How Microfiction Could Transform Social Media

10 March 2021 on Blog, Storystorm  

I’ll be level with you from the get-go: social media and I don’t get along. Beyond the avatars we create or the companies behind our screens collecting and brokering our data habits, I don’t like social media most of all for a simple reason: I rarely encounter content that is meaningful to me.

Now I can see how, at first glance, you might think one of two things. A) Well that’s an awfully selfish way to think about social media (or anything). Why does social media need to be self-serving? Or alternatively, B) That’s on you, pal. Follow better accounts, delete your apps, and stop complaining. I see both of these perspectives, yet still remain unsatisfied. I know deep down I keep these apps because I want them to mean something to me - whatever that looks like. Aside from swooning over foreign landscapes or scrolling through clothing I will never buy, what if I asked more of my digital presence? What if you did, too? What if we repurposed all the complaints, jokes, humble brags, and sorrows that fill our screens and minds? I have a theory for how we could do it.

In walks Microfiction - the perfect literary medium for our digital habitats.

In broad strokes, microfiction is a subset of flash fiction, generally composed of less than 300 words. You may have heard microfiction called another name, as it has many: sudden fiction, short shorts, minifiction, or even minute stories. The importance of microfiction, Mexican scholar Lauro Zavala reminds us, is not in its name but the six proposals critical to its essence. They are: brevity, diversity, complicity, fractality, ephemerality, and virtuality.[1]

Now ask yourself: what do those six words in aggregate make you think of? How do Zavala’s six elements compare to the chemical make up of social media? At an atomic level, I’d say quite comparable.

But let me take it a step further, show you what microfiction on social media could look like: Take the legend of Hemingway’s most famous encounter with microfiction, a six-word story that supposedly won him a bet:

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

Or one of my personal favorites from argentine author, Marco Denevi, who wrote in Veritas odium parit:

Bring me the fastest horse, the honest man said. I just told the king the truth.

What do you see in these stories? I see short quips of narrative, easily and repeatably consumable, that stir in me the magic of any great fiction I come across. In Hemingway’s work, I find myself asking: What happened to the baby? Why are its shoes being sold? How come they were never worn? Even though there’s no description of the shoes, I can see how pristine their rubber soles are. I, the reader, become an actor in the story’s creation, as Hemingway leaves the lines for me to color in. Similarly, in the Denevi story I adore the agile humor in the honest man’s flee. I wonder what truth the king couldn’t handle this time? I wonder who the king is in my life?

Importantly, microfiction is story as breath. It is story that exists with the same lifespan as a tweet or a post on IG. We react and scroll on. I’m proposing we change the reaction. We give social media artistic value where shallow interests currently reside.

Think how easily we, writers and readers, could make sure literature flourishes among our followings. Because while social media and I may fight, I cannot deny the blessing it gives me to share. To reach so many eyes and brains with a few finger taps. Consider your power as follower. Consider your power as an artist. Couldn’t we improve social media through microfiction?

I dream.

When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there. -Augusto Monterroso


[1] Lauro Zavala. “Minificción contemporánea: la ficción ultracorta y la literatura posmoderna.”Universidad Autónoma de Guanajuato, 2011. Web. Personal translation.

How Microfiction Could Transform Social Media

I’ll be level with you from the get-go: social media and I don’t get along. Beyond the avatars we create or the companies behind our screens collecting and brokering our data habits, I don’t like social media most of all for a simple reason: I rarely encounter content that is meaningful to me.

Now I can see how, at first glance, you might think one of two things. A) Well that’s an awfully selfish way to think about social media (or anything). Why does social media need to self-serving? Or alternatively, B) That’s on you, pal. Follow better accounts, delete your apps, and stop complaining. I see both of these perspectives, am mindful of them even, yet still remain unsatisfied. I know deep down I keep these apps because I want them to mean something to me - whatever that looks like. Aside from swooning over foreign landscapes or scrolling through clothing I will never buy, what if I asked more of my digital presence? What if you did, too? What if we repurposed all the complaints, jokes, humble brags, and sorrows that fill our screens and minds? I have a theory for how we could do it.

In walks Microfiction - the perfect literary medium for our digital habitats.

In broad strokes, microfiction is a subset of flash fiction, generally composed of less than 300 words. You may have heard microfiction called another name, as it has many: sudden fiction, short shorts, minifiction, or even minute stories. The importance of microfiction, Mexican scholar Lauro Zavala reminds us, is not in its name but the six proposals critical to its essence. They are: brevity, diversity, complicity, fractality, ephemerality, and virtuality.[1]

Now ask yourself: what do those six words in aggregate make you think of? How do Zavala’s six elements compare to the chemical make up of social media? At an atomic level, I’d say quite comparable.

But let me take it a step further, show you what microfiction on social media could look like: Take the legend of Hemingway’s most famous encounter with microfiction, a six-word story that supposedly won him a bet:

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

Or one of my personal favorites from argentine author, Marco Denevi, who wrote in Veritas odium parit:

Bring me the fastest horse, the honest man said. I just told the king the truth.

What do you see in these stories? I see short quips of narrative, easily and repeatably consumable, that stir in me the magic of any great fiction I come across. In Hemingway’s work, I find myself asking: What happened to the baby? Why are its shoes being sold? How come they were never worn? Even though there’s no description of the shoes, I can see how pristine their rubber soles are. I, the reader, become an actor in the story’s creation, as Hemingway leaves the lines for me to color in. Similarly, in the Denevi story I adore the agile humor in the honest man’s flee. I wonder what truth the king couldn’t handle this time? I wonder who the king is in my life?

Importantly, microfiction is story as breath. It is story that exists with the same lifespan as a tweet, a post on IG. We react and scroll on. I’m proposing we change the reaction. We give social media artistic value where shallow interests currently reside.

Think how easily we, writers and readers, could make sure literature flourishes among our followings. Because while social media and I may fight, I cannot deny the blessing it gives me to share. To reach so many eyes and brains with a few finger taps. Consider your power as follower. Consider your power as an artist. Couldn’t we improve social media through microfiction?

I dream.

When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there. -Augusto Monterroso


[1] Lauro Zavala. “Minificción contemporánea: la ficción ultracorta y la literatura posmoderna.”Universidad Autónoma de Guanajuato, 2011. Web. Personal translation.

J. Dominic Patacsil is a first year student in the University of New Hampshire MFA Writing program and a fiction reader for Barnstorm.

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