In ‘Conversations with James Joyce’, Joyce tells Arthur Power; ‘The object of any work of art is the transference of emotion; talent is the gift of conveying that emotion.’
For Joyce transference of the emotion was only possible with great many words. As his fellow countryman, a writer and a close friend Samuel Beckett observed; ‘James Joyce was a synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could. I am an analyser, trying to leave out as much as I can.’
The distinction is an important one as it highlights the difference between writers who lay the rich feast of words before their readers, versus those whose offerings are scarce. While the offerings remain of different quantity each respective audience seems to receive adequate sustenance.
However, if we agree with Joyce that ‘the object is the transference of emotion’ than the question that immediately present itself is whether or not that transference is equally achieved with few as well as many words?
No doubt those, like the writer of those lines, for whom the transference of emotion depends almost entirely on their ability to employ the richest, most luscious words, would readily subscribe to the ‘synthesizer’s camp’, while those who favour filling the spaces between scantily placed words themselves in order to receive the transference, would opt for the ‘analyser camp.’ Whatever our choice might be, it would inevitably depend on number of factors, including our views on the role of art and literature.
Another great writer whose frugal use of words became legendary is of course Ernest Hemingway. It is said that he once wrote a story in just six words and called it his best work; ‘For sale, baby shoes, never worn.’ The story does not have any of the building blocks stories are traditionally made of, such as the beginning, the plot, or the end. Moreover we do not know what happened to the baby, or why shoes have never been worn, or why they are for sale?
And those ‘missing pieces’ are precisely where the secret beauty of writing known as micro fiction or flash fiction lays.
Recently there has been much talk about micro fiction’s upsurge in popularity, which is apparently directly linked to our ever shorter attention spans courtesy of over-saturation with written words in all their forms. In other words; offerings far exceed not only appetites for novels, stories, poetry, etc, but also any human ability to digest them. As a result the challenge becomes how to transfer the emotion with as fewer words as possible. Enter the micro fiction.
While debates on whether or not the onset of internet has for ever changed written word are likely to continue, the fact remains that there were always writers who employed fewer words to achieve the desired effect. And while micro fiction might be quick to read, it most certainly is not quick to write. It requires something special; a writer’s ability and willingness to allow the reader to become the writer.
The writer’s task changes from holding all the secrets, to living some to the reader, so that the reader’s imagination and emotions are aroused just enough to entice him or her to finish the story in his own mind, using own experience, own believes. That is the unique beauty of micro fiction.
Every reader of Hemingway’s six-word story would answer the questions about the baby and baby’s shoes in their own unique way. Has the baby died before was able to wore the shoes? Was it a boy or a girl? Or was it a simply a matter of one pair of shoes too many?
There is no end to those questions. As there is no end to human imagination; the mastery required to evoke this imagination remains however within the writer’s tool kit.
Not very long ago, my written efforts were routinely received with remarks such as ‘too many words’ and alike. With that in mind, I took up a challenge to write a story with 150 words only including the title. While it was not an easy task, it intrigued me sufficiently to try and write couple of more stories with even less words. Here they are, and as always free and frank critique is most welcome!
If you have written, or are writing flash fiction, it would be great if you can share your work, and/or your experience on writing it. Many thanks.
My recent attempts at the tiniest micro fiction:
Notice: Single white female, body unclaimed.
Epitaph: Here lies Arthur Smith. He took his own life. It was all he had.
For hire: Wedding dress, size large, works if pregnant.
Adult entertainment: New to industry, apprentice rates.
Pub notice: No credit. Don’t ask. Even if sober.
God to Earth: Speak louder. Can’t hear you.