by look i have opinions
I like stories that are extremely short, almost too short to be stories at all (also called hint fiction, very short stories, and a lot of sillier names). Sometimes my opinions of these stories go on longer than the stories themselves.
Most of my current favorites are from Nanoism, a Twitter-based webzine:
“I should have turned off the machines …,” by Mari Ness
A lot of microfictions are structured as jokes or literally are jokes (the editor of the now defunct Twitter zine Thaumatrope has a post about this). I like straight-up funny fiction, but my preference is for the pieces that use a joke-like structure to tell a serious story, especially if there’s an epigrammatic sting at the end.
“Moon doesn’t know that millennia ago she shone like Sun …,” by Ana Cristina Rodrigues
This one takes the form of a tiny folktale, almost but not quite boiled down to a proverb. Probably inspired by the line “The moon’s an arrant thief….” I’m tempted to read it as a feminist fable.
“She lived in fear of rejecting her new face …,” by Elaine Isaak
A single sentence. Again, like an epigram, this has a great sting at the end, this time more horror than humor. On a reread, the opening image is imbued with new meaning: the main character isn’t just forced into keeping up a pretense, she’s literally wearing someone else’s face, and incidentally, she’s more frightened of transplant rejection than of certain other things in her life.
“Months later, he unscrews the gate …,” by Dennis Y. Ginoza
Microfictions don’t have a lot of room for scene or imagery. The ones I admire usually get their power from the accumulation of a few well-chosen facts. This one is remarkable for being entirely composed of a single image in a single scene, everything else being implied. One thing that didn’t hit me until afterwards was that the main character has very probably been living alone all these months.
Sometimes the second sentence strikes me as taking the image too far—I keep feeling tempted to tone it down, but each phrase is so well chosen that it’s hard to do. For example, “folds in on itself” is heavy with emotional meaning, but it’s also an apt, straightforward description of what this type of gate does. Okay, I might take out the word “waiting.” (If I were the editor for this piece, which I’m not.)
“Pretty soon, the whole room was nodding …,” by Martha Williams
This one has stuck in my mind for a long time because it captures so aptly that moment when the mood of the group turns against one of the people present. Somebody has obviously called the main character out on some kind of bad behavior, but what? Did she let her guard down and say something catty or racist or just plain inappropriate? Did she get caught in an obvious lie? Or was it her word against somebody else’s? Did she say something that everybody else preferred to believe was not true? Did somebody tell her she was being “unreasonable,” or that she really should have known better?
Some more pieces I like:
“House Hunting,” by Gary A. Braunbeck
The winner of Robert Swartwood’s 2009 Hint Fiction Contest (read it and the other finalists here)
I like how this one is just long enough to fall into a rhythm: that short first sentence punctuated by “Good,” the two longer sentences following, and then the terse close. The creepiness has a rhythm to it too—it kind of builds.
“The piercing chill I feel …,” by Taniguchi Buson, translated by Harold G. Henderson
From Henderson’s Introduction to Haiku (and also found here)
Haiku are not often stories. This one is.