It's Not About the Size of Your Fiction

by Susan McCreery

In 1867 Charles Baudelaire sent his manuscript of 49 prose poems, Paris Spleen, to his publisher, Arsene Houssaye, along with a letter that opened with the following sentence:


            ‘My dear friend, I send you a little work of which no one can say, without doing it an injustice, that it has neither head nor tail, since, on the contrary, everything in it is both head and tail, alternately and reciprocally.’

‘Everything in it is both head and tail’ is the epigraph for Loopholes, my collection of microfiction, published by Spineless Wonders in December 2016.

Each story (there are 67) could conceivably be a scene from a longer story – in other words with neither head nor tail. Also, as a reader you can choose to open the book in the middle, at the end, anywhere. And some will read it from beginning to end. Again, ‘everything in it is both head and tail’.

Microfiction is also known as flash fiction, microlit, and short-short stories. ‘Short’ is by no means easy to write. You need to work hard at whittling away unnecessary words, rearranging sentences, chucking out flabby bits that don’t do any work. There’s not much time to set a scene, or introduce character, so you have to hit the ground running. Implication is crucial. The title is vital. Endings shouldn’t be too neat – the reader needs space for the story to resonate, especially when they’ve finished reading it in under a minute!

The way Loopholes came about is this: as a way of keeping up the writing practice, my New Year’s resolution was to write a short piece a day throughout 2015. In the course of the year I filled up three OfficeWorks A4 artist quality notebooks.

Loopholes Cover 1600

Not every piece came easily. Not every piece was worth a second look. And I had to find new ways to generate ideas. One day, for example, with no story written by nightfall, I picked up my laptop and transcribed the 6pm news. With a few tweaks this ended up in the collection (‘Account’). For another I decided to respond to whatever was in front of me, which at that moment was my cat (‘Deterioration’). Two stories riff off movies (‘Well, then’, ‘Rear Window’ – a student at UTS has since made ‘Rear Window’ into a marvellous 1-minute animation film). Most pieces began with the simple act of writing, uncovering story as I wrote.

When Bronwyn Mehan of Spineless Wonders said she’d be interested in taking a look at the manuscript, I sent her 45 of the best stories. She liked them (phew) but said she’d need more in order to make up a 130-page book (each story in Loopholes is under 250 words; the shortest is 25 words). Aagh! This sent me scurrying back to my notebooks to see what I could resurrect. Those not-worth-a-second-look pieces got their second look. Some of them made the grade after all.

Written by SCWC

Posted on June 20, 2017