Today I want to do something different. I’ve just finished a five part series on the structure of genre stories and want to turn to the other end of the spectrum: micro fiction.
Why Micro Fiction Is Awesome
Let’s talk about the shortest possible kinds of fiction: Drabbles, 55 Fiction and Twitfic (also known as Twabbles). I’ll discuss what those are in a moment, but first let’s look at why writing short fiction is A Good Thing:
There’s value in finishing a story and it’s much easier to finish a 100 word story than it is a 120,000 tome of fantasy fiction. (G.R.R. Martin’s works are magnificent but those suckers double as paperweights!)
On the subject of the value of finishing a story, John Ward posted a link to a wonderful video made by Scott Sigler about how to get started writing—or, perhaps, what it takes to become an author. It’s excellent.
Not only does a micro story take less time to write but the structure is, of necessity, much simpler. Often there’s only one character, the protagonist. This strips a story’s structure down to its simplest elements and exposes it in a way that a longer story can’t, and it lets us play with it, tweaking the Inciting Incident, the protagonist’s response, and so on, and seeing how that changes the emotional impact.
Here is a structure I’ve noticed in some micro fiction:
1. Inciting Incident. Something happens.
2. Protagonist Acts. The protagonist reacts to the thing that changed their world.
3. Consequences. The protagonist and her world is changed because of her actions.
Kinds of Micro Fiction
As I mentioned, there are various kinds of micro fiction. In fact, I’m sure there are more kinds than I’ve heard about! But here’s three:
Although definitions differ, the general consensus seems to be that a Drabble is a short work of exactly 100 words.
The history. Drabbles were inspired, in a roundabout kind of way, by Monty Python. Wikipedia tells us that “the 100-word format was established by the Birmingham University SF Society, taking a term from Monty Python's 1971 Big Red Book. In the book, "Drabble" was described as a word game where the first participant to write a novel was the winner. In order to make the game possible in the real world, it was agreed that 100 words would suffice.” (Drabble)
Drabbles are also popular in fan fiction (just google Drabble and Draco, or Drapple, if you don’t believe me.)
Below is an example of a Drabble. This story was first published as a response to one of my daily writing prompts.
“Fossil,” by Brian Holt Hawthorne
She was twelve when she found the box with the golden watch. The instructions read: "To stop time, press and hold the red button. This function may only be used once."
She almost pressed the button, but decided not to waste the chance.
She kept the watch with her always, waiting for the moment when stopping time would enable her to save the world or obtain her heart's desire.
She had a career and a husband and children and a happy life.
She lay alone on her death bed and held the watch. She pressed the red button.
I love that story! And I owe Brian a big thank you, not just for giving me permission to publish his story on my blog, but for introducing me to the terms “Drabble,” “Twabble” and “Twitfic.” Although I’ve been reading and writing micro stories for a while, Brian introduced me to their names.
An even shorter form of micro fiction is known as 55 Fiction where, you guessed it, the story must be exactly 55 words long. (Although sometimes any story of 55 words or less is thought to fall within the form.)
55 Fiction originated with a contest organized by the New Times of San Luis Obispo, California, in 1987. For that contest a story had to:
- be composed of fifty-five, or fewer, words.
- have a setting.
- have one or more characters.
- have some conflict.
- have a resolution. (Drabble, Wikipedia)
Further, the title could not exceed seven words, but was not part of the overall word count.
Here’s an example. I wrote this together in a few minutes, but hopefully it will give you the idea:
I woke surrounded by darkness. Mother wept. Slow organ music. Voices murmured.
I tried to sit up and hit my head. Hard.
“What was that?” someone said.
I rolled over and slammed into a velvety barrier.
My bed teetered.
A creek of hinges.
“You’re not dead,” someone said.
An even more abbreviated form of micro fiction is the Twitfic or Twabble. Drabblecast.org, defines a Twabble as a short story of exactly 100 characters not counting spaces or punctuation. (Though I think that, more generously, a Twabble might be anything you can fit into a tweet.) For example:
Coffee beans spill and skitter to the floor like shells on glass. My shaking hands. “Instant’s fine with me,” said the officer. #vss
— Simon Sylvester (@simonasylvester) February 4, 2012
Here’s a challenge: Take the next 15 minutes and write a complete story of 100 words or less. It should have a protagonist, a challenge and an ending. Then post it (or a link to it) as a comment! I’d love to read it.
That’s it! Have a great weekend and good writing.
Thanks for reading.Photo credit: Original photo: "Journal Entry" by Joel Montes de Oca under CC BY-SA 2.0. Photo altered by Karen Woodward.