I once joked to a friend, “You’ve heard of microfiction, now get ready for macrofiction.” Most likely this would be a terrible idea—many readers already struggle to maintain the stamina to finish standard-length novels—but there’s no denying that with the rise of digital publishing, works outside of the length range for traditional publishing are now seeing new opportunities in the online age in previously unprecedented ways. With social media platforms such as Twitter gaining in popularity, where creators are given strict size limits for their creations, the art known as microfiction has been given an opportunity to blossom. Although anthologies and magazines have long provided platforms for short stories and poetry, the concept of microfiction standing on its own as an artistic piece is growing in the era of limited-space social media.
Microfiction, also known as flash fiction, refers to complete works of prose fiction that are extremely short, typically less than one thousand words. One famous example is a story rumored (but never verified) to have been written by Ernest Hemingway. The entirety of the work reads: “For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn.”
In recent years, digital publishing has led to increased visibility for works of this nature. Twitter accounts such as @veryshortstory are dedicated entirely to posting prose that is brief enough to fit within Twitter’s 140-character limit. While Twitter accounts such as this post represent stand-alone microfiction, other authors have taken to using microfiction published on social media sites as tie-ins or promotions for their longer published works. Crime fiction author Sophie Hannah has tweeted short murder mysteries to show her skills, and readers who see their friends retweeting her short, short stories can click her Twitter profile to find cover art for her published books and a link to her website.
Storytelling through Twitter has multiple appealing qualities to authors—these works are quick to produce, easy to publish, and easy to share. A brief, witty piece of microfiction can be shared by a single Twitter user to all of their followers, who might be entertained enough to click on the author’s account and find information about their other works. Other online platforms such as Facebook or Tumblr—while they don’t have the same character restrictions as Twitter—still serve as viable platforms for quickly produced, quickly consumed, and easily shared short works. One of the most miraculous aspects of digital microfiction, even more so than fitting complex stories into 140 characters, is the ability to effortlessly disseminate these stories.
With that in mind, it’s clear how digital publishing has served this emerging genre better than traditional publishing has. The logistics of publishing such works as stand-alone print publications are obviously impractical. “For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn” doesn’t even take up a full line of a page, never mind a full page itself. Print publishers would be hard-pressed justifying trying to print and bind such a thing to sell in bookstores. The growth of possible platforms in the digital age—from ebooks to blogs to social media—has laid the foundation for a microfiction renaissance. Because microfiction requires less effort and fewer resources than producing a novel-length work, authors can utilize it not only to experiment with prose but to keep their readers engaged and reach new audiences that may only be willing to give 140 characters of attention to unfamiliar authors. Readers can enjoy free entertainment, and authors can appreciate the relatively minimal effort that goes into producing such works. And while this arrangement might seem like a clever marketing strategy for building the author’s brand (and it is), microfiction itself can be as compelling as any long-form prose. While the authorship is contested and it is largely a matter of taste, I’ve always found “Baby shoes, For sale, Never worn” to be a bit more evocative than The Sun Also Rises.