I have a love-hate relationship with micro fiction.
I am a sucker for the competitions. No matter what project I’m currently working on, or how important the project is to me, I will throw it aside in an instant (I couldn’t bring myself to say “in a flash”) to spend the day writing – and then filing down – a micro-fiction. I think this is mostly because I’m a shameful procrastinator. I’ll do the dishes, clean the toilet, water the plants, rearrange the cupboards, write lists, budgeterise, plan trips, (write blog entries…) – anything instead of actually sitting down to work on whatever project I’ve set for myself. So if a micro-fiction competition sidles into my peripheral vision I GRAB hold of it and yank it directly to the foreground. I can then happily procrastinate while convincing myself I’m honing my art.
The problem is, I’m not very good at writing them. I send them off, waving enthusiastically as they wander down the street all by themselves, and only a few weeks later I get the inevitable rejection letter.
So I decided (tonight – when I should, ahem, have been doing something more productive with my time) to figure out where I’m going wrong. To good ol’ Google I went, with my sincere question: “how to write good micro fiction?” I found contradicting advice, some dos and don’ts, some practical tips on keeping the word count low. I’ve chosen to use David Gaffney’s (author of Sawn-Off Tales) six simple instruction on how to write micro fiction, because they make intuitive sense to me.
You can read the full article by clicking on the link above, but in a nutshell he says: (1) Start in the middle; (2) Don’t use too many characters; (3) Make sure the ending isn’t at the end (ie avoid the twist/punch-line/“drum roll and cymbal crash” ending); (4) Pick a good title; (5) Choose an excellent last line that leaves the author thinking and even struggling to understand what the hell it’s all about; and (6) Write a longer story then cut it down.
Here is one of the three unsuccessful micro-fictions I recently submitted to Micro Madness, a national micro fiction competition running throughout June. It is exactly 100 words long.
It looked too small to be a boat, but it moved at a phenomenal speed. Brian watched it from the shoreline until he realised it was a huge fin. He took out his phone to get footage. Could even be a Great White.
It circled round and started heading towards the shore. Like it had noticed him. Brian smiled at himself, shook his head.
It kept coming. What was it doing? Trying to beach itself? Phone still in hand, Brian took a cautious step backwards.
As it hit in the sand, Brian turned to run. He only got three paces.
I’ll now go through David Gaffney’s steps one by one and see if I can improve this story.
(1) I believe that this story starts in the middle. I haven’t bothered explaining who Brian is, or why he’s walking on the beach. So I think it’s passed step #1.
(2) I only have one character.
(3) Oh dear… egg on my face. This story clearly ends at the end. Brian dies / is eaten by some weird oceanic creature. But this has got me wondering: do I stop the story before he is attacked? That would be boring, and would miss the point. The alternative is to carry on with the story after he’s been attacked. But as the story is told in a “close” third person point of view (that is, we see Brian’s thoughts) it seems impossible to carry on after he’s being eaten or at least horrifically dismembered. I’ll try writing it from an omniscient perspective and see if I can stretch it out further…
(4) I hate choosing titles (especially for flash fiction, when the title is arguably more important). I’m a very lazy title-creator. I’ll concede that the title isn’t that great. It probably leads people to believe the creature is in fact a shark.
(5) Since I have to change the ending (so it’s not the end) I’ll have to change the last line anyway.
(6) You know, with this story I didn’t actually twiddle it down much. Which probably means there’s more story I could have told.
Here is my second attempt. Since the guidelines specified the story had to be 100 words or less, I’ve maintained that restriction.
Over 1 million hits on YouTube
It looked too small to be a speedboat. Brian watched it from the shoreline until he realised it was an enormous fin. He took out his phone to get footage.
It circled round and started heading swiftly towards the shore. Phone still in hand, Brian took a step backwards.
Later, the police found what appeared to be hurried footsteps heading away from the shoreline and abruptly ceasing. The boy’s phone was found three days later, damaged beyond repair. A video went viral on YouTube, showing a great, angular beast erupting from the water. Critics dismissed it as an amateur prank.
Comments are most welcome! Here’s a link to the Micro Madness page – it’s worth checking out!