On Microfiction

Microfiction is such a fascinating form of story telling. With a finite number of words, every syllable is vital.

In my post Story Classifications, I discuss typical length of microfiction and the 6 word story.

In reality, we see microfiction all the time. You see, microfiction is rarely (if ever?) a complete start-to-finish story – at least not in the traditional sense. Your average short story or novel has a beginning, middle, and end, it has a message, a character, a story arch. In 300 words or less, it’s nigh on impossible to include all of these aspects, to flesh it out.

No, microfiction is not a story. Microfiction is a thought. They have a message, but their goal is to instill a sensation, a feeling in you, and to provoke thought. In my first post, I included this quote:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn” – 6 word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway (unconfirmed).

This 6 word story has a strong emotional impact, is creates a feeling and it provokes thought.

But it doesn’t tell a story. It inspires one. These words don’t actually tell a story; they are a statement. The story exists in the readers mind – in the thought provoked by the words.

Microfiction, then, is in essence… writing prompts?

Take for example:

Each of these in itself is bone-chilling, it makes your skin crawl. It makes you think – it makes you mentally play out the rest of the story. You create the characters, the setting – the details are all you.

And yet, I saw these posted as halloween writing prompts, and they work as prompts too. Microfiction makes the reader into the storyteller.

And that’s just amazing.

I find this so… incredible, so talented. To write but a sentence or two, and create a whole world in someones mind is a great feat.

 

It’s one I am not so great at. My writing has always, always been novels. When I create stories in my mind, they are vast and complex and span across time.

Short stories – and worse, microfiction – are something that always seems just out of reach. I don’t know how to construct a message, a story, from start to finish in such a small framework. Sure, I’ve written a handful of short stories for classes across the years, but it’s never been something that comes naturally to me, and they have never been anything I’ve actually created.

I can apparently write 50,000 words on people who don’t exist in worlds drastically different from ours; but ask me to do it in a few hundred? I’ll stare at you, blankly, empty and defeated. My short works are nothing more than memories – and I know this isn’t inherently bad, but I am so, so limited by this inability to create on a small scale. I end up trying to create characters in my mind, and then place them in a world, and even if I manage this… what in the gods is the story even about?

 

Having written that, I feel I’ve gained some new insight on the matter. In contemplating the essence of microfiction, I’ve possibly come to understand where I’m going wrong.

I’m starting at the wrong end. The important thing is not the characters, or even the story, but the message.

The starting point needs to be the emotional center: what is the feeling you want to create in your reader? This may come from an idea you already have, you may already be inspired by your subject matter. Otherwise, from your emotional center you can brainstorm what creates such a feeling: what makes you scared? Sad? Joyful?

 

I’m gonna be honest, I haven’t tested this process yet. It’s 4am and I feel both enlightened and sleep deprived.

Let me know in the comments what you think, the process you use for short fiction, and how you feel about microfiction.

 

Fascinated? Read the post that inspired my contemplation from Ruby Rae Scalera.

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4 thoughts on “On Microfiction

  1. I have always marveled at the writing brilliance of that six-word story attributed to Hemingway. Being told to write short fiction overwhelms me. I’m at a loss to know how to structure a story in fewer than 6,000 words or so. Microfiction is way out of my league! My outlines are longer than that. I think it takes a special talent to write microfiction. Economy of words is not my strong suit.

    Liked by 1 person

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