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Australian Writers' Centre - 23-Word Story Challenge

Elephant in the Room & Other 23-Word Stories

  12+   The Australian Writers' Centre runs a monthly #FuriousFiction short story competition. I submitted my first entry to #FuriousFiction on the first weekend of our COVID-19 lockdown and have taken up the monthly challenge ever since. So I was interested to see a bonus 23-word fiction story challenge.

I've dabbled with microfiction, also known as flash fiction, some of which I've published on Tall And True. And I submitted an entry to an earlier 29-word challenge run by the Writers' Centre (also on Tall And True), We Need to Talk. And I've reviewed a collection of microfiction for Writing NSW, Loopholes by Susan McCreery.

Now was my chance to flex my imagination and fingers with a 23-word short story. As with #FuriousFiction, the rules were simple:

  1. The story must not contain more than 23 words (hyphenated words count as one word)
  2. And it must be inspired by the image of the elephant in the room (on the Writers' Centre website).

But I decided to make it a little more *challenging* for myself by setting a goal of submitting six entries, that's 2*3 23-word stories. And here they are, in no particular order:

The Elephant in the Room

They greeted each morning with silence and retreated to opposite ends of the house. Neither wanted to face the elephant in the room.

Tembo's Trumpeted Warning

Tembo had expressed misgivings about the zoo's new elephant enclosure. But no one heeded his trumpeted warnings on the unsuitability of flatpack furniture.

Horton Hears More Whos

Horton heard Whos hollering in the house. "HELP!" The pool was cool in the Jungle of Nool. Still, Horton sighed and charged inside.

Old Circus Tricks

Jumbo didn't miss the circus. Yet every so often, he liked to practise his old circus-ring tricks, like balancing on a chair. Oops!

No Pets on the Sofa

Elle's owners had hired a professional trainer to help with her separation anxiety. And Elle knew she wasn't allowed on the sofa. But ...

The Stray

Perhaps, refected little Tommy, I should have checked with mum before bringing home the stray elephant I found in the street after school?

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Submissions for the Writers' Centre's 23-word story challenge ran for four days and closed at midnight on Monday, 27 July 2020 (AEST). I submitted my six stories and crossed my fingers I'd have the same success as I did with my 29-word "We never talk" microfiction piece in 2019.

Wish me luck! I'll update this post if the judges publish my stories on the Writers' Centre blog.

Update: Selected 23-Word Stories

On 30 July, the Australian Writers' Centre published a selection from almost 2000 submissions of 23-word stories on their blog — and mine wasn't among them! That said, this was my favourite "elephant in the room" story, by Mary Claffey:

In his deepest being, Johan yearned for the wide, undulating savannah. "I'm tired of working from home," he thought, wistfully.

© 2020 Robert Fairhead


Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.

Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.

He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou

Tall And True showcases the writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — of a dad and dog owner, writer and podcaster, Robert Fairhead. Guest Writers are also invited to share and showcase their writing on the website.

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