Jules Horne on the Guardian blog tells us not to be dismissive of the form:
Ultra-short stories are newly fashionable and marketed as quick fixes of fiction, but the best of them demand close attention - and time - from readers.As Horne points out, the usual length of a short-short story is between 100 and 1,000 words, so 600 words is actually quite a generous allowance! Not so long ago, Starlight posted a 300-word story challenge on her blog, and many of you tried your hand at it. (Incidentally, short-short-story.com is a very useful resource for writers of flash fiction.)
Nanotale, nanonovel, flash fiction, microfiction, sudden fiction... call it what you will, the ultra-short story is enjoying a much-hyped revival. At a time when not-so-short story writers are struggling to get their collections out, it's the tiniest tales that seem to be squeezing on to publishers' lists. Ziv Nanoth's Nanotales is the latest in a recent line of pithy prose works by often experimental writers including Dan Rhodes, Dave Eggers and David Gaffney.Of course, the short prose form is far from new. It has roots leading back to Aesop's fables; from the 19th century on, French writers such as Baudelaire and Max Jacob wrote prose poems that explore the boundaries between prose and poetry, and could happily sit with either. Twentith-century exponents include Italo Calvino, Franz Kafka, Elizabeth Bishop and Raymond Queneau, whose Oulipo movement of experimental writers pushed formal constraints to the limit.Maybe that's why I'm perturbed to hear nanotales marketed as an ideal form for our attention-deficit age. These distinguished writers, often at the maverick outer edges of their art, weren't interested in offering up quick fixes for us to absorb between tube stops. They were drawn to its special challenges: the distilled essence of storytelling, the condensed emotion, the perception shift, the power of the unexpressed.That said, it's easy to see why microshort stories have taken off in the digital age. They can be read at a single sitting, on a single screen. They fit beautifully into a blog. They can be whizzed around on the same "have-you-heard?" grapevines that bring us jokes, news and gossip. And now, they can even be heard: a 200-word short story makes a perfect minute-long podcast. Maybe that's their future - carried around on our iPods, as a kind of fictional "Thought for the Day"? Writers like Patrick McLean are taking this even further, with straight-to-audio stories written specially for the web.
One of the best short stories I ever read was about a postcard to the future and was just 50 words long and incredibly effective! (It was in a an ELT writing textbook ... if anyone knows it and could send me a copy I would be so grateful).* There are some good fifty word stories on Bill Collin's website, if you think it can't be done.
And of course, there are stories that are shorter still. Horne reminds us of the Hemingway example:
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.which he describes as:
... a perfect specimen: a mighty backstory, a compelling character, and an emotional kick to crack the toughest heart.Then there's this one by Margaret Atwood which I like even more:
Longed for him. Got him. Shit.While a reader adds a cryptic six word tale by Joss Whedon:
Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.And knowing you guys (bored in the office, reading me surreptitously when the boss' back is turned) you want a go too.
*Hsian found the 50 word story I was trying to recall here. And this is it:
The PostcardFriendless, he despatched a letter to the twelfth century. Illuminated scrolls arrived by return post. Jottings to Tutankahmen secured hieroglyphics on papyrus; Hannibal sent a campaign report. But when he addressed the future, hoping for cassettes crammed with wonders, a postcard drifted back with scorched edges. It glowed all night.
Isn't it just wonderful? It gives me goosebumps.
I forgot to tell you that the Guardian website has some of the Nanotales up already so if you want to see some samples ...