You’ve likely read short stories before, and there’s a good chance that you’ve also heard of the even shorter form of flash fiction. But what about microfiction?
This type of creative writing isn’t discussed very often, but it can be a fun fiction form to both read and write. So, read on to find out everything you need to know about microfiction.
What is microfiction?
Microfiction is the shortest form of prose fiction. It can be as few as 50 words long, but any short story between 100 and 500 words long can be considered microfiction.
Microfiction doesn’t have an official definition and, because it’s not an old and established literary form, the term is used quite informally to refer to extremely short stories.
A more popular term for ultra-short stories is flash fiction. Because neither flash fiction nor microfiction has a single, widely-understood definition, the two terms can be used interchangeably. However, microfiction is recognised by some as a separate form to flash fiction, with microfiction having the shortest word count.
How are microfiction stories structured?
Microfiction stories might be short, but they still follow the same basic structure as most prose stories – they have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Due to their brevity, microfiction stories have to establish the story in the first few sentences. The middle section then has to drive the plot along and provide all necessary details to the reader before then reaching an impactful conclusion.
How long is a microfiction story?
Microfiction stories are usually between 100-500 words long, although they can be even shorter. Some might be only a few sentences long. It’s even possible to write a microfiction story with only one sentence.
Most microfiction won’t be longer than 300 words. Longer than this and a story is more likely consider flash fiction, which is usually between 300-1000 words long. Even longer than this and it’s more of a traditional short story.
The most famous example of microfiction is usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway (although there’s no concrete evidence that it was him). This used only six words to tell a story:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
With just six words this one sentence still forms a complete story. Each pair of words acts as the beginning, middle, then end, with deliberate use of punctuation separating them and influencing the tempo at which it is read.
“For sale” is the beginning, setting the scene and presenting the reader with a familiar concept. “Baby shoes” is the middle act, continuing the story by filling in the next key details and establishing everything needed for a powerful conclusion.
“Never worn” then acts as the climax, recontextualising the preceding four words and bringing the story to a close with a heartbreaking implication.
There are also plenty of examples of microfiction online, where they are published by both professional and novice writers.
Are there microfiction competitions?
There are many microfiction competitions available for writers to submit their short pieces of fiction. Most of these are online, as it’s easy to publish a range of different writers on a regular basis.
You can find a list of microfiction competitions online here.
How to write microfiction
Understanding how to write microfiction is similar to knowing how to write a short story. The major difference is, of course, the length. Even with a standard short story, it can be challenging to stick to a limited word count, so this is even more difficult with microfiction.
In order to work, microfiction needs to be restricted in scope. Having more than one scene can end up requiring too many words to keep it concise, and even having more than a couple of characters can be too many to work with the brief story.
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How short can microfiction be?
There’s no strict minimum word count for microfiction. They can be only a single sentence long. In terms of word count, six is the utmost shortest that still works (as seen with Hemingway’s famous example). Any less than that and it’s hard to tell a complete story.
Is microfiction the same as flash fiction?
While microfiction is sometimes deemed to be synonymous with flash fiction, this isn’t always the case. Flash fiction can be considered an umbrella term for any short story that’s very restricted in terms of word count, usually at a maximum of 1000 words.
Microfiction is the shortest type of flash fiction, ranging from just a few words long to a few hundred.