The Art of Microfiction
As Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Which translated into modern language means, “Everyone should write and read microfiction.”
What is Microfiction?
It’s a subset of flash fiction—those super short stories typically told in 1,000 words or less. Definitions vary, but for the most part, microfiction is any story told in 300 words or less, and could even be as short as a few words. (At Microfiction Monday Magazine, I use the limit of 100 words.)
Microfiction authors include Amy Hempel, Ernest Hemingway, Steve Almond, Stephen Graham Jones, and Lydia Davis among many others. One need only Google to find microfiction on the internet, but here is a quick example from my own closet-full-o-stories, 99 words in total:
He told me small objects would float if tossed in the air during a lunar eclipse. I knew he was wrong, but I filled a hundred water balloons so we could juggle them in the dark and pretend they were made to hover by some magic. And when they actually did as the moon turned blood red, he revealed himself to be a magician and popped them all with his fingertips, making it rain.
“My skin is armor,” I told him. “Paper thin, but it can repel arrows.”
“Run fast,” he said. “I’m going to see if that’s true.”
For the reader:
Microfiction’s appeal to the modern reader is not surprising when considering the average adult’s attention span isn’t much longer than the time it takes to click a mouse or tap a touch screen, right?
It’s possible this is true, but more than convenience, a reader likes a good story. Good stories come in all shapes and sizes—all lengths and forms. If a novel can be thought of as a ten course meal, and a short story as an excellent deli-sandwich. A microfiction piece might be an exquisite chocolate truffle. All are food. All are enjoyable. But they’re each very different. Microfiction is a scrumptious, bite-sized nugget of a story. It packs big flavor and satisfaction into a small package.
For the writer:
As a writer, microfiction forces you to really look at your prose and determine what’s essential and what isn’t; what’s redundant and what isn’t. Honing these skills on microfiction can make your short story and novel-length prose that much sharper, but it’s also an art form of its own—a different medium for expression—as different from shorts stories as short stories are from novels. It’s fun to explore different story-telling media, and some writers find that microfiction is their medium of choice.
Tips for Writing Microfiction:
The real key to microfiction is efficiency of text. You don’t need to tell less of a story, and you don’t need to summarize the story. You need to make careful word and phrase choices that are able to paint vivid pictures and imply more than their brevity would suggest. “Show, don’t tell” most certainly still applies. Beyond that, consider all the features that tend to make any story good—characterization, plot, conflict, setting and atmosphere—if you want a reader to engage with the piece, there should be a hook, and some sense that something important happens. This is no small feat to perform in so few words, but it can be done. Cick here for an excellent example of Lydia Davis’s process.
Markets for Microfiction:
There are numerous markets for microfiction, and Jim Harrington at Every Day Fiction has an excellent list of micro and flash markets. Just scroll down to find those accepting shorter word counts.
Writing bad microfiction can be done very quickly. I mean, how long does it take to write a few sentences? Don’t write bad microfiction. It’s far too easy to make a whole lot of it and the world will crumble under the weight of it all. Don’t be the asshole who triggers the apocalypse. Take your time and write something people might actually want to read.
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