The Cat of Enlightenment: A Seven-Sentence Short Story

Another When Words Collide, another Seven-Sentence Short Story workshop, as I once again led a group of writers through this plotting exercise devised by noted science fiction short-story writer James Van Pelt. As always, I created a story myself. I usually call this a plotting exercise, but since I was also on a panel called Pantsers vs. Plotters, I’ve realized it’s also a pantsing exercise, since I don’t have a clue where it’s going when I write the first sentence.

Enjoy! (Or, possibly, not.)


1. Introduce what the main character wants and the first action he/she takes to accomplish that goal.

Ankyra leaped from the airship as the captain swung it close to the balcony of the Seventh Tower where the Cat of Enlightenment was said to dwell, his feet thudding to the marble with inches to spare, his sword whipping from its sheath even before he landed.

2. The results of the action the character takes in sentence #1 has to make the situation worse. The character should be further from the goal now.

He should have waited to draw his blade after he had landed; the action of swinging it free of its sheath caused him to overbalance and stagger backward, the sword flying from his hand and skittering off the balcony’s edge as he desperately grabbed the curtains in the balcony’s open window to stop himself from following it into oblivion.

3. Based on the new situation, the character takes a second action to accomplish the goal.

Having rendered himself unarmed, he chose to rip the curtains down, intending to throw them over the Cat of Enlightenment should it indeed be in the room beyond the window, hoping to entangle the felicitous feline in their green velvet folds and pin its prognosticating paws to the smooth silvery stone.

4. The result of the second action the character takes, from sentence #3, is to make the situation worse. The character should be even further from the goal now.

Instead, the curtain landed at the feet of the Cat’s seven-foot-tall Guardian, a magically animated steel statue armed with a massive adamantine battle axe—a magically animated steel statue that the wizard who had divined the Cat’s current location had assured him had been permanently deactivated by the last person who had tried to capture the Cat, although, unfortunately, the action of deactivating it had been his last; indeed, the bones scattered across the floor at the statue’s feet belonged to that unfortunate predecessor of Ankyra’s.

5. Based on the new situation, the character takes a third and final action to accomplish the goal.

Ankyra ducked beneath the statue’s mighty swing, the wind of the battle-axe’s passage ruffling his hair, and hit it low and hard, sending it crashing backward so hard the marble floor cracked beneath its weight, revealing the Cat itself, neatly folded into bread-loaf shape on a blue velvet cushion at the centre of the circular room, its golden eyes regarding Ankyra solemnly from a face as black as the King’s heart.

6. The third action either accomplishes the character’s goal, fails to accomplish the goal, or there is an unusual but oddly satisfying different result of the last action.

“I’ve been expecting you,” said the Cat, whose voice was warm and welcoming and vibrated with an almost subliminal purr, “and since you have found me and overcome my Guardian, it is my pleasure to grant you what you wish: enlightenment, the answer to the question you asked the wizard who sent you here, to wit, ‘What is the purpose of life?’”

7. The denouement. This sentence wraps up the story. It could tell the reader how the character felt about the results, or provide a moral, or tell how the character’s life continued on.

Ankyra’s rush of triumph was short-lived, for suddenly, he was seized with dizzying disorientation and found himself no longer looking through his own eyes but through strange eyes that made everything around him sharp and colourless as steel—as the steel that now comprised his arms and legs and every other part of him, for now, he rose from the floor in the body of the Guardian, the adamantine axe clutched in his hand, and looked down on the lifeless body he had inhabited until a moment before, and took his position to battle the next person who dared approach the Cat of Enlightenment, while behind him, the Cat purred, and intoned, “Serve the Cat, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

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