Why Bother With Microfiction?

A Lego person with a pith cap looks through a magnifying glass with an awed expression. "Lego Explorer" by JonoTakesPhotos is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Microfiction.

That’s a word you may have seen if you’ve hung around my Interweebz presence enough. Maybe you’ve encountered it through writing communities on microblogging platforms like Twitter.

Or maybe it’s totally new to you, yet one more in an ever-expanding list of blogosphere jargon that will become obsolete about twelve seconds before it permeates mainstream culture sufficiently for the average netizen to have heard of it. You know. Like “blogosphere.”

But, okay, you clicked on this post, so you’ve already decided, what the heck, I’ll bite.

So: what is microfiction?

There may be an official definition somewhere; a cursory search suggests only a broad consensus that it’s Short, Like, Really Short, I Mean Shorter Than Short Fiction. Less than 300 words. Less than 1000 words. Flash fiction. Shorter than flash fiction.

I don’t especially care if it ever gets winnowed down to one authoritative definition, though. For my purposes, microfiction is a Tweet-length story. That is: 280 characters or fewer, or 140 characters if you want to challenge yourself with Twitter Classic™ rules.

“What? But Bex, surely you don’t need one of those newfangled tweet-twats to hone your Writing Craft!”

Nope! You sure don’t!

Listen, like I said, there’s not an official rule on microfiction length or anything. This super-short story idea has been around in some form or another for much, much longer than the internet has. In Hemingway’s day, I suppose the limit was six words (maybe you’ve heard what never-worn item was for sale?) and I’ve seen that format used as a writing exercise ofter. You might take a strict word or character count as your limit, or maybe you use it as a loose guideline to push your writing.

I sometimes challenge myself to express the idea of the story as concisely as possible, even if I’m already under my character limit. How densely can you pack this little story chunk? Squeeze it down under enough pressure to make a coal-sized idea into a narrative little diamond? If you’ve already done a six word story, can you make it five? Four?

You could argue that each word in a language is its own compact little story. What about those infamous words that can’t be translated because they embody an idea to specific to articulate in a single English word?

In the right context, even a sound could be its own story:

ArrrGHGHHHhhhhfffft.

I just stubbed my toe on the coffee table. You just missed the bus. Who knows?

That’s also the joy of the as-short-as-possible story — how much can you say with what you don’t say? How specific can you be? How much do you choose to leave open to interpretation?

So, yes, of course you can write microfiction without Twitter, measuring length by some other ruler. But I like to use Twitter so I can share what I wrote and see other people’s stories.

I’ve taken to posting microfiction prompts on the hashtag #MicroficMon on Mondays. I like to see how many different directions you can go with the same prompt. Plugging into a social media outlet like Twitter (or Mastodon, or whatever) adds a nice layer of community and instant gratification to the often solitary slog that writing can become.

So come join me over on the tweet-twonk and flex those teeny little writing muscles! This week’s prompt is:

Take it and run. Get weird! Try something new. It’s only 140 characters, after all. Then drop your story on the hashtag or in the comments below. I’d love to see your take on it!

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