Monday, March 15

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, March 15, 2010 28 comments
What the heck is "microfiction"? You might well ask. It's a term that encompasses several forms of very, very short stories with low word counts and high impact.

Many of you, dear readers, have not attempted a short story since that college writing class taught by the flaky professor chick wrapped in scarves. After all, novels are what the public is buying these days. Right? Or perhaps you believe one of the following myths:
  • The characters crowding my brain have stories that are too big to fit in 25 pages or less.
  • If I don't spend every ounce of writing energy on novels, I'll never finish.
But a novel is a huge commitment with almost no rewards for years and years. The marketing process with novels is so slow and rejection-filled, it's enough to take the wind out of one's sails for good.

Many of the books on marketing novels stress the importance of having numerous publishing credits. This is a good idea not just to make your query shine and to get your name out there, but also because small victories are important for morale. And low morale is a creativity crusher.

There are a number of established and emerging forms I thought I'd bring to your attention. The beauty of these very short forms is they force you to write very, very tight, a skill every writer should develop. They don't require the elaborate plotting of a 300+ page mystery thriller either. Short forms can be a way to explore an intense moment, or try out a new genre or style.

Flash Fiction
up to 500 / up to 1,000 words
Definitions vary from publication to publication, but most agree 1,000 words is the upper length limit for flash fiction. That's just four pages, folks.

My crit partner Simon argued very well in his guest post on Carol's Prints that the flash fiction form is something every fiction writer should try. He also explained how you might be able to mine your current WIP for material that could be turned into a stand-alone short piece you can market and publish.

There are over a thousand publications seeking flash fiction, including genre markets! The nonpaying markets are usually very open to new writers, but don't fear the paying markets including Flashquake, Every Day Fiction and The Shine Journal. Go to Duotrope's Digest and select "flash fiction" from the "length" drop-down menu to learn more about flash markets.

100 words
Drabble is a story that must be exactly 100 words. For some examples, see Boston Literary Magazine and Flashshot (SF, fantasy and horror). Some other exact-word-count forms longer than Dribble (see below) are 55 fiction and 69er.

50 words
Like Drabble, Dribble is an exact-word-count form, but even more limited--just 50 words. To see some examples, go to 50 to 1 e-zine and Boston Literary Magazine.

Twitter fiction
up to 140 characters
Are you a champion tweet writer? This might be the form for you. Go to Nanoism to see some bright gems in 140 characters or less.

And Tinier!
Two Sentence Stories publishes, oddly enough, stories of just two sentences.
Vestal Review publishes "Dirty Dozen" stories, which are 12 words long.

Microfiction resources
PerContra magazine featured this helpful roundup on microfiction, including some editor input about what makes a story publishable.

PiF magazine featured this excellent article on craft considerations of microfiction.

Here's my challenge to you: try one of these microfiction forms and submit a piece for publication by July 31.
Are you game? Which forms have you/will you try?
Are you not game? Why (aside from being too busy)?


  1. Wow, interesting idea. I'll have to read your post again and then go check out all the links.
    very interesting idea. I can't say I'm game right this second, but I can say I will think about the challenge.

  2. I started out writing short stories for children with word counts of 1000 or less, something I'm still doing. I love drabbles! They are a great writing exercise.

  3. very good points! I laughed b/c you hit my attitude right on the head: why write short fiction???

    Like another commenter said, I'll have to consider this more.

  4. I've had much more success with my short stories. I'm so glad I started writing them along with my novels. This is a great post! I submit one per month, so I'll definitely submit one by July 31st :)

  5. Anne: There's at least one romance market that pays very well--they want 1,100 word stories (just a smidge over the flash fiction threshhold; check Duotrope for the info.), and I've heard you say you want to start doing more literary fic. It's imperative to have lit mag publishing credits to be taken seriously as a literary writer.

    Bish: I just submitted a drabble. It was really hard! But yes, a good exercise. Sounds like we can count you as in!

    Tamara: small victories are sweet: it's worth trying for that reason alone, I think.

    Aubrie: I've seen how actively you've been persuing the short fic market. Other fantasy writers would do well to emulate you! Do you think your pub credits helped you land your e-book deal?

  6. I've been wanting to try this, but I either chicken out or get distracted by my WIP. Might as well make it an official goal. I'll definitely take the challenge. Thanks for the nudge and for all the awesome links! :)

  7. This is really interesting stuff, Laurel, and I knew almost none of it. Ouch! Thanks for the interesting lesson. I'll give it some thought and see what I think my entry should be.

  8. Thanks for the micro-fiction lesson. I'll admit that I've never really cared for short stories and so never really gave much thought to writing them. BUT. I haven't read a short story since I was in grade's quite possible my tastes have changed since then.

  9. when i try for short stories they end up being 30,000 words. i think that qualifies as a short novella. the shortest piece i've ever written is 11,000, but i had to leave out a lot of detail. i'm not even sure i could write 1000 word story.

    interesting to read about all the different forms of micro fiction.

  10. Abby: Hooray! I'm glad you're willing to try.

    Shannon: There are loads of paying markets for children's short stories, especially weekly Sunday School handouts. Some publishing credits in kid lit would make your queries that much more shiny!

    Rhonda: You'll definitely see a lot more literary and experimental than mainstream in the microfiction markets, but the super-short pieces can be fun to write, and those little publishing wins feel awesome. HUMOR pieces usually sell well. That's how I broke in to Flashquake, which is pretty competitive. I think you could write some totally smokin' humor flash pieces!

    Michelle: Take a peek at Simon's post I linked. He has some great ideas for spinning off a scene from a larger work. Fantasy markets for short fiction are HOT right now. Take a peek at Aubrie's blog (she commented above) and see how well she's doing it.

  11. Oh, you know I'm game for that kind of challenge. I'll even try one of each, 'cause I'm ornery like that.

    And thanks for the link love. You nabbed both Carol and me in the same link. Nice! :)

  12. Laurel,
    i posted some of my unintentional microfiction on my blog.

  13. Thanks for defining 'flash fiction' - I always wondered what exactly that was.

    I'll have a think about writing fiction of that sort! I'm game to try anything, but I must admit I'm somewhat loathe to tear myself away from the novel mindset. However, if I have lots of time in the future I just might give it a go!

  14. Ah! I have been playing with the idea of trying to get some flash fiction published. I think I'm scared! Ok, terrified, but I have to start somewhere while I wait to finish my revisions right?

    Ok, I'll do it. Bug me about it please so I don't cop out.

  15. Thank you so much for this post. I have a lot of short stuff hanging around. I think I'll take up your challenge and see what happens. :)

  16. ok, Laurel, i did it. submitted 2 to Two Sentence Stories and 1 to Nanoism.

  17. I recently discover flash fiction myself. I post them on my blog. I hope to have a new one up in a few weeks. So, challenge sort of excepted (I’ll post the new one on my blog).
    Flash Fiction is fun and challenging. It’s a great way to try out different genres or to explore emotions, and different perspectives.

  18. Simon: I thought of you when I came across Nanoism with its tweet-length stories. Thanks for tackling the topic well in your guest post--saved my fried brain from having to think up all that good stuff. :-)

    MICHELLE! I am so proud of you! Way to try it and then just jump in and submit!! Woo hoo! May your courage be an inspiration.

    Talli: The beauty is, you don't have to commit a lot of time. Try the two sentence form -- it looks like a lot of fun!

    Charity: Many of the nonpaying markets are volunteer-run by really nice people who just love to read. Duotrope lists 1,160 markets seeing flash fic--your odds of getting a piece accepted somewhere are very good--if you submit. Plenty of places allow simultaneous submissions, too.

    Southpaw: To be in on my challenge, you have to go a step further and submit to a publication. Sounds like probably already have some material that's good to go! I double-dog-dare ya to submit! :-)

  19. Sarahjayne: whoops, got interrupted by small person while responding and missed you! I'm excited to hear you're up for the challenge. I've really enjoyed the pieces you've posted and I bet editors would be too!

  20. Cool post. I can't wait to try out the nanoism. Surely I will submit something which is both short and sweet!

  21. Yes. I'm inspired by this challenge. I've tried a few stories for Highlights, not in yet, but need to try again. I thought of the 500 words or less as the really short story. But, look, they have shorter ones!

  22. Amber: Cool! glad you're willing to try it. I'm intrigued by that form too.

    Mary: Awesome, glad you're up for it. I know a good market for you: "Joyful!" is especially interested in inspirational shorts in fiction and nonfiction (the publish poetry too, I think).

  23. Ooh. *stretches short story muscles* I am so game!

  24. Tina: Fantastic! Keep me posted about how it goes.

  25. I've never tried flash fiction before. I'd like to try it someday, but not now since I'm busy with my wip. I must admit, I've never been great at writing short stories (novels are always on my mind). I do want to flex my muscles in this arena, though.

  26. Those links sound very interesting. I shall check them out. Thanks for the heads up.

  27. Laurel, I just received this in my inbox.

    "Your story has been accepted for web publication by 365 Tomorrows. It will appear on the front page and will be archived within the site under the name you submitted with it. Thank you for your submission, and we hope that you contribute to 365 again in the future."

    It's not paid, but it is a start to help boost my confidence. What I sent them is crummy! Almost embarrassing because I've learned so much since I wrote it. Thanks for this challenge. ;) I'll watch and let you know when it posts.

  28. I love 100 Word Stories. Sometimes, it's all the writing I can get done for the week.