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The iStory — A Way to Improve Your Writing? (external link) is promoting a new kind of writing for our too wandering thoughts, a 150-word prose form called an iStory. Here’s how they describe it:

An iStory is a short, dramatic narrative, fiction or nonfiction, up to 150 words long. We are particularly interested in works that give readers a strong sense of having read a full and complete story in a brief space.

The iStory seems well suited for our mobile obsessed culture, as we now read casually on our phones and tablets instead of reading deeply with books. They give four examples at their site. Here is one:

Friendship and Art by Alan Ziegler

The buzzer rings near midnight. It is Robert, distraught. He has had a fight with his girlfriend and walked out. Can he stay with me?

Sure, I say, and put on some tea. We talk for a while. He leaves, and when I next see him, he says everything is all right. I feel good about helping to save a relationship.

Two years later I run into him on the subway. He tells me he is writing poems. He asks if I want to see one. As I read I realize it is about that night. I am portrayed as a cold person who barely tolerates the intrusion and says good-sounding things only to get rid of him.

“What do you think?” Robert asks, as if the poem were about roses in winter.

“It’s nice,” I reply, the words you use when you want to break a poet’s spirit.

Rather than speed the death of long form writing, the iStory may contribute to its survival. That’s because the iStory is very similar to what every article or book demands: a strong lead.

Here’s one of the strongest leads in literature, the original paragraph trimmed to iStory length:

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

This opening paragraph is a lead and not a complete story like an iStory. The point of the lead is to mercilessly grab the reader’s attention, bring them along, running downhill all the way. The iStory idea, though, may help you with your writing. Can you encapsulate your entire book or article into 150 words? If you can’t make your story compelling in 150 words, can you ask the reader to stay with you for 70,000? is also holding a contest for iStories. At $22 an entry I won’t be contributing, especially given the work and time involved. But I’d encourage you to go to their site to read the other three examples. Interesting.

By thomasfarley01

Business writer and graphic arts gadfly.

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