Holiday clean-up (micro-fiction): Who wore it better?

in fiction •  19 days ago

Each week I write a micro-fiction story based on the current 50-word short story contest prompt. (I run the contest, and just participate for fun.) It's a great exercise in writing succinctly, and it challenges me every time!

This week I really struggled. The prompt word I issued in the contest for the week was "clean." We're just past the holidays and preparing for the New Year. It seemed appropriate.

My idea for a story was to explore how emotionally trying the holidays can be if you have to spend time with difficult relatives or in-laws. The holidays are over, so the "conflict" of the story is internal: the character is trying to figure out how to cleanse the residual angst from her mind after her mother-in-law leaves. I think I wrote about 10 versions of this story, trying to get it right!

I'm going to share two visions of the story, and then provide some discussion after. What do you think? Which version is better?

Christmas mess
Image source: Shutterstock

Holiday clean-up (version 1)

Marta vacuumed up the Christmas tree pine needles, cleaned up boxes and bows, and scoured the guest bedroom. Nothing could wash away the whispered admonishment of her mother-in-law. “You don’t deserve my son.” Finally, with her husband gone to work, she turned to her little helpers in the liquor cabinet.

Holiday clean-up (version 2)

Marta washed, swept, boxed up the Christmas tree and cleaned the guest bedroom. Still, her mother-in-law’s whispered message echoed. “You don’t deserve my son.”

Handsome Michael. Clueless, remote.

He patted her shoulder and left for work.

When his car pulled away, she poured vodka on ice to cleanse her mind.


I struggled with this story because the first version just didn't have the impact I wanted. There was no real story "arc," which is a critical component of quality fiction. Therefore, the story's resolution —Marta's choice to turn to drink to clear away the voice of her mother-in-law — felt flat.

The second version of the story (which is actually many iterations later) works better, it seems to me, because I managed to work in another layer that she can't really talk to her husband. He has no idea his mother torments his wife, and is actually too clueless to care.

Finding no way to rid her mind of the hurt dealt by her mother-in-law, she makes a dysfunctional choice.

I'm still not sure my story achieved what I was after, but I did enjoy the process. I would love your feedback.

Thanks for reading!

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i would agree.. the second one is a more powerful story than the first.


Thank you for reading and commenting, @shadowspub!

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This post has been selected for curation by @sunravelme. It has been upvoted and will be featured in this week's Working Title post. It will also be considered for the official @minnowsupport curation post and if selected will be resteemed from the main account. Feel free to join us on Discord!


Thank you so much, @msp-curation and @sunravelme!

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First I thought the first story was missing something but the second does not make it feel better. If you have a mother in law you do not need much to understand how she feels. To me the husband is not a strong character anyway. The start of the first story I like better... also "the little" helpers, although the drinking part is not really a big help ... leaving would be. The great thing about a (very) short story is it makes you think or wonder how or what. The first story does, the second does not.

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Thank you so much for reading and commenting, @wakeupkitty. I commented a couple of days ago but must have neglected to click Send! I agree, the husband is not a strong character, and not someone she can reliably turn to!

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The second version is powerful.

The first version feels distant, like a summary. It doesn't "tell," which is one of the most common mistakes by writers--it definitely shows action. However, the Deep POV of the second version is intense and immediate, giving the reader a look deep into the mind and conflicts of the POV character.

The second version is brilliant. Wordrow material. ;-)


Thank you very much, @rhondak! Great comments.

The thing that amazed me was how the second version actually seems like a longer story, even though both versions are exactly 50 words. The addition of the distant husband seems to allow the story to breathe and make it feel more gratifying.

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Love the second version with the addition of the husband: if he were only more connected to her, perhaps she would not feel the need to drink, and so early in the day! I miss the word "scoured" though, which said an awful lot about how she feels about her mother in law.


Thanks so much for reading and commenting, @owasco. That’s a very good point. The word “scour” is powerful and describes how intent she is on washing away the painful words. That would be excellent workshop feedback if we were in a writing class together. Are you involved in any writing communities on Discord?

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I am not involved in any writing communities yet other than those generated by a few contests. I tried to access one that you have provided a link for but was instantly stymied so I didn't proceed. It's not a good time of year for additional stymies. But it is on the list!


Oh dear! I can help. If you are on Discord, please send me a Direct Message. You can find me in various channels. (I believe if you click this link it will take you to The Writers' Block welcome center.)