social media and communication sites.

What teachers really need is time; having students practice word restrictions and TUFF practices can help with that. Writing teachers, English teachers, want their students writing. Some students want to write. Many don’t. The 99-word (or something like) challenge meets the needs of students of different abilities and ambitions. 99 words is doable, and the restriction, the rule of no more, no less, makes it a challenge, a puzzle, and as such is inherently engaging. Those students that write easily and prolifically will be more mindful of quality as they focus more on the story they want to tell and pare it down to its essence. Those students that find writing laborious will have an achievable task and with a specific, set word goal for their writing they will not feel overwhelmed and adrift. The 99-word constraint serves as both modification and challenge, and all students will be practicing craft and narrative structures. The advantage to the teacher, beyond having students who are actively writing, is that they only have to read 99 words per student and can more easily evaluate those pieces for whatever element they are focusing on. And of course TUFF comes into play when a piece of writing wants to be furthered; revised and expanded, but first getting distilled through reductions and revisions— 99, 59, 9, then some larger set number. This is where student choice could be elicited, which also fosters engagement. And again, though I use terms like ‘story’ and ‘fiction’, these practices apply to any form and genre, which means any subject can benefit, not just English classes, but math and science, social studies and health class.

If students were used to TUFF writing— free-write, focus, contract, expand— they could apply it to any subject in school, and teachers could assign a specific word count for written responses. A 9-word response to a geography question is not an easier task than a paragraph or essay, not if it answers the question. The go-getters will write that essay or at least the free-write version to get at that 9-word essence. The slacker in the back row who usually doesn’t write anything will write 9 words or even 59 because now it is an achievable set amount and it’s fair, everyone is writing that amount. Teachers might even be surprised to see that that slacker did take something in when the showing of it has specific limits as opposed to the vague and demeaning “just write some” or “write what you can”. Students nowadays are expected to write in all subjects, even math, and practicing TUFF can make any student more adept and effective in their responses. The teacher has less verbiage to wade through and can more readily read responses for content knowledge and synthesis. In any subject students will also have a tool to self-assess as they become meta-cognitive through this writing process. Teachers and students will see what questions need to be asked and addressed for deeper understanding of the topic at hand.

TUFF can be used in any subject area, and a STEM class does not need to mean just expository writing. TUFF should also be used playfully and creatively; why not have math students writing stories or fables? Why not learn what a student knows about the rock cycle by writing from a rock’s point of view? Using TUFF in classrooms regardless of subject provides a means of tapping into multiple intelligences and is a means of providing academic choice and creativity. A teaching staff that uses TUFF for themselves and in their classrooms could have productive conversations about teaching and assessing and would be set for cross curricular collaboration. Tuff could see teachers as well as students more engaged and more effective. With remote learning still happening in many schools, TUFF assignments could garner more student interest and completion and make assessment more streamlined for the teacher.

I have used TUFF in the ways mentioned, in my own writing, and with students. I enjoy it for the insights it engenders. The Carrot Ranch Rodeo, a month long series of writing contests, begins with the TUFF contest on Monday and different 99-word contests every Tuesday throughout October. Try it out. It is an excellent way to stretch your writing muscles and to examine your own writing through the revisions. The practice will provide a tool for your kit to help you decide, “More? Or Less?” as you develop and grow stories— or students.

Meet poet and author D. Avery plus review

Writingtoberead read and reviewed one of my books! Thank you Robbie!

Writing to be Read

Today, I am delighted to welcome poet and author D. Avery. Ms Avery is the creator of the fun and well-known characters Kid and Pal who frequent Carrot Ranch Literary Community She also has her own blog where she shares her flash fiction, poetry and other literary endeavours. You can find her blog here: https://shiftnshake.wordpress.com/.

Treasuring Poetry

At first I was thrilled to be asked to participate in Treasuring Poetry with Writing to be Read and Robbie Cheadle. Then I read the questions! Too hard! Actually, I misread the questions and was flustered enough to consider who my favorite poet might be, let alone poem.

Robbie’s questions led me down many a rabbit hole, but perhaps not so many as I might have if I were under the same roof as my collection of poetry books. I’m not, so I let my mind travel and recall those shelves…

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CRLC Challenge; Mice

square-template12Yikes, I almost didn’t make it for the latest Carrot Ranch Literary Community’s weekly flash fiction challenge, but Ilene Higginbottom insisted (finally) on the following. The prompt was to write a story of mice, in 99 words, no more no  less.

Caught Out  by D. Avery

“I’ve always been handy at catching them, but I end up feeling bad for them. They can be so cute.”

“Hi girls.” Though late in joining Ilene and Kristof, Marge jumped right into the conversation. “You can’t feel bad for them Ilene. They’re dirty, they get all through your stuff… there’s no living with them.”

Ilene’s brows went up, but she agreed with Marge. “Yes, I have definitely found that it is easier to live without them than learning to live with them.”

“Don’t be soft, Ilene. You have to kill them.”

“Marge, we’re talking about men, not mice.”

Kettle; #SixSentenceStory

six sentence story copyI’m in with my Six Sentences! I can’t even remember last week or the prompt word, only know that I missed showing up with a response. This week that recurring farm family from Vermont has saved me from such remorse and regret. In this case the prompt word, “kettle”, is this fictional family’s heirloom. Thank you Denise at GirlieOntheEdge for being the Six Sentence Story hostess with the mostest. The linkup for stories is actually tomorrow.

Living History   by D. Avery

She found him in the old part of the barn with its dark slate foundation and thick roughhewn beams and asked, “Where’s Hope?”

He pointed at the old cast iron kettle and explained, “I told her the story of this old sugar kettle, the story everyone in my family has always told their children— of course she’s the first to have wanted to go underneath the upturned kettle herself.”

Her look interrupted his thoughts as he remembered how he and his sister had been affected by the story, how they had been tortured enough imagining the experience, had never wanted to actually experience what it was like to curl up under that dark charred cauldron. He lifted a side of the kettle and Hope rolled out, uncurled blinking at them, more thoughtful than shaken. “And the bounty hunters searched the house and the barn but never looked underneath this?”

“That’s right, Hope, and soon after, your great-great-great-grandfather sold a store of maple sugar that had also come from the kettle, though he knew he wouldn’t get a good price; but he also knew he couldn’t very well be driving an empty wagon all the way to Newport.”

Moon Dreams; #d’Verse, Prosery Monday

From the Deep  by D. Avery

They were here before the beginning. They were the giants that walked the world before the world was. They were the world.

But the world as it came to be known had to be created to be known.

The gods did that. They did that in the way that gods do; bored and lonely, they started thinking up things.

Where did these gods come from?

Maybe the giants had been bored too. Maybe they weren’t careful and thought of gods, letting them escape from themselves like farts.

But the gods were afraid and jealous of the giants so they slew them and used their parts to give form to their thoughts, thus creating the world.

The giants just want to be remembered, but the gods remain hostile. The patient giants live deep under the primeval seas. In their dreams they sleep with the moon.

dverselogoMerril from d’Verse Pub for Poets would have us write 144 words or less of prose but include a line from Mary Oliver’s “Death at Wind River”, “In their dreams they sleep with the moon.” Perhaps you can tell that I have been reading Marie-Louise Von Franz’s book, Creation Myths. This is not any particular creation story but includes motifs common to many.

CRLC Challenge; Heard (Again) on the Radio


This is a second take on the September 10 Carrot Ranch prompt, to, in 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes something heard on the radio. It can be from any station or era. What is heard? A song, announcement, ad? Think of how radio connects people and places. Go where the prompt leads! Go to Carrot Ranch for more.

Beyond    by D. Avery

They pulled the door shut against the snow squall. “We made it.”

He fumbled for a switch. “There’s still electricity.” Then the lights flickered out.

“Not surprising in this storm, but look, there’s wood, and there’s coals glowing in the fireplace. The owner must have preheated the cabin for us.” He soon had a fire blazing. She spotted a battery-powered radio.

Roads becoming impassable…

“Radio works… now for this lantern.”

Police have suspended their search for an escaped serial killer.

The lantern beam encircled them like a snare. Stepping from the shadowed edge of light, a silhouette took form.

CRLC Challenge; Heard on the Radio

Sound Tracks by D. Avery

He’s still playing his radio station, even after they’d argued about it. She would break up with him. At school. Not tonight. So tired. Cold. Can’t even reach the radio dial.

They disagree on music. But it isn’t just that. His stupid car. His recklessness. Speeding up as she begs him to slow down. Him never admitting when she’s right.

They sit apart, both silent in the front seat. Maybe he’s finally listening; now she hears her favorite songs, ones she’d listened to when she was little. She feels warmer, lighter.

Red lights scrape the roadway in grim silence.


square-template9 The September 10, 2020 prompt from the Ranch is to, in 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes something heard on the radio. It can be from any station or era. What is heard? A song, announcement, ad? Think of how radio connects people and places. Go where the prompt leads! Go to Carrot Ranch for more.

CRLC Challenge; High Winds

square-template3The following is in response to the September 3, 2020, challenge from Charli at Carrot Ranch: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about high winds. It can be on land, sea or in outer space. Who is facing the wind or protected from it? Go where the prompt leads!”

Breakwater       by D. Avery

Stories distracted and comforted her younger sister. “One night a mighty wind banged and tore at the trailer until the trailer lifted right into the air and carried the two girls far away, where they lived just them.”

“No dad?”

“No. A big tree killed him. The mom cried and didn’t even notice her girls were gone. But they lived happily ever after in the candy meadow.”

Sudden pounding and roaring stole the younger girl’s smile.

“It’s just that wind, Sis. You stay down.” Biting her trembling lip, the older girl stepped into the hall to meet the storm.

Twist Again; #SixSentenceStory

Same Old Story, by D. Avery

She had always known too much about plants and their healing properties; animals, wild as well as domestic, responded too well to her; people invariably were wary of her, and she of them, throughout her lives. It seemed like in every incarnation she was accused of being a witch, the accusation serving as trial, verdict, sentence— a death knell. Being a healer was cause enough for alarm, and as soon as an accusation was voiced even those who had come to her in desperation seeking her skills and knowledge were unwilling to speak in her defense. At the end of many lives she had felt the weight of millstones, the searing heat of coal and flame, the twist of rope, the sudden jerk of her own weight at the end of a brief fall.

This time her crime was her words, but not any incantation, no spells or recipes of alchemy, just her truth put forth in print, naked and plain for all to behold. Again she felt the relentless weight and heat of ignorance and hate trolling her, picking at her, giving her no rest, but once again she would not confess, would not validate their lies, would not recant or apologize; she would not give up the hope she yet held for humanity.

six sentence story copy

This is a second take on the prompt word “twist”, provided by Denise at GirlieOntheEdge. The premise is that you write six sentences exactly using that prompt. Leave a link and read the Six Sentence Stories of others. Fun comes packed in sixes!