Can You Tell A Story In A Sentence?

Storytelling is hard, or easy, depending on who you ask. Traditionally stories were told by mouth, around a fire, by the moonlight or on the way back from the farm. The average folk tale would be the length of today’s short story, approximately 1500 words or less. With the advent of printers and the pay per word culture, story telling exploded into long epic tales with many chapters and even volumes. The average novel is about 70-80,000 words long. For some stories, a single book is not enough, volumes and sequels are needed– Harry Potter, Song of Fire and Ice (Or Game of Thrones Series).

But while stories have grown longer, they have grown shorter too. The Internet and the use of phones as e-readers have provided an opportunity for people to read things ‘on the go’, in the time it takes to finish a drink, wait for a train or ride to a bus stop, one can read and enjoy a complete tale.

These ‘shorter short’ stories have gone by many names, but the most common one seems to be flash fiction. Flash fiction is said to be any story 1000 words or less. Within this class there are many other shorter/smaller stories still:  there is short flash usually between 300-500 words, micro-fiction below 300, drabbles at 100 words, 50 word stories, and any number of words below.

( I have seen calls for 17 word memoirs, 10 word stories, six word stories and even four word stories)

Some other people classify their flash fiction by characters, so there are 280 character stories, 160 and even 140 characters. These were designed to take advantage of the character limits on SMS and Twitter, while giving a satisfying flash fiction experience. The emphasis being brevity and completeness.

The one sentence story is a twist on the theme. Can a story be told not only with a few words but with a single sentence?

A literary magazine, The Monkey Bicycle, is exploring this space. The magazine is currently taking submissions for their ‘One Sentence’ category which they hope to post every week.

A few stories are already up and the possibilities hinted at are endless. While some stories there are less than 17 words, others extend beyond 50 words. The test is in being able to keep the story going for as long as possible while delivering a pleasant reading experience.

Since I saw the challenge, I have been thinking about one sentence stories a lot. What can be done with the form? What sort of stories would flourish best in it? How can I use the form to create a pleasant experience?

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I will definitely explore the possibilities. For now, enjoy today’s offering


Village Rendevous

When Abel promised to show us a good time in the village we believed him, it would be a weekend filled with palmwine, bushmeat, and beautiful women, we thought; we weren’t ready for the gunshots that rang out that night and sent us running into the bush, or the severe malaria, diarrhea and rashes we had, in the days that followed.


Hope you liked my one sentence story. Now share yours in the comments or send to me via mail or send it to The Monkey Bicycle for a chance to be published.

She Sat Alone

She sat alone in the cramped parlour watching the Commonwealth games. Her heart was aflame with regret and shame but she couldn’t tear her eyes away or change the channel.

She watched Mary Bloomer wheel her self to the stand and graciously received her gold medal in the women’s shot-put event.
Nigeria’s national anthem was playing and Agnes looked on as Mary mouthed the words.

And, as she looked, she remembered.

She remembered Steve. Jovial, generous Steve, who was so sensitive and caring. Steve, the sailor that got her pregnant while on a brief stop at Calabar. He had left one misty morning to a destination unknown, leaving her single, pregnant and scared before she had a chance to tell him.

She remembered taking every pill, potion and concoction she could find to flush the baby out. Her job at the convent as a cook and cleaner depended on it.

She remembered the baby growing, growing and kicking.

She remembered that cold night twenty-one years ago when the baby came. She had her alone, a month and a half too early.

She had barely looked at the twisted legs and thin transparent skin. She dumped the child in a carton and ran.

The reverend sisters had taken the child in, she found out later. They had named her Mary Bloomer. They had made sure she went to school and developed her athletic skill despite her disability.

They had done all she had failed to do.

Many times she thought of going back, of reclaiming her daughter, of being a mother.

Many more times, she realised just how impractical it would be.

But tonight, in the dim dark, cramped parlour, she let the regret and shame set her heart ablaze as she sobbed into the beer stained rug.

Raw Deal

For Lily

She lets Prince kiss her. Moving to his rhythm, making the right sounds at the right places, she is the perfect partner tonight. Her thoughts pirouette through the window, soar above the twin duplex and outdoor pools, flit across the bridge, to the semi-slums, to the crammed self-contained room without air conditioning or TV where she and Taiye used to live.

She sees, no, feels Taiye smiling at her, lifting her in his muscular arms twirling her in the yard while the kids watch and giggle. She breathes the scent of his freshly washed clothes, and subtle musk as it caresses her skin.

He calls her by name but it sounds different when he does, like a treasure– something he never wants to lose. Then they are sharing a drink on the 6-spring mattress on the floor, or playing ludo, or cuddling while he tells her his dreams.

Prince is done, he rolls over like a boulder and begins to snore.

She is still awake and she can’t forget the TV-less room, or the man with muscular arms. She wonders why she still wants more. Wasn’t money what she gave it all up for?

And in that lonely room, tears falls, and she knows she is poorer now, than when she was in the arms of the man that made her feel on top of the world.

God’s Favourite Colours

Sitting around the table doing homework,
My daughter looks up from her
Doodles to ask,
“Dad, what’s God’s favourite colour?”
I am silent, for a while,
“Is it white?” She asks cupping her
Chin and nibbling at her pen.
I ease the biro out of her mouth,
“No, darling, white isn’t God’s favourite colour.”
“It is.” she says with a slam of her fists
On the white plastic table that sends an eraser rolling under the sofa.
I sigh, “If it is white, then why did he make so little of it?”


“Just clouds…”

She squeezes her lips and snorts
“Well, then what is it?”

Sweat trickles down my side
From the pit of my right arm
And I remember that there’s no fuel
In the generator. We’ve had 2 hours of
Electricity a day for weeks.
The cream curtains are drawn up
But the air is still this afternoon.

“Do you want juice?” It’s a tactic
And it works.

“YES!” She is shrieking as she races to the carton in the store.

I exhale slowly and make a note
To ask God which colour
He likes the most.

Fallen Hero

Sharon raced home in her Toyota Venza. It was 11pm, not the best of times to drive through Uyo town. There had been a lot of kidnappings. Wives, children, grandfathers, and after ransoms were paid, not all of them returned. She passed the coloured fountains, the water tumbled on itself as it changed from red to blue, purple and green. The government had done a lot of infrastructure development in the past three years. Security was their blind spot and the kidnappers thrived on it.

She took a turn that put her on the dual carriage road that led home. Street lights lined both sides of the side walk. They were powered by a giant generator,Its soft drone mingled with distant car horns–sounds of civilisation.

Twenty meters away, a girl stood by the wayside. Her shoulder length hair was dishevelled and her yellow dress clung to her like a condom. A sex worker, Sharon thought. She drove past without giving her a second thought. A glance at her rear mirror changed that. A young man walk up to the girl and hoisted her on his shoulders. Her fists beat into his back, but he marched on undisturbed.

Sharon gasped, and screeched to a halt. The girl was being kidnapped! As fast as she could, she reversed the car to the crime scene. Maybe she could see the exit vehicle, maybe she could copy the number and make a report to the police before it was too late. As a child James Bond was Sharon’s favourite film character. She walked and talked like him for years. She even wanted to join the Nigerian Navy but her aged mother wouldn’t hear of it. She had studied Engineering instead, but the thirst for adventure never left.

As she got to the scene, the girl was being pushed into the boot of a salon car by two men. Two others stood guard with guns. Before she could wind down for a better look, they opened fire. Bullets pierced the car and ricochetted in all directions. They jumped into their car and sped off.

Bleeding from a large chest wound, she reached for her phone to call Charles, her fiancee. Darkness engulfed her before she could pick it. Her last thoughts were–heroes aren’t meant to die.

What Goes Around

As he slipped her the N1000 note he could feel his heart race. Susan noticed his little finger was severed. Was it an accident? She wondered. There was no way to know. She tossed the money into the till and stifled a yawn. It was 8pm and she wanted to go home . She passed him a bottle of teething powder, N800 change and chanted,

“Thank you for shopping at Happy Child Pharmacy. Please call again”.

He muttered his thanks and walked into the night. That was easy, he thought. N800 for a counterfeit N1000 and teething medicine for his son. Fantastic! He was humming as he made his way home.

The next day, she was sacked for negligence. Her manager never liked her.

A week later, jobless and bored, she ate a late lunch while watching television. A news flash came on. It was the usual items: government warns against corruption, First lady receives doctorate degree. The next item shocked her beyond words. A baby killing teething powder syndicate had been busted.

On screen the premises of Happy Child Pharmacy was being sealed off. She watched her manager and two other staff being marched into a police truck in handcuffs. She gawked as the police commissioner told pressmen that 45 babies had died from the dreaded teething powder. Around the premises, some affected parents were weeping and wailing. The camera did a close-up on a middle aged man. He was weeping as he told the press men how his only son had died from teething powder poisoning.

Something about the man was familiar, but she couldn’t place it. NEPA struck before she had a chance to see his hands and the severed little finger on the right.

Time To Love Again

She slipped in with the evening breeze. The house was just the way she remembered it, neat and quiet. In the bedroom he was curled up under the covers. His rugged features were still as handsome as ever. He stirred in his sleep flinging the covers aside. His left arm reached across the emptiness on her side of the bed. The gold ring was still on his hand–2cm of pure gold on a back drop of dark.

She wanted to tell him she was sorry. That she really shouldn’t have gone to abort the baby without his consent. She wanted to tell him her career didn’t matter as much as she thought it did. She wanted to tell him so many things, but most of all she wanted him to move on.

Over the dressing mirror, their wedding picture looked down on her. She, made up like an Asian doll, he, proud and tall. This year they would have been married five years. Instead he was planning her to mark her third year away. She didn’t want a remembrance. She wanted him to be happy and settled again.

She moved to his phone and scrolled through it. All she found was business, church and football. There were no pretty young things sending him sexts. No happy mature ladies checking on him. Her Oscar had become a friar. He stirred again and she knew he would wake any minute. Working as fast as she could she tried to leave him a message.

With one last glance at her beloved’s face she left as she came.

Oscar woke up with a start. He had dreamt that Mary-Anne was with him in a large serene park. She was saying something he couldn’t hear. the next thing he knew she had disappeared.
He sat up . Was that her perfume he perceived or was he having hallucinations ? He jumped off the bed and decided to do some reading when his phone beeped. He ignored it. Probably another sponsorship request. Flipping on the side lamp he froze. On the mirror written in Vaseline were the words

Let go Oscar, it’s time to love again.