So I took my short story… and made it shorter? What on earth is microfiction anyway?
Microfiction is basically a way of telling a story in as little words as possible. Microfiction pieces are little bits of prose that tell a story in very few sentences. There isn’t a hard set limit on what defines the microfiction word count, but a common guideline is less than 300 words, less than 500 in some cases, and even less than 100 for some online litmags!
One extreme example:
“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn”
This extreme example is a 6-word story commonly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though this link is not entirely established as fact. The power of this example is how it establishes a beginning, middle and end, in so few words! It tells a story much larger than the words on a page, and I personally believe the power lies in the things left unsaid.
Here is a longer example:
What is Death Like?
by Xavier Barzey
A German cockroach lay stiff on its back as its mesothoracic legs flickered in slow motion on the front porch. “What is death like?” she asks intently with an innocent gleam in her little eye. I looked at her, uncertain of what to say. I reflected for a moment, “uh… well, I suppose it may hurt at first, but then you begin to transcend beyond the present and soon you’ll feel nothing.” Perplexed, she cupped her hands around the roach and stroked it softly on its back. It lay rigid. “There,” she says. “He’s okay now.”
I think what really struck me about this was the beginning and the end. The beginning is evocative and drops us right at the heart of the scene and zooms in to the important symbol. Efficient and effective. And the ending is just so… poignant. I love it because it provokes so much thought. The contrast between death and “okay” comes through so strongly which is what made this ending really stick for me.
Microfiction is a very non-codified form, and is defined only by its brevity and narrative completeness. I also found a twitter feed dedicated to such pieces, and extracted this as an example:
I thought this was a marvellous example of a super short version of microfiction. There is so much he tells in so little space. My main takeaway from this was the use of references to larger societal idioms e.g. Zeus/gods helps connect the smaller piece to lots of larger concepts. Microfiction has so little space for one to say things, so if the author can capitalize on words that have links to other narrative/societal/cultural references, the words that do make it into the piece reach far further into the realms of things left unsaid.
So what characterizes a piece of microfiction?
Then name says it all. The art of microfiction is saying so much through so little. This can be achieved by careful word choice and using references to wider socio-cultural topics.
The good piece of microfiction is more than a bunch of random words thrown together into a paragraph or couple of sentences. There still must be a beginning, a middle and an end in the mind of the author, who must somehow transmit this to the reader.
- Subjectivity and ambiguity is okay
This is not an academic essay, nor a fully fleshed out novel. And it is not meant to accomplish those things. I think part of the beauty of microfiction is similar to what I like about poetry – there is room for interpretation. Saying so little means that you have to choose your words carefully, but it doesn’t mean you have to be razor sharp and lead your audience to one interpretation and one interpretation only. I think leaving some room for ambiguity is fun and mysterious!
So there’s my spiel on microfiction! We’ll see how it goes!