50 Word Mini Sagas
As a final lesson to the academic writing programme of Target English, prior to students entering the summer pre-sessional, students this year were asked to do something more creative--write 50 word mini sagas.
A mini saga is a story told in exactly 50 words. Before trying to write mini sagas, which can be creative masterpieces, students work with a class reading sheet of 12 mini sagas. Eleven of the sagas are taken from Mini Sagas: 1999 (The published results of the Daily Telegraph mini sagas competition). One is written by me.
Prior to reading the sagas, we review the main elements of good storytelling and writing: character, setting, plot, conflict and theme (see the ELLSA web-site for more details). Then students guess how short a story could be whilst still containing all these elements.
Students read the sagas and discuss which they think was the prize winning mini saga, which was my own and then they vote for their own favourites. At this stage we discuss the meanings of any stories that are ambiguous. If you have time it is interesting to analyse how the elements are used in sample sagas chosen by students. This could be a pair or groupwork exercise.
After doing this students are encouraged to write their own mini sagas. During this I try to write one myself to get involved and hopefully inspire students. After completing a story of about 50-70 words we work on editing them down to 50 words in one to one feedback (perhaps 5 minutes per student). Below are my own attempt and those of students in two different classes. Try it. It's a great way to do a final writing lesson, especially if the stories can be put on the web for students to read.
All mini sagas are copyright their respective authors.
Michael Chang (China) 12th June, 2002. Planning to study for an MBA.
"I have saved 70 pence today" David said to his wife, excited and breathing deeply as he arrived home. "I followed the bus back and earned 70 pence for us." "You stupid fool, you should have followed a taxi! Don't you realise that you could have earned two pounds instead?"
Wind (Taiwan) 13th June, 2002. Planning to study for an MBA.
A fisherman had a nice family and lived happily near the beach, fishing only for their daily needs. One day he met a businessman who said "catch more fish, buy more boats and run a successful business". The fisherman answered "then what?" "Start a family and live by the beach."
Olaya (Spain) 13th June, 2002 (based on an Asturian tradition which should be carried out by mythical dwarves). Planning to study for a BSc in Marine Biology.
Some friends planned to take things from each house and put them in the main square. They do this every solstice.
"Which house should we start with?"
"The one on the hill."
They were surprised when they found everything already in the square with a note: "It's our job, go away!"
Xin Yi Zhao (Cindy) (China), 12th June, 2002. Planning to study BSc in Information and Library Studies.
The boy who lived in the countryside came home from university. He wanted to give his parents a big surprise. At the door, he found his family cold and cheerless. To support him with his studies, his parents sold all their cattle and led a very poor and simple life.
Ishak Sulaiman (Malaysia), 12th June 2002. Already studying for a PhD in Islamic Studies at University of Wales Lampeter.
"I'm fighting for you Tuah, for justice and to topple the dictatorship," Jebat claimed.
"Let's salute the King for his immunity," Tuah replied.
"I will never bow to the dictatorship, I will die for it."
Tuah and Jebat are still fighting each other. One for the King and one for justice.
Hassan Soleimani (Iran), 12th June, 2002. Planning to study PhD in Law.
Four friends went on a journey. After walking they found a place to rest and eat. Each said they would do something. One said "I've prepared a meal". Another said "I'll start a fire". The third said "I'll build a shelter", while the fourth said "I am ready to eat".
Xu Zheng (Robin)(China), 12th June, 2002. Planning to study for an MSc Computer Science.
"I don't like robots," I said to my new boss after a cup of coffee. "I hate them, I don't like working with cold machines."
"Perhaps you really should try to open your mind." My boss put down his cup and opened his body, then put two new batteries inside.
Bo Jiang (China), 12th June, 2002 (based on a Chinese belief about the passage between heaven and hell--the river of forgetting--after death). Planning to study for an MBA.
"Have this soup please," said the old woman coldly. The brook beside me was quietly flowing.
"Am I here?" I thought, "my wife will be waiting for me."
"Have this soup," she said again.
"No I won't," I complained faintly.
"No, you must. You cannot go back, I'm Mrs Meng."
Yuji Okada (Japan), 13th June, 2002. Planning to study for a BSc in International Politics.
A big lion is growling. I have to stay here quietly. I am sweating a lot. It is just a few minutes, but I feel like this moment will last forever. Finally the school bell rang. I closed my books, packed my bag and quickly went to the restaurant.
Hiroko (Japan), 13th June, 2002. Planning to study for a BSc in International Politics.
In the Edo Period, a man always ate noodles in public with a little spicy sauce, because this eating style was the symbol of a city boy. He always said "I'm a real city boy". However, when he died he said, "I wanted to eat noodles with plenty of spicy sauce."
Lisa (China), 12th June, 2002. Planning to study for an MBA.
A young man sat in a restaurant with a beautiful woman. This was an important day for him as he wanted to talk to her about his feelings. Another man came in and said to her, "Darling, sorry I'm late, let me introduce my son," pointing to the young man.
Miki Chono (Japan), 12th June, 2002. Planning to study for a BA in Business Studies.
The cherry blossoms are in full bloom
Spring is mild but cruel
She feels the pain of parting
He is no longer here
Her sun has gone
Although people meet each other coincidentally, the separation means something
She still doesn't know the meaning
She is always upset about her life
Tomoko Takahashi (Japan), 12th June, 2002. Planning to study for a BA in Business Studies.
A man works outside and earns money. His wife works inside the house as a housewife. The man usually orders her to do something and his wife fulfills it. However, the wife controls his pocket money. He cannot take a strong attitude toward his wife when he wants money.
Howard Zheng (China), 12th June, 2002. Planning to study for an MBA.
One day a man was counting the storeys of a building.
A woman said "Anyone who counts here is punished. How many floors have you counted?"
The man answered "Thirty".
"30 Yuan please," the woman said.
The man gave her 30 Yuan and thought "You fool, I counted 50 floors".
John Morgan (UK) 13th June, 2002
"Water should never lie still" the old gypsy said, joining two puddles together with a stick. The businessman was intrigued and had an idea. He spoke to the government and announced his new plan to join two larger puddles together. Ships now sail through Panama instead of around Cape Horn.
Acknowledgment: the idea for this mini saga originated from the first sentence "water should never lie still"..., which is taken from the introduction (by Bruce Chatwin, quoting Belgian writer, Jan Yoors) to "The Voyage of the Mir-El-Lah" by Lorenzo Ricciardi (New York: Viking Press, 1980). By a quirk of memory, having not read Ricciardi's book for over 16 years, after writing this mini saga I also discovered from rereading the introduction that Ricciardi's wife, Mirella Ricciardi (nee Rocco), a famous photographer, is the granddaughter of the founder of the Panama Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps.