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.’

James Joyce, Credit: Wikipedia
James Joyce, Credit: Wikipedia

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.

Samuel Backett, Credit: Wikipedia
Samuel Backett, Credit: Wikipedia

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?

Ernest Hemingway, Credit: Wikipedia
Ernest Hemingway, Credit: Wikipedia

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.


Author: Daniela

Reader, Writer, Mother, Freethinker, Habitual Day Dreamer, Blogger - Sharing Ideas, Poetry, Prose, and Conversations on the Lantern Post!

18 thoughts on “Brevity”

  1. I equally appreciate both long and short fiction and non-fiction, when every word matters. Length for the sake of length is somewhat boring. Just as well, short with nothing to hold onto feels like a let down.


    1. Hi Melanie,

      You are right indeed; more than a length itself the substance is what matters. There are times when long fiction or non-fiction is too long, as well as when short has nothing much to offer. In both cases transference of emotions is what entice the reader.

      Many thanks for reading and commenting,


  2. It is a complex style to master isn’t it! I struggle with flash fiction, I find myself going back and trimming words from each sentence. I love your attempts at micro fiction, particularly the last one. That’s brilliant.


  3. This is very interesting! And there are so many opinions on how many or how few words to use when conveying emotion in writing. When I first got into the writers scene on a writers website and then the blog, I wasn’t very impressed by flash or micro fiction, and I’m still not sometimes! But I have learnt to appreciate it so much more over time, and can see the great hidden power in just a few perfect words. I realised I have actually been seeing it a lot in every day life without realising it, because advertising has used it for so long, I just hadn’t thought of that as being the same, but it really is, accompanied with images!

    I think the main problem with micro fiction as to it being understood and appreciated, seems to be down to how the reader’s mind works, and if it’s in line with the writer’s thinking and their choice of words. A bit like when it comes to what makes us laugh – we don’t all relate the same kinds of jokes! 🙂

    When it comes to novels, it’s whatever captures your attention – few words or many words, we are all different. I personally like something in between, with the occasional short and powerful, thought provoking sentence, just waiting to surprise me, to make me stop and think!

    I like your ‘God to earth: Speak louder. Can’t hear you.’ This creates so many options in where to go in my thinking with those words, allows the reader to see it from their own perspective – very good!! 😀


    1. Hi,

      I enjoyed reading your comment, so much! Thank you -:)!

      It is an interesting perspective you introduced – powerful, brief messages advertises use to capture our attention … that is indeed so true! With few carefully chosen words, accompanied with powerful images they capture our attention and ‘lodge’ the massage in our psyche before we even realize … such as the power of words!

      Many thanks for reading and commenting,


  4. Once again, you have not disappointed me, Daniella 🙂
    Such an interesting post and one that I can relate to. I have found that lately (if I am honest I must say most of my life), I shy away from long posts and have decided that I am not going to feel bad when I don’t want to read most of what’s out there. I CAN say, that your writing never leaves me with the feeling that I wish I had those precious moments back! LOL On the topic of less-is-more I am definitely a writer who likes to leave the reader lots of space to fill in the blanks and, maybe it’s because I like to be granted freedom to weave my own imagination into a novel. I like to become the character and experience the story, my way. If the writing is too “tight”, I can’t always fit into it!
    I guess I live life this way. I don’t like anything hemming me in!


    1. Dear Melody,

      It is always such a pleasure to find your wonderfully kind comments under the Lantern … thank you so much!

      I am honored you like my writings.

      While I am naturally inclined to ‘indulge’ in as many words as possible (maybe this is why I like Joyce), I admire writers who are able to ‘trim’ their words and leave plenty of space … I am trying to learn how to do that!

      Many thanks -:)!


  5. Hmm…I propose that somewhere between Joyce and Beckett is a good length, and for for adventure–sometimes–Hemingway is a good role model. (I use present tense to describe the writing of deceased writers, since supposedly they don’t need to be alive to have their writing live on…) Oh, it gets complicated, doesn’t it?
    But what I’m clear on is how much I enjoy your micro-fiction! These are great, Daniela! My favorites are Notice, Pub Notice, and God to Earth. Well done! Step aside, Joyce, Beckett, and Hemingway!


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