Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Writing Challenge ~ Use The 1200 Most Common Words To Write A Story…

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“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

It’s said Ernest Hemingway wrote that six word story. I checked my list of the 1200 most common English words and “sale” wasn’t there but “sell” was. “Worn” wasn’t there but “wear” was. All the other words were there except “shoes”. Not even “shoe” was there

Of course, that particular list may not be definitive but there is another list of 1000 most common words that has “shoes”.

Even though I’m not the kind of person who actually takes writing challenges, I’ve noticed that many of my blogging buddies do :-)

So, the challenge is on!

I got my first list of most common words quite awhile ago and saved it till I could figure out how to use it in a blog post.

This quote from Mark Twain gave me the idea for my challenge: “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

And, even though the first list I’m going to give you may not be definitive, from the description given about its sources, it certainly sounds useful: “This list is from Rebecca Sitton’s “Spelling Sourcebook”, pages 77-82. It is a ‘cross-referenced compilation’ of several massive word studies, including the American Heritage Word Frequency Study (Carroll, Davies, Richman), and several other studies, including the work of Gates, Horn, Rinsland, Greene and Loomer, Harris and Jacobsen.”

So, even though I doubt any of my readers will take the challenge, I’ll still spell it out:

You can use any of the 1200 words in the list at that last link (which is a downloadable Word .doc) or go to the W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center website to use a slightly different list of only 1000 words ( and, it has “shoes” :-). That last list is on ten pages of 100 words each, and it’s beginning description is priceless:

“The first 25 [words] make up about one-third of all printed material in English. The first 100 make up about one-half of all written material, and the first 300 make up about sixty-five percent of all written material in English.”

You can write a story of any length but I hope you’ll make it fit into the comments section of this post (or, send it to me at amzolt (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll put it in a follow-up post). And, finally, you can use both lists and, if you don’t see the exact form of a word (like there’s no “worn” but “wear” is on the list), you can change tense or plurality

The Challenge Is Over :-(
Find out who the winner was :-)

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64 responses to “Writing Challenge ~ Use The 1200 Most Common Words To Write A Story…

  1. Alexander M Zoltai June 3, 2012 at 11:30 am

    And I’m glad you can’t :-)


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