"420 characters are a lot for even the most epic of novels," I thought, "and this book is rather thin." But I discovered the characters were letters, numbers, symbols, punctuation, and spaces, and 420 Characters: Stories by Lou Beach is a collection of very short short stories. They debuted on Beach's Facebook page, which at the time of their writing limited posts to 420 characters.
What can you do with so little? Beach as a professional illustrator working for magazines was already adept at conveying a message quickly. His job was to catch the eye and support the message of each article. In a similar vein, his little stories are really pictures made from a handful of words. They are truly stories, too, as each has characters and plot. Some even have settings. A few could be used as luring opening paragraphs for standard-length stories or novels.
You have to be in the right mood to read Beach's pieces. Some days I opened the book and was greatly entertained, but on other days I did not comprehend them at all. They are sort of like poetry. Being relaxed helps. Don't read more than a few at once.
Some of Beach's mysterious illustrations are inserted between the stories.
You can find some of the stories read aloud by Jeff Bridges, Ian McShane, and Dave Alvin at 420characters.com.
Beach, Lou. 420 Characters: Stories. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. 169p. ISBN 9780547617930.