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How To Read Short Fiction

Adrian Patenaude

Recently, I’ve been learning about the micronarrative, a writing form that has been growing in popularity. Micronarratives are extremely short stories also known as “flash fiction” or “hint fiction.” These stories explore the idea of minimalism and “less is more.” By stripping everything except the barest details, the writer invites the reader to meet them halfway and fill in the rest with their own imagination. But some people argue that less is just... less. Are these writers just being lazy? Do these stories demonstrate skill or are they careless lines drawn on a blank canvas and submitted as “modern art”? That’s something you’ll have to decide. In the meantime, here are some tips for reading short fiction:

Don’t interrogate the story.

Resist the urge to figure out what it means. You can’t expect to fully understand the writer’s original intent and you certainly won’t get a moral lesson. These stories ask questions, not give answers. Don’t fall into the same trap that poet Billy Collins’ students did: “...all they want to do / is tie the poem to a chair with rope / and torture a confession out of it.” (“Introduction to Poetry”)

Slow down.

Read slowly, savoring the words. Read it more than once. Put it aside, then come back to it. Sit in the questions and wait. As you do, the story will start to creep out from the underbrush.

Have fun!

Micronarratives are a springboard for your imagination. So have fun with it! Think about all the possible ways to interpret the story. Fill in the backstory or write the next chapter. Discussing it with someone else brings up even more possibilities. And remember, there is no right answer. Let the story speak to you.

Is less more? Or is it just less?