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Thoughts on Shorts - Xero. Distilled.
Thoughts on Shorts
Short, short stories; micro fiction; nano fiction... whatever you want to call a story that will fit onto a single side of paper, a screen, a matchbook, anywhere - so long as it's small.

I've always thought the point (and there are always exceptions to any literary idea), was that as word count decreases the information density has to increase. You're never going to develop a story or a world or a character as much as a full story, even just a standard short story. So you have to be as evocative as you can. You have to make the reader tell some of the story in their own head, you have to extend the story backwards and beyond the time covered by your few words.

Here's the best example I can give, from Ernest Hemingway (you may have heard of him). The complete story (don't worry, it isn't too long):

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Which he called a complete story. It is awesome, so evocative. It tells you so much with so few words.

There's some recent sci-fi attempts here (from known authors, and William Shatner! FTW), and I've seen various others before, but none ever seem to do it for me quite as well as hemingway's original.

I'll give it a go myself at some point soon.

It's worth saying, while we're on the topic, that this is where poetry and prose collide. When you reduce the words available, and increase the meaning-density, your use of language often becomes more creative, and the prose-prose poetry-poetry blur becomes foggier than ever.

Personally I wouldn't say Hemingway's falls into poetry (though I'm sure some people will disagree), but then I think some of the ones on that Wired link above do come close. Especially when people start dropping pronouns and articles.

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dogsolitude_v2 From: dogsolitude_v2 Date: August 17th, 2007 01:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Computer, did we bring batteries? Computer?
- Eileen Gunn"

Hehehe... That'll keep me smiling all day...
angelxero From: angelxero Date: August 17th, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
That one amused me too. =)

It's quite self-contained though, it doesn't really evoke much outside of itself.
headcube From: headcube Date: August 17th, 2007 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it was actually

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

although I'm not 100% sure about the punctuation. It has more of a build up of expectations that way.
angelxero From: angelxero Date: August 17th, 2007 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you're right, I tried to find punctuation and didn't even notice I had the phrasing the wrong way round. That punctuation seems appropriate. *edits post*
tetsuko_ From: tetsuko_ Date: August 17th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn"

Oh, that's cool. I don't think I've ever read that before.
I would have said that was poetry but I don't know what strictly defines what is or isn't a poem/story.

"William Shatner" heheheh *snarf snarf*
angelxero From: angelxero Date: August 18th, 2007 11:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Shatner has actually had a few SF novels published (ghost written or not I don't know). Some Star Trek ones, obviously, but he had another book series as well. Haven't actually read them though.
yeah_well From: yeah_well Date: August 23rd, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'll willfully disagree with you, sir. To class Hemingway's story as on the prosaic rather than poetic side of the threshold suggests that there is some kind of quantifiable line between the two and that each piece of text can be categorised according to its quantitative use of such qualitative rhetorical techniques. Bearing this in mind - and assuming that it would be difficult if not impossible to reach a consensus on one, let alone more, texts, using this method - isn't the line between poetry and prose more of a structural one, concerned with form rather than content? Otherwise the epithet "poetic" implies a superiority to the comparatively formless, bland, functional prose (of course the word "prosaic" has a pejorative nuance, but etymologically it is presumably the counterpoint to "poetic"). While the instructions included with your Paracetamol or your course handbook can be described as nothing other than prose, according to this argument it would be their form, situation and physical manifestation which qualified them as such, rather than functionality or non-ambiguity. (Having drafted policy documents and service level agreements I can now see how the kind of text that is designed to be clear and mono-semic is actually as ingenious and intricate in its lack of meaning as other writing is in its meaning - similarly, I've read a lot of poetry which hasn't got much going for it other than a bit of enjambement).

I wrote this about six hours ago when I got to work… I can’t remember if I’d finished or whether I was going to say anything else. Um.
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