What Is Micro Fiction?
Micro fiction is a subgenre of fiction that consists of stories of remarkable brevity, often far shorter than many other short stories. There is no particular fixed length requirement for such stories, though it is generally agreed that most pieces of fiction in this category are less than 1,000 words. Some particular types of micro fiction have arisen over the years, including those that are exactly a certain length, such as 100 words or 55 words, and those that are pushed to be as short as possible. This type of fiction is separate from other types of short works, such as haiku, in that they often have all of the common elements of a fully realized story.
Sometimes called flash fiction, micro fiction can be regarded as either a subgenre or a format for fictional storytelling. The only essential aspect of this type of story is that it must be extremely short in length while still telling an actual story. There are a number of Internet websites and some magazines that host such stories, and awards and honors may be given to the best works of micro fiction each year. Many of these sites and publications set particular standards for these works, including maximum word counts.
There is no particular word count required for a piece of micro fiction, though many people consider anything over 1,000 words to be too long for the format. Many writers of such fiction strive for a story of no greater than 500 words, and other writers prefer a length of less than 150 words. There are a number of different names for certain types of micro fiction, usually based on exact lengths of such works. “55 Fiction,” for example, is a work of fiction that is exactly 55 words in length, while a “Drabble” and a “69er” are works of exactly 100 and 69 words, respectively.
Micro fiction is typically set apart from some other forms of short writing by that fact that it includes all of the elements of a fully realized story, but in very small form. These works frequently have at least one character, with an action that occurs and a resolution to the story. This all takes place within a very short piece of work, however, and so much is often left to the imagination of the reader to fill in the blanks within the prose. A famous example of micro fiction comes from an apocryphal story about American writer Ernest Hemingway when confronted about the brevity of his writing style. To prove that even a short work could express a complex idea he, allegedly, came up with a six word story: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”
@bythewell - That applies to extreme micro fiction, but the larger forms have a lot more leeway to build tension with conventional techniques. 500 words or even 1000 words might not seem like a lot to a novelist, but it can be a huge amount for the right story.
Sometimes you have something important or interesting to say but there's just not that much to the message.
@pastanaga - I don't know if that's always true. Prose poetry is a specific genre that can be similar to flash fiction, but I would distinguish the two by structure. To work, a story has to follow a certain structure, with a beginning, an end and some element of change between the two, whether it is a character that changes or the reader themselves.
In the Hemingway example, he manages to lay out a somewhat complex story by invoking the imagination of the reader over a somewhat mundane and obvious bit of text, that generates its own context and then twisting audience expectations at the end by changing the way they saw the beginning.
The very best short, short stories will do this in a variety of ways, but what makes it challenging is for them to avoid cliche while still utilizing familiarity to build context. Without that familiarity it's very difficult to build enough interest in such a short space, but too much familiarity will tip the reader over into boredom.
That micro-story by Hemingway always makes me sad, which is pretty powerful stuff for only six words. I've never seen any other story like that which worked as well without being obviously derivative of that particular story.
I really like flash fiction in general, but it doesn't seem to be as much about fiction as it is closer to poetry in my mind. You have such a small space in which to convey a complex idea and every single word has to carry more weight than usual. That treads closer to poetry than plain fiction.
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