JM Williams

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The Rules of Good Microfiction, REBLOG: TLT – Wildfire in lavender


Story writing gets harder the shorter your story gets. Regardless of its size, a piece requires several things in order to be a complete story: characterization, crisis, and resolution. You could call it the CCR rule of short story writing (as in, if you don’t heed the rule then who’ll stop the rain?)

This proves difficult to do with flash fiction (under 1500 words), even more so with microfiction (under 300 words) and almost impossible with nanofiction (under 100 words). The shorter you get, the more you have to leave out or imply. You must choose each word carefully and only write that which directly hinges on your story’s CCR points.

Reblogged here is a nanofiction piece by Gina, aka Singledust, that represents a very good example of a tiny, but largely complete story.

First, she gives us clear characterization. The word “they” gives us a group, and the description of the first sentence tells us they are a couple. We do not need to know other details such as how they look or their personal backgrounds, since it is not relevant to the crisis. All that is important is that they are lovers.

Next, we have a clear crisis. Someone is approaching and will discover the lovers. The description of the sun as a creature tells us the couple feels disturbed, if not distressed by the idea of being caught. The choice of the word “creature” here is probably one of the most important in the entire piece, as it sets the tone and the crisis (“lay entwined” is probably a close second, as it does most of the characterization work).

Finally, we have a resolution, or at least an implication. The author tells us it is “too late to take cover” so a confrontation with the approaching woman is inevitable. What form that confrontation takes is left to the reader’s imagination, but the crisis of discovery is concluded nonetheless.

It is hard for me to imagine how you could do more with this limited number of words. The photo is helpful for setting the scene, but is not necessary to for this story to be fulfilling.

Microfiction, by its nature, must leave a lot to the reader; it contains a lot of ambiguities. The trick is not feeling compelled to give your reader everything and forcing yourself to stick to only that which relates to your CCR points. Readers can come up with description and relationships on their own, and it is often a good idea to leave them to it. What you need to provide is the story, the happening, the drive and action. The rest will come along on its own.

Many, if not most, microfiction works fail this test of completeness in some way, being more of a vignette than a full story (most focus on character to the detriment of crisis or resolution). I’m sure many of mine do. Ultimately, the trick is knowing what your story is about and restricting yourself to only that.

9 Responses to The Rules of Good Microfiction, REBLOG: TLT – Wildfire in lavender

  1. such details and going to the very words on each line – I am really impressed with your analytical mind. Now I would like to seek permission to reblog this on mine, for keeps and return visits. Thank you for appreciating the little words of the tale.

    • Of course, feel free to share it. I majored in English as an undergraduate and History as a graduate student, so language analysis is kind of what I do. I think it is helpful to have specific examples when providing advice or guides, so thanks for letting me use yours.

      • that’s sounds like something i would have loved to do, instead i got stuck in radiation physics. Which era in history do you have a fondness for and also which country’s history? I agree on having the examples makes it easier to relate and understand. English not being my first language I do get some sentiments confused at times.

        • I did my master’s thesis on the 1961 military coup in South Korea. My coursework was split between colonial America and modern East Asia. But I enjoy it all. You can get to the truth a lot easier with modern history due to our society’s preference for record-keeping. But that also means the distant past is left more to the imagination, which is fun in its own way.

          • I loved history in school and still do – maybe i like staying in the past?!! Did you study anything about Malaya? South Korean history sounds fascinating! you must be extremely well read I imagine.

          • No, I don’t think I studied about Malaya much. I’m sure it’s fascinating. I’ve done a lot with colonialism. There is a bit of a difference between history in high school and college. In high school you are presented with a story and expected to memorize it. In college, especially at the graduate level, you interact with and/or critique the story, relying more on primary records.

          • Prefer the reading bit not so much the critique part – I am not that smart but I remember lots of facts and like connecting the dots – that’s the part of history that doesn’t get told or really emphasised – connecting events and people and places ! Since writing is your passion – do you dabble in poetry? I am keen to be able to do micro poems – tried a few but I don’t think they were any good.

          • No, I don’t do poetry. But that’s just me. I prefer straight forward language. I don’t like structure to get in the way of the story.

          • interesting – poetry and structure – never saw it that way – maybe that’s why I am drawn – i like order and structure – a reflection of my training maybe.

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