Flash fiction — stories that are usually less than 2,000 words and often only a thousand or so — have been around for a while now. They’re a popular format for aspiring writers, because, unlike the 50,000 words something like NaNoWriMo demands, a few thousand words are nowhere near as daunting a prospect. You probably write a thousands words just replying to emails and posting on Facebook. So not only is it something you can finish and feel like you accomplished something, it’s also a great way to learn economy in your writing. A thousand words doesn’t leave a lot of room for extraneous details or tangential flights of irrelevancy. I don’t fancy myself a great writer, but doing flash fiction on a regular basis really helped me improve on some things.
If you really want a challenge though, there’s micro-fiction. That’s a story of 100 words or less. You’d think that only needing to get to a hundred words would make things so much easier, but let me tell you something: this blog post just now passed 172 words. All the words preceding this are 70% more than you’re allowed to use. In the space of the average online dating profile, you have to set up a plot, characters and a resolution. If flash fiction teaches you to economize, micro fiction teaches you to be downright stingy. You toss away “he said” and “she replied.” Any adjective not absolutely essential is gone. You’re tempted to throw away articles and go for caveman speak. No time to really world build or admire the scenery. You’ve got to get in and get out.
Which makes it all the more satisfying when you do it. You end up with his crafted little gem, a pin-point precise bit of fiction that creates a whole world in the space Robert Jordan would take to describe what his heroes had for dinner. It’s the writing equivalent of doing some wind sprints on the days you’re not doing long runs; you wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but it’s good for keeping the muscles limber.
And now that I’ve compared sitting at a desk typing to actual physical exercise, it might be time to call it a night.