I’ve been reading the copy of Easter Rabbit that Joe Young was kind enough to autograph for me (nothing like a well-placed hint, right?), and it’s gotten me thinking about the art of microfiction. Anybody who tells you you can read a good piece of microfiction in a few seconds is either joking or an idiot. The first story in Joe’s collection, “Sine”, is exactly twenty-one words long, including the title. It’s one sentence that I’ve read and read and re-read and re-read. I’ve probably spent half an hour on this one story. I know it tells a story. I can feel it. If I knew how to read between the lines of Joe Young’s brain, I’d know what the story was. As it is, all I can do is puzzle over it, wonder, and fill in the gaps as best I can.
As a writer who has tried her hand at microfiction, I know how challenging it is to resist filling in those gaps for the reader. As a novelist, I don’t leave many gaps. I tell the reader what my character is thinking and what his/her motivation is in doing what they do. There really is no mystery. Microfiction should be the exact opposite. Sometimes the writer reveals what happens but not what the motivation of the character was in doing so. Sometimes you know a little about the character, but not much about what she’s done or why. A good example would be Joe’s second story of the collection, “Marie Celeste”. In it, we know the character’s name and a little about her: she has “cup moons beneath her eyes” that are “in decline” and she talks about tsunamis and ping pong balls. But Joe doesn’t tell us what’s happened to her or what she’s done. After my tenth reading, I decided she had done something horrible, but after my twentieth, I decided she was dying in some slow, horrible way. Who knows what I’ll think after my thirtieth reading?
At the rate I’m tearing through “Easter Rabbit”, I may finish it some time next year, but that’s okay. The allure of good microfiction is the same as the allure of good poetry. It makes you think, and in doing so, it pulls something out of you that maybe you didn’t know was there.
If you’d like a copy of Joe’s “Easter Rabbit”, you can get it here: Easter Rabbit.
If you’d like to know who can write like Joe Young better than me, check this out: Easter Rabbit Contest Results.