Over the last couple of years I’ve been trying to work out how to write good short fiction – mostly in the 1,000-word (or thereabouts) “flash fiction” category – with the eventual aim of putting together a collection to publish in book form. In the past few months or so, however, I’ve also developed an interest in super short 50- to 100-word “micro fiction”.
It came about after signing up for a service called Duotrope (https://duotrope.com) that among other things lists fiction and poetry publications along with information on response times, acceptance rates, and pay (or non-pay) levels. While trawling through Duotrope’s listings I started to read sites like www.fiftywordstories.com and https://www.101words.org, where the fiction is limited to exact, very short word counts.
Much in the same way that I like good haiku and senryu poetry for the way that something so brief can evoke emotional reactions or convey a real sense of place and moment, so too the best of the micro fiction I’ve been reading manages to have a sudden and strong impact. So, I started trying it myself. And just like with writing haiku and senryu, it has become addictive; in particular, it’s something that can be used to capture moments in life that aren’t quite right for an essay, article or longer form of fiction.
One example is this. While playing football in the park one morning during my son’s summer holidays I saw a man sat on a bench. No big deal with just that, but he was dressed for work – in full suit, shirt and tie. He was hunched over like the weight of the world was on him and he was drinking a tall can of beer. The next morning he was there again. It reminded me of stories I’d heard about men losing their jobs but trying to hide it from their wives by getting up and pretending to leave for work in the morning. At first I tried to use this as the basis for a poem, but I couldn’t get anywhere near what I wanted. Then I went back to it with a 50-word story in mind. The result, in exactly 50 words and called The Sarariman, is now published on www.fiftywordstories.com.
Like with other fiction, micro stories also provide a framework within which one’s imagination can run free. I love the idea of playing about with a single scene or a single moment in the hope that the story that comes out of it can be a jumping off point for the reader to consider an issue or delve into an emotion. A recent discussion with a friend about OCD lead to a story that I hope does that for some readers: The Counter, written to an exact word count for 101 Words (www.101words.org/the-counter).