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What is a Postcard Story and How Do I Write One?

Updated on June 11, 2012

Postcard stories are, simply put, stories that you have only about 250 words to tell. It seems that these extremely short works of both fiction and non-fiction started mainly as a writing exercise. I, personally, was only introduced to them about 3 weeks ago when I decided to enter The Writers’ Union of Canada Postcard Story Competition. In my research I’ve found that far from being just a skill building technique (though they’re great for that as well) they have become a fairly popular new genre. These ultra-condensed, more difficult than I originally realized, stories have inspired literary contests and are accepted by many literary journals.

Though the only real rule is that the story must be 250 words or fewer, I don’t think it counts as a real work of fiction unless you’ve filled a few other requirements too. Ideally your postcard story should have a plot, a beginning, middle and end, a climax, some action and a significant change in the main character. And of course over-hyphenating would be considered cheating. Now, perhaps you are beginning to see the real challenge. 250 words, not so hard. A meaningful story in 250 words, somewhat harder.

Of course, writing a meaningful story in 250 words is a great writing exercise. Almost every “how to” article about writing will tell you that conciseness is key. Cut out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can, use dynamic verbs and nouns instead. That’s great advice, and becomes almost a necessity when you’re confined to such extreme brevity.

Giving the postcard story’s famous brevity all it’s due I will keep this hub relatively short as well. After all how much is there to say about a story of only 250 words? Try it and find out. You may be shocked how gratifying it is to write something beautiful, and so beautifully short.

Of course even that has been bested. Who can forget Hemingway’s famous six word story, often considered his best work.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

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    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      5 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      I would love to hear how it goes Kris!

    • KrisL profile image

      KrisL 

      5 years ago from S. Florida

      Thanks . . . I'm going to have to try this!

      Voted "interesting."

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Bradbury's in my top 5 favourite authors. I think I've read The Martian Chronicles at least ten times. The House on Mango Street I'll definitely look into though. Thanks.

    • profile image

      celticmelody 

      6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Ar: Always happy to pass on a tip to a fellow writer. For your project, you might also check out The House on Mango Street by Sandra Ciscneros and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I think these two novels illustrate how to take the postcard fiction concept to the next level.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Thanks celticmelody,

      One of the novels I'm working on write now actually is more or less a collection of 500-2,000 word short stories. But they fit pretty well together on a timeline.

      That's happenend to me a couple of times where I've made plans for a piece and had them all go to hell, but in a good way. I so often feel that I'm not so much writing stories as discovering them.

      ps. definitely checking those books out. Thank you!

    • profile image

      celticmelody 

      6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Great hub!

      Postcard fiction is a great way to move a story forwaqrd when you are stuck. I was working on a story once and got stuck. I had flashes of the story in different places along the story timeline from different characters' point of view. Try as I might I just couldn't get the flashes together. Then I read a book on postcard fiction and I had an "aha" moment. I left the story as pieces of postcard fiction and it worked very well.

      I first encounter super short fiction when I picked up copies of World's Shortest Stories and World's Shortest Stories of Love and Death.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Rtalloni,

      Thanks for the tip. I'll be heading over to challenges soon. I've been at hubpages for a while but have never been as active in the forums as I'd like. Something I'm fixing now. I'm glad you enjoyed my hub!

      nishlaverz,

      They're definitely a challenge but I think they're worth it. I actually specifically avoided the terms 'flash fiction' and 'microfiction' as neither has a definite word count like postcard stories do. Flash fiction tends to be around 1,000 words. With practive you do get used to the brevity and find ways to express your thoughts as creatively as you can in order to get them all in there. Thanks for stopping by.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Wow! What a great response. Thanks everyone for visiting my hub.

      LAB,

      no problem. I'm glad I could help. Reading your 3 A.M. epiphany hubs has convinced me to get back to writing excercises. It's been a long time since I've done more than one at a time and I forgot how challenging and fun they can be. 3 A.M. Epiphany is on my reading list for sure!

      Cardelean,

      No problem. Thanks for stopping by. I hope your students enjoy the exercise.

      Millionaire Tips,

      50 words sounds like fun. I'm entering a 150 word Ultra Short Contest next month. http://machias.edu/ultra-short-competition.html, if anyone else wants to enter. I've got to try 50 though, that sounds like a real challenge. Was it the forums that people were posting them in?

    • nishlaverz profile image

      nishlaverz 

      6 years ago from N.E England

      They are micro or flash fiction style. They are great if well written and do take skill to get right as you have to show the reader what you want then to see without over doing the words. I can do 500 word stories but 250 is a struggle as I lie to elaborate a bit at times.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      6 years ago from the short journey

      So interesting to read this! I enjoy the HP Challenge Writing Skills:

      https://hubpages.com/forum/topic/64357

      It's all about a story in less than 10 words, the concept being based on the Hemingway short story you mention here.

      I go the Challenge every so often for some mental exercise and/or mental vacation. When I come up with something I really like I find that what you mention here is true. The gratifying feeling is amazing! :)

      I'm looking forward to taking a look at your links. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      6 years ago from USA

      I hadn't heard of postcard stories before, but it is an interesting concept. I have seen 50 word stories here on HubPages, where you must write 50 words, no more, no less. 250 looks like it has a little more flexibility, but it might make it more challenging to have all of the other items you mentioned. Voted up.

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 

      6 years ago from Michigan

      Very interesting. I have never heard of this before. I can see this being useful in my classroom as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • LABrashear profile image

      LABrashear 

      6 years ago from My Perfect Place, USA

      Glad I came across this. I'm challenging myself to every exercise in the 3 A.M. Epiphany and there is a postcard challenge. Now, I feel a little more comfortable working on it. Thanks!

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      No problem dkm. I've kind of fallen in love with them. :)

    • dkm27 profile image

      dkm27 

      6 years ago from Chicago

      I used postcard fiction, fast fiction, mini fiction, and so many other short works to teach reading strategies. They pack a punch. Thanks for highlighting these little gems.

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