Geeky Guest Column: Micro-fiction with Tim Sevenhuysen

Ernest Hemingway: The man who started it all...

On a website dedicated to movies, music, video games, comics, television, and books, the thing that I geek out about seems, well, a little unusual! There is no real entertainment industry built around it, and other than a single piece of work by Ernest Hemingway that has managed to somehow worm its way into the public consciousness, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to think of a single example of the format.

I’m talking about microfiction.

I define microfiction as a story told in 250 words or less. My flavor of choice is the 50-word story, but there are plenty of other creative formats out there. Here are a couple of my favourite sites:

Personally, I’ve been writing stories with exactly 50 words for almost 10 years, since I learned about the concept during high school. I don’t remember how I heard about it, or what my first attempt looked like, but I do have some examples of stories I wrote back in 2004 that I posted to what was then my first attempt at a website. Here’s one:

Silent Interstate

“Thanks for the ride,” Missy said, climbing into the idling truck. It was approaching midnight, and she had been stranded on a silent interstate with an empty fuel tank.

“Things couldn’t possibly get worse,” she complained.

The stranger grinned wordlessly. At least this one had provided some decent last words.

In 2009, I was looking for a new creative project, so I started www.FiftyWordStories.com. Since launching the site, I’ve written and posted almost 500 stories, as well as sharing over 111 stories sent in by the site’s readers. Here’s an example of a more recent piece of work:

Showers and Tellers

After long days of deposits, withdrawals, and balance inquiries they often felt dirty when they got home, so they liked to race each other to the bathroom to play the “Who Can Get the Cleanest?” game.

She always claimed she had won, but he liked to make her prove it.

A lot of people, when they hear about my site, react by sitting down and trying their own hand at the format. It’s possible to write a good 50-word story in just a few minutes, though I often take up to 10 minutes to get things just right, so it’s a really good format for getting something done quickly and moving on. Since I’ve spent so much time writing 50-word stories over the past two years, I like to think I have a pretty good idea of what it takes to come up with a good one, so as part of this post I thought I’d share a bit of advice based on my own experiences.

Make a Connection

Your story should be more than a series of events. This is true for all fiction, but it’s even more true for microfiction. The events in your story should be connected to something more than themselves. It is perfectly acceptable for a story to simply be entertaining, but reading that “the knight killed the fearsome dragon, then married the beautiful princess, then lived happy ever after” isn’t entertaining unless the reader has had time to develop an emotional attachment to the knight, or the princess, or the dragon.

In longer-form fiction, the connection can be built up over the course of a long series of events and can grow at a much slower pace. A lot can happen in a thousand words, let alone fifty thousand: the events themselves can be the story, and the emotional connection can be built up in the background over time. But because of the limited word count available in 50-word stories there is very little time for the reader to develop that attachment, so building the connection between the reader and the events has to be the primary focus of the story: the connection has to be more important than the events. Try focusing on a feeling or an emotion, and letting the events be the supporting cast to that feeling.

Write Unconventionally

Of course, not every story has to be emotionally meaningful or have a profound message to convey. Microfiction is a great opportunity to write unconventionally, building stories around things that longer-form writing has a much harder time sustaining. You could write a 50-word story that is based on an interesting piece of dialogue or wordplay, a joke, a clever linguistic device, an unusual character, or an inventive alternate-reality concept. If you are the kind of person who has a lot of different creative ideas but has a hard time putting them together into a complete story with a meaningful plot and fleshed-out characters, microfiction may be perfect for you. Write that creative idea down, provide just enough plot and character development to get the reader’s imagination going, and move on to the next one!

I hope you find this helpful, and if you do, feel free to send the results of your efforts to me at tim@fiftywordstories.com, along with a brief (one-or two-sentence) bio. Every Monday I share a story from a guest writer on the site, so I’m always looking for new submissions to post.


Tim Sevenhuysen lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where he is studying at the University of Victoria for a Master of Arts degree in Sociology. Typically Canadian, he loves hockey; his favourite teams are the Vancouver Canucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tim is an avid book collector and especially loves classic fiction.

In addition to maintaining FiftyWordStories.com, Tim has released a book called Fifty-Word Stories: Volume One (available now in several e-Formats and one print edition), blogs at TimSevenhuysen.com and Tweets about life, books, hockey, microfiction, and more @TimSevenhuysen.

Posted on May 16, 2011 at 12:00 by Geeking Out About Staff · Permalink
In: Columns · Tagged with: , ,

One Response

Subscribe to comments via RSS

  1. […] an entertainment blog, celebrate their one-year anniversary by contributing a guest article about microfiction and cosponsoring a 50-word story […]

Subscribe to comments via RSS