On Christmas, my brother handed me a pretty sizeable box. I unwrapped it to find more boxes and even more taped surfaces. “Oh no,” I said out loud, conscious of what I was in for. I tore the gift down anyway, layer by layer, one empty box after another, to finally get to a glass penguin no bigger than my thumb. I placed it upright on my palm and looked at it, and that’s when I discovered the secret to being cute:

You have to be tiny.

Everything seems more adorable miniaturized. Babies’ toes are just delightful. The adult version is, well, not so much. Ferocious creatures like lions, bears and dinosaurs are endearing when we imagine them to be just three inches high. Even the tiny robots in Transformers drew a couple of “aww”s from the audience (despite the fact that they were shooting at people).

Likewise, in writing, there seems to be a growing interest in shorter and shorter stories. We’ve always had novels, novellas, and short stories; we’re even able to compress our thoughts into pieces of flash fiction. But today, the expansion of the internet has allowed writers to have more control over their weblogs and web magazines, to make their pieces more widely read, reviving an interest in extremely short stories that would take web-surfers only a few hundred seconds to finish. Mostly known as micro-fiction (or tiny stories, tiny fiction, little stories, very short stories, and possibly even extremely-ultrally-superduperly-mega-short-stories) these pieces are usually just a couple hundred words, and they are definitely just delightful.

I really only started paying more attention to these little stories after I attended CEC’s hitRECord.org event with guest speaker Joseph Gordon-Levitt (He deserves more links, here, here, and here) in early November.

"Dear Flower"

He introduced their project Tiny Book of Tiny Stories and played one of the collaborative videos that featured a contributor’s tiny story called “Dear Flower.” It consisted of only seventeen words, but it had been stuck in my mind ever since, and I couldn’t figure out why. Was it the piece’s wittiness? That sharp, clean feeling it imparted? Was it the little twist at the end that also emerges in a lot of other micro-fiction pieces? Was it the adorableness of it all? I couldn’t narrow it down.

So I googled.

Lo and behold, micro-fiction was everywhere. And what I found kept me reading and browsing and reading and laughing and saddening and lots of other –ings, but the point is, I loved what I was reading, and I couldn’t believe I had been so unaware of these tiny stories (It might be just my own ignorance or that they don’t seem to be as publicized as novels and short stories).

Some sites are simple to complement the brevity of the writing (Tinystories) while others are published anthologies (Jerome Stern’s Micro Fiction). Some showcase a variety of writers (Petting Zoo) while others offer their own individual works (Phil Gardner). Some offer specific prompts to get you going (WGZ). Others hold contests to really get you going (Hilobrow) (Some are old. And some are new. Some are sad and some are glad. And some are very, very bad (Dr. Seuss taught me well)).

Wherever you read them from, well-written micro-fiction are tight and concise, but their closing phrases send you back to the story and invite you to read and reread, often capturing themes that lengthy novels try to depict. I admire their carefully crafted sentences that make every single word count, their soul-stirring language and imagery, their ability to say what they need to say while pulling from elements of character, setting, conflict, and resolution.

The great thing about tiny stories is just that. They’re tiny. But like the bajillions of clowns that seem to come out of a compact clown car, they communicate more ideas than are presented. They allow the imagination to fill in what’s missing, to bring our own implications to the story. (And they don’t take long to read).

I’d like to close with one of my favorite micro-fiction pieces called “Knock” by Fredric Brown, published in 1948.

“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”

Fill in the pieces. You might just think a little big.