Every day I try to write a very short story and post it under the hashtag #vss365. VSS365 was born out of Flash Dogs, a website which appears to no longer exist, but can be viewed on the Wayback machine, the specific entry for #VSS365 is here: Flash Dogs VSS 365 post. Each month a prompter is chosen through some arcane process, and they post prompts, you write a short story that uses the prompt.
I think as a writer it’s an incredibly useful exercise. To start out I find the prompt, then I put the prompt word into several online word resources: Word Reference which is a concatenation of multiple dictionaries, which also has collocations and synonyms available, Visu Words which is a visual online dictionary and shows relationships between words, Onelook dictionary search which shows the entry in a variety of online dictionaries, and etymonline.com which shows the etymology of entries.
This is a great way to learn about words, and I love words. Occasionally it enables me to learn a new word, but most of the #vss365 prompts are fairly prosaic words. It can be hard to find new words to learn. The Phrontistery is a great resource, but if you have a good vocabulary then word of the day lists rarely list a word you don’t know.
It’s also an opportunity to challenge yourself and use a word in a surprising or intriguing way, and frankly just have some fun. The putative audience would be your readers more than likely, but it’s also other people interested in language, writers, and posters under the #vss365 hashtag. I just try to have fun and do something surprising. Often in writing some of the most fun writing get’s edited out or revised. Stuff that’s really fun, that feels really clever, may not be so for the reader, so you junk it. But writing a very short story like this, limited to a prompt and 280 characters (less 7, so 273) is difficult, so when you come up with something I usually just use it.
One reader remarked that my VSS entries were almost always a dialogue, and I think that’s because it’s one of the fastest ways to characterize and also provide a conflict. If you have two people in a conversation things can go back and forth. Admittedly, I cheat a bit by not using quotation marks to save on characters to avoid the 280 limit.
I think VSS is also a useful exercise in finishing something. As Paul Valery put it “a work is never truly completed—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned” and there is a temptation, even with a 280 (273) character count story, to keep fixing it and revising it. Writing a very short story every day requires you to let go and abandon it, which is good practice if you ever want to abandon a novel.