Micro fiction refers to stories that are generally around 100 words, though I’ve seen some go up to 300. These are some of my absolute favorite things to write – partly because of the challenge and partly because I struggle to expand a plot further than novella-length.
Here are some things I’ve learned from writing micro fiction – maybe they’ll be useful for you as well!
Phase 1: Brainstorming/Idea Vomiting
Are you writing for funsies, or are you writing for a contest? If you’re writing for a contest, you may already have a prompt or theme to follow. If you’re writing for funsies and feel that you’d benefit from a prompt, you can find some ideas HERE and HERE. Yes, those are for flash fiction (usually 500-1000 words), but you can still use them for your purposes.
If I have a prompt or theme, I like to start idea vomiting all over the page whether that’s on a screen or with pen and paper. For an example, let’s use the example theme “Purple.” Take a few minutes to brainstorm and jot down anything you associate with purple. As you list things, you might find that some stir ideas like a snippet of dialogue or a sentence or phrase. Include those things in your list, too.
Sometimes, though, I have trouble getting started down the brainstorm path. When that happens, I like to run key words through a thesaurus or Related Words. Note: Related Words is hit or miss, and sometimes those misses are hilariously strange. Maybe try an image search through your preferred search engine.
By the end of this idea vomiting, you’ll probably have a couple of options that stand out. Pick one, or try writing out each of them to see if one is a better option.
Phase 2: Jump Right In
The biggest challenge in micro fiction (just my opinion) is to tell a complete story in such a limited space. Your story should have a clear beginning and end. That doesn’t mean you have to start at the very beginning, though, with pithy stories of your main character’s childhood or first love or what-have-you.
In fact, the very best place to start your micro fiction story is right in the middle. This technique is called in media res which is Latin for “in the midst of things.”
If you start in the middle of the story, you can fill in relevant details later in dialogue or exposition. This way, you aren’t wasting time frontloading details before your story even begins. That’s a surefire way to bore your reader (especially if your reader is me).
In this phase, it’s okay to write over your word limit. You will be paring the story down later to ensure each word counts. Write your story to completion, and in the next step, you can trim the fat.
Phase 3: Condense Brutally
Remember, you have an extremely limited number of words to tell your story. Each and every word needs to push the plot forward. This step can be difficult when you like to add background details or character descriptions – but you have to ask yourself: “Does this matter?”
Maybe your main character is a young woman with vitiligo, a recently deceased father, and her favorite thing to do is make chocolate milkshakes. Okay, those details are interesting, but if your plot is about your main character going to the bank, then they may not matter. Does that sound awful? Yeah, absolutely. Does it suck to cut those details? Of course it does!
If the details are things you really like, then you can always set them aside for a longer story or just a different plot. You never have to completely scrap any of your ideas.
Phase 4: Polish and Complete
Once you are done with your editing and have your micro fiction story within the word count, I’d highly recommend that you have someone else read it. It’s super short, right? Have them read it and then tell you what was going on.
This is important because sometimes, in the brutal editing process, you might cut things you DO need to tell the story. You may not notice you’ve done this because you’re so familiar with the story already that your brain will fill in the missing gaps.
If you don’t have someone available to read the story for you, there are multiple places online you can use to read text back to you. It’s clunky, yes, but it’s still helpful to make sure your story makes sense. You can do this through most recent versions of Microsoft Word as well.
Pictures in this post are courtesy of the following photographers: