If you’re following me over on twitter you might have noticed me posting tweets with the #vss365 tag regularly over the last week or so. I became tangentially aware of vss365 through the writing community on twitter, but it took me a little bit of digging to figure out what exactly it was – so I thought I’d whip up a quick post explaining the project, and explaining why I’ve been so thoroughly enjoying taking part in it.
What is vss365?
Short for “very short stories, 365 days a year”, vss365 is essentially a communal writing exercise run through twitter, with the goal of helping writers experiment with flash fiction and more broadly with brevity in their work, whilst also exposing that work to a wider audience than it would normally recieve. It goes like this: every day, the current vss365 host will tweet out a single-word writing prompt; today’s prompt, for instance, was #sting. Participants have 24 hours to write a piece of flash fiction, or brief poetry, which contains (or is at least inspired by) the day’s prompt word.
The catch, of course, is that every piece you write has to fit within twitter’s 280 character limit, with room to spare for the #vss365 tag itself. As I said, this is a project that encourages brevity. As an example, here’s my contribution for today’s prompt:
The last of the high council’s guards crumples, and the hall is still.
Aching, bleeding, I sheath my daggers and drag myself to the head of the vast banquet table. I feast in the company of corpses. Mama always said: it’s worth the #sting to taste the honey.
— Alex Aldred (@itsmealexaldred) July 7, 2019
Where did vss365 come from?
Vss365 was originally the brainchild of Mark A. King, a writer and member of the FlashDogs collective, an organisation described by King as “a group of flash fiction writers who have worked on many previous projects for the benefit of charities and the writing community”. King wanted a project which would encourage writers to create new work and new connections regularly, and started tweeting out vss365 prompts back in September 2016.
Nowadays vss365 has grown into its own twitter community of writers, with the daily prompts now distributed by specially selected ‘host’ writers, as mentioned earlier, who hold the position for a month before passing it on. The current host for July 2019 is thriller novelist LV Matthews, who you can find on twitter here. For more information about Mark A. King and the history of vss365 – including his plans to compile stories written through the project into a flash fiction anthology – you can visit his site here.
Alex, we beg you, tell us why you’re enjoying vss365 so much.
Go on then. I think I’m drawn to this project because I’ve always found that strict, restrictive wordcounts, and formal restraints more generally, encourage you as a writer to take your own work more seriously. When every single letter counts, the value of each sentence and each word grows exponentially. You have to make difficult decisions, edit harshly, cut your favourite line because it’s just a few precious characters too long. It’s a process which forces you out of your established writing habits, forces you to consider more carefully how you convey information to the reader, forces you to hone your ideas to their very core without losing the essence of what makes them compelling – in short, it makes you a better writer.
But, on the flipside of that, vss365 gives you an opportunity to experiment and make mistakes with your work. A single 280-letter story is a very low-stakes investment – you can try your hand at a whole sweep of different genres, styles, themes, aesthetics, and so on, without ever needing to commit to or develop any particular idea in detail. It encourages trying things you’d never think to try in long-form work, things you might not think you’d be any good at – but, perhaps, through the process of ruthlessly cutting and editing to squeeze in under the character limit, you’ll discover you’re better at those things than you’d realised.
This is a very long post, given that we’re discussing brevity in fiction. Could you wrap up?
Yeah, fair enough. I’ll be tweeting out my own vss365 stories daily over on twitter, and I’m also planning on doing a monthly round-up here on my site – be sure to check back here every so often if you aren’t on twitter to see all the fun stuff I’m coming up with. I’ll be posting a few bonus vss365 stories over on Patreon, too, using prompts from before I started participating in the project.
Thanks for reading, and if you decide to start taking part – or if you’re taking part already! – drop me a mention on twitter and I’ll come check out some of your work.
Have a lovely day!