I have a lot of literary balls in the air right now, so it's time to start committing a few to the Internet, to get them out of the way.
I've been thinking a lot about micro-fiction recently. At first I was against the idea of some sort of gimmicky constraint on the fiction-writing process. But then, after I tried writing a bit of micro-fiction, my perspective changed. The process by which one writes micro-fiction is different than simply writing. The space constraint means that each sentence must be packed full of meaning, taking the reader somewhere very purposefully. Adjectives are deleted, as is repetition. Sentence structure is made as minimal as possible, very efficient. You start discovering ways to hack the grammar, to say more with less. What subjects and objects can be dropped completely? When would simply a verb suffice as a sentence on its own?
A thing I always look at, in any sort of literature, is the assemblage of the writing. Sure, you've written something enjoyable of a certain length, it's a novel. But what does this novel attempt to do? Does it have a goal? Why or why not? What goals should writing have, if not just informative depiction, or entertainment? If it is less than a novel, what is it, and why? With micro-fiction, often the goal is a joke or a riddle. You let on only enough information for the reader to discover the "catch" by the time they get to the last line. Hemingway's "six word story" is one of these (and often the classic example of micro-fiction). The goal of that story is that you "get it", but only at the very end. The Joke formation is a classic trope-goal of human literature. It is like a vector model of motion: you move in one direction, and then another vector sends you in another direction. You thought you got it, but the punch line makes it mean something different, and NOW you "get it". There's nothing wrong with this; except, maybe that it is all do easy to use this as the "goal" when you have only a few words to use.
What else can micro-fiction do? What is worth saying in just a few words?
If you follow my Twitter feed, you might have noticed I have a certain preoccupation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission's product recalls. I follow their RSS feed (which is available through the link) with great interest. The interest is macabre--not quite dark, perverted, or Modernist enough to be considered Ballardian, but still there is something quite bizarre about the physical dangers of every day consumer objects. It's kind of like an infomercial coupled with a death announcement. Sharp blades, hazardous chemicals, high voltages, extreme temperatures, pinch and choke points, and deadly stored inertial energy are around us all day long, but normally sealed within lovely consumer design, like a butler with a pistol. The CPSC does fantastic work. We may think to mock the safety-conscious "nerds" who test every day products for any conceivable danger, but the days of caveat emptor have been replaced by strong protections against the profit-seekers. Most recalls come from these elaborate safety laboratories, protecting us from the danger we need never know. And yet, if you search the CPSC's public records, you will find that several product recalls a year do not occur without registered deaths and serious injury being attributed to faulty design, materials, and construction.
A consumer device--something so innocuous and common-place--can also be the symbol of any person's particular death drive. The death we seek out, and pay for, in the form of convenience and good design. Death lurks under all of our desires, the entropy at the end of the joke that is our lives.
Perhaps micro-fiction and consumer-hazard were meant to be together. The short, consumable package, the encased, enclosed, economically-packaged power--and the end result, the final toll, the end of the story. Maybe together, they can find a meaning for each other.
I'm going to write a micro-fiction story inspired by each day's worth of CPSC recalls, and publish them here (amid my other blog rambling). Not every CPSC recall is interesting, and they may not come out every day. Not every story I write will be interesting, either. But at least they will be short and easily consumable. And in some of them, we may just find the product we've been searching for. I'll continue the experiment until I recall it, or until it's made obsolete.
Predictions for 2012
5 years ago