Microfiction: Thoughts and Exploration


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?

  1. Brevity

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.

  1. Completeness

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.

  1. 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!

What is a science zine?

Zines are a flexible genre characterized by small-scale distribution, handmade design, and a close relationship between the creator and reader. There aren’t too many published zines about scientific topics, but the Small Science Collective has an online science zine collection, which I used for the bulk of my genre research. I also looked at the artwork and writing of Christine Liu, a neuroscientist who communicates her research through drawings and zines, for inspiration. I think zines are a great vehicle for breaking down scientific topics in an appealing, accessible way. Scroll down to check out my attempt at making a zine about the science behind ECT!

First, here are a few suggestions for creating a successful science zine:

  1. Break up your text. The majority of science zines include explanatory text, but in order to keep your zine easy to read, divide up text spatially on the page. Many creators choose to model their zines after comic books, dividing images into panels and speech bubbles. It’s really helpful to vary text size and font to keep the reader engaged and highlight the most important words.
  2. Keep drawings simple and cartoon-y. Illustrations of molecules, organisms, body systems, etc. can get complicated. To make the zine more aesthetically appealing to a wide audience, lean towards simpler drawings. Many science zine illustrators, like Christine Liu, use a drawing style that could almost be characterized as cutesy. The illustrations need to be approachable and attractive in order for people to pick up your zine.
  3. Humanize. If you’re trying to create interest in a scientific topic, it can be helpful to personify your subject (for instance, if you’re writing about a type of animal, you could have the animal narrate your zine). Otherwise, adding some human interest — adding emotion to your scientific topic in whatever way makes sense — is key to keeping readers interested. The Small Science Collection has some strong examples of humanization (check out I Have No Mouth and I Must Breed).
  4. Write enthusiastically. Most science zine creators take on a chipper, explanatory tone. This keeps readers engaged and sets a mood for the zine.
One illustration from my zine draft. Full document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14bIf4-KRARRHRK8oCLxcTz6y8GdePyPh4opyg8gwewc/edit?usp=sharing

Introduction to News Articles

For my third genre, I will be exploring the possibilities of news articles. The goal of most news articles is to tell a specific story that recently occurred. If written well, even the articles that only contain facts can be very engaging because of the significance of the topic the author is writing about. Some news articles that go more into depth on the topic and are written with a certain point of view/angle of the story are called news feature articles. Those typically focus on a specific person or event, rather than something very broad.

However, all news articles have the same components. The article must have a strong title that indicates what the topic or issue at hand, while also being eye-catching. Right underneath is the author’s name and a couple words about who he/she is to provide credibility, called the byline. Then, the first paragraph contains the lead. The lead is important for giving a detailed preview of the entire story. It includes the basic facts and explains why the piece is noteworthy, which determines whether or not the reader will continue reading. Next is the body, which contains the story or explanation using research. This portion often contains interviews, quotes from researchers, or comments from community people directly affected that would represent the public’s perception. The article is concluded by wrapping up the opening statement or providing a future direction to the story.

News articles are written with a similar style too. They contain short paragraphs, maybe 2-3 sentences, without topic sentences or closing sentences like in an essay. Depending on the medium, they are often formatted into columns. The story is told in an active voice, beginning with the most important facts or in chronological order. All language is very simple and straightforward; there are no metaphors or too technical terms. Background information is always included because of the assumption that no one reading is an expert.

This is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle that provides new updates on the Mendocino Complex Fire. It contains a lot of the typical features of a news article, such as an intriguing title and attention-grabbing facts. Here is an article from The New York Times that is a great example of a news feature article. With its longer length and upbeat tone, it tells a story about Jonathan Kos-Read.

This genre is appealing because I would be able to provide an overview about the current situation with the California wildfires, while still including firsthand experiences or stories. For example, with a news feature article, I could spotlight someone who personally experienced one of the fires. Quotes from someone knowledgeable in environmentalism could also be useful. Hopefully, these outside sources are what make the news article more unique and interesting.

Introduction to Satire

I’m so totally excited for exams! I mean really! Exams are what I, as a student, live for. They tear down my GPA and just give me such a confidence boost!

That, my friends, was sarcasm, or as a literary genre, satire.

I love sarcasm and being ridiculous in that sense, so it only makes sense that I would do a satirical piece for my third and final experiment in re-imagining my origin piece critiquing the Stanford Prison Experiment.

I’m surprisingly really excited for this experiment. I say surprisingly because until about 5 minutes ago, I had no idea what genre I was even going to do, whereas the others I knew almost from the beginning of the semester. So I did what any good college student does; I googled. I was sifting through all the different literary genres out there when I saw it — the satire!

A satire is a piece that uses hyperbole and irony to make fun of a topic of controversy or critique. I interpret this to mean sarcasm and overly-exaggerating certain key aspects of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Satire pieces generally twist the truth and exaggerate, so that they almost write the opposite of what they mean, but in a humorous obvious way that readers can enjoy.

I think for this experiment I plan on writing an essay focusing on the thought process or experimental design. Basically I want to examine what was going through Zimbardo’s and his research assistants minds when initially setting up the experiment and then as they were actually conducting it. I think this could be a really funny and creative way to criticize the flaws of the design.

I am excited for this piece because it is so radically different from the previous experiments, in that this is more fun and less serious. I also feel that this is one of the only classes that I’ve taken where I could do something along these lines and that is another reason I am excited to do this experiment.

I’m a little nervous on finding the balance between stupidly obvious sarcasm and setting a tone that could almost be serious but isn’t. I want this to have meaning and not just be a joke, so I think finding that balance will be one of my key struggles in writing this sample.

Zip Zap Zine Zop

Hey! Welcome, welcome. I am just about to start working on my zine. Yes, you heard that right I said Zine. You can go look up zine on Wikipedia, but I’ll save you the time and tell you it’s “a small circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier,” (Wikipedia).

Rather than explain how to make one, I am going to have you make one with me. I’m about to create my first zine and I’m pretty excited about it. Here are the steps I took before delving into my zine journey. It’s important you remember that zines are personal and there is no right or wrong way to do it. I can’t tell you what to do. Only you can. Listen up though for some good tricks on how to make as dope a zine as possible. 

Choose a base for your zine.
Here I have a blue book and I decided to use this as the base for my work. I chose it because I am not crafty so this way I don’t have to fold my own booklet. If you choose to though, this video will show you how to make your own. You can use whatever kind of paper you feel fits. Because I am basing my zine off my common application essay, I thought of transforming it into a college exam booklet. I thought this was a clever change. What do you think? Is it lazy or cute? I’m going to make sure it’s cute.

Everything deserves a name. Title your zine.
This is what is going to make someone decide to open your magical little book or not, so make sure you pick something both meaningful to yourself and something that will captivate an audience. Imagine some zine-enthusiasts standing in a bookstore looking at 20 different zine covers. What will make someone pick yours? Check out this pinterest board to see some successful (and not so successful) titles and covers.

While it is undoubtedly fun to just get down and dirty with the scrapbooking, try and figure out a layout for your zine. It should have some sort of theme (even if the theme is no theme). You should have some idea of the kind of things you will be putting on each page. Have an order. Yes, disorganization and messiness is a key component of a zine, but you do want your readers to be able to understand what you’re doing. This simple step will make your life stress free because you won’t be cursing yourself out for gluing the wrong picture on the wrong page.

Have a good freaking time.
A zine is a creative outlet. You shouldn’t feel stressed or strained or frustrated. If you’re choosing to make a zine it means you are choosing to create something fun, freeform, and special. Enjoy the process and remember why you are making it. This should be enough to motivate you through the arts and crafts part of this project. I know the whole time I am making mine, I am going to be imagining handing it to my grandpa when I get home winterbreak. This makes it worth it to me and this motivates me to make it the best (and only) damn zine I have ever made.

So my friends, you now are ready to delve into the personal and individual side of your zine. I can’t tell you how to make your zine because this is something only you know how to do. I can however suggest the above in order to maximize the effectiveness of your zine. My last tip? Check out my wavVVvvy playlist, or put on your own favorite music. Enjoying good music fuels my creative outlets. Maybe it’ll help yours too. Good luck and happy zine-ing!