Monday, June 11, 2012

Micro Short Short Stories

For nearly two decades, I’ve helped judge a writing contest at CONduit, the science fiction/fantasy convention in Salt Lake City, Utah.  It’s called “Micro Short Short Stories.”

The rules are simple.

1.  Each story can have no more than three sentences.
2.  It should be a complete story, with beginning, middle, and end.
3.  It should be grammatically correct, and have correct punctuation (we take off points if we have to fix punctuation and grammar to make the story work).
4. The title can help tell the story.
5.  We give a story extra points if it contains foreshadowing, characterization, and/or subplots. (Amazingly, this can be done in only three sentences, although it's difficult.)

In this day of instant gratification, when Twitterfic and Flash Fiction stories are increasingly in demand, micro short short stories are a great way to practice the craft of writing short. Since I have always judged the contest, and I have a tendency to write long, I never tried writing a micro short short until last month, during Story a Day in May.  I found it surprisingly difficult.  I'm used to having space to build up setting, characterization, set dressing and, of course, plot.  With a micro short short, every word needs to count.  Run-on sentences, skillfully done, are encouraged rather than broken up into shorter, more telling sentences as they usually are in longer stories.  Adjectives help add description that would otherwise be lacking.

After several false starts, I finally managed a micro short short I was fairly satisfied with.  I discovered that (at least for me) it is far easier to write a funny story than a serious one in this format.  Many (but not all) of the stories that have won the contest over the years have been humorous.

Here is the story I came up with:

Avon Saves the Day

The firemen had quickly pulled Bradley from the wreckage of his car and loaded him into the ambulance, but when it reached the hospital the attendants told his fiancée, Beatrix (who had dithered in the front seat all the way there), that he had died en route.  "No!" Beatrix screamed, then pulled the sheet from Bradley's face and leaned down to kiss his cooling lips.  When Bradley blinked and struggled to sit up, Beatrix thanked heaven that she had tried that new "Revive" lipstick; it was even more effective than the Avon rep said it would be.

This is a rough draft, and I can see things I'd change if I were going to do anything serious with this story, but I mostly just wrote it to see if I could do a micro short short.

If you'll be attending CONduit next year, you can start writing micro short short stories now.  The judges don't care when you wrote them--they don't have to be written at the convention.  We would be enormously pleased if we got an influx of well-polished, interesting micro short shorts next year!  We do give extra prizes if there is an impressive batch of stories.

For those who don't live close enough to attend CONduit, you can, of course, still write micro short short stories.  Treat them as writing exercises, trying to get more plot, more characterization, and more description into every story while still adhering to the rules.  Like writing poetry--another form where every word counts--writing these very short stories can help your "normal" writing by imposing discipline you don't normally require.  If you're in a writing group, challenge your friends to write micro short shorts with you.  See if it helps you whittle the plot in your "real" stories down to the essentials.


Julia H. West has published fantasy and science fiction stories in magazines such as Realms of Fantasy and anthologies such as Sword and Sorceress.  She was Grand Prize winner in the Writers of the Future Contest in 1995.  Most of her previously published stories are now available as ebooks from Callihoo Publishing.

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