Fiction At Its Most Playful

Tuesday, December 18, 2018
By: 
Richard Holt Interviewed by Nikki Bielinski

A portrait of Richard Holt
Richard Holt

2019 Summer School: Micro-fiction: Making Every Word Count

NB: What first inspired you to go micro?

RH: I was experimenting with very short fiction before I'd heard of flash or micro- fiction. As a visual artist, not a writer, I was incorporating short narrative sequences into artworks, playing with the tension between linear narrative and the two-dimensional picture plane. I had to wait a few years for the internet, by which time I was finding my way as a writer and hooked on one-page stories, to give what I was doing a name, and tap into the richness of the form. I was always attracted to the active role the reader plays in constructing a more complete narrative than what's on the page in those few sentences of a micro story.

NB: How micro is micro?

RH: I'm not big on word-count definitions or arguments about what constitutes 'flash' or 'micro'. But there's a point in the length of a story at which the way the story is told changes. Beyond that point negative space (what's not said) plays a less important role in the story, as the author takes more control of the narrative. It's at that point the story takes on the characteristics of a traditional short story. The stories I enjoy most would fit, if not on a single page, then on no more than a 2-page spread. That's maybe between 100 to 500 words, though I can be delighted by a story told in just three or four sentences.

NB: What are the requirements of fiction to be micro fiction?

RH: It has to be shorter than a standard short story. To achieve its brevity it should ideally require the reader to take an active role in the completion of the narrative - much of the story should be left beyond the page. Beyond that I'm loathe to be too restrictive. The scope of microfiction stories can vary from a vignette's intense focus on a single moment to a tiny narrative portal into a story of epic proportions. In the hands of good microfiction writers big stories can be told in just a few hundred words.

NB: What demands does micro fiction make of its writers?

RH: One of the challenges for microfiction authors is in the choosing of what not to write of the story. The other is to learn to craft very short stories that don't have the life edited out of them. It may be stating the obvious, but microfiction is a literary form. Readers need to be rewarded for engaging in each story. Each story, regardless of its brevity needs to offer the reader a unique reading experience.

NB: Which strategies are helpful to structure micro fiction?

RH: The same structures and elements that go into writing longer fiction provide the framework for microfiction. Great characters are important. If these are combined with a compelling setting, a confident authorial voice and a convincing narrative the story will be on very solid ground.

NB: Which author has inspired you the most with regards to micro fiction?

RH: Historically Robert Walser created disturbing glimpses into a strained European normality. I love the sense that his very short pieces aspire to things that the traditional short story never could. They are demanding of the reader, but rewarding in equal measure. By comparison Patti Smith's prose poetry veers enticingly into microfiction territory. It's lush and heartfelt. And I'm inspired by narrative songwriters who write a form of microfiction, telling complete and complex stories in a few well-crafted stanzas. Bob Dylan's 'Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts', for instance, is a piece I constantly return to. After 40 years I'm still trying to unpack it.

NB: Where do you see micro fiction heading in the future?

RH: I'm excited by microfiction's suitability for multiple off-the-page formats. I've produced it incorporated into artworks, as billboards and stenciled street art, as broadcast audio, video and in performance. It's brevity gives it a unique flexibility. No other fiction format can be inserted, so easily, into the public realm. I see the development of better critical frameworks for the consideration of microfiction. It's a form that exists, for the most part, outside the dubious limelight of academia and professional critique. That's one of the reasons it excites me most at the moment. That said, mainstreaming of the form will create opportunities and major publishers will, in time, pay microfiction the attention it deserves. But I suspect, regardless of any success the form achieves in finding an extended audience, it will remain a place where fiction writers can be at their most playful and experimental.

About Richard Holt

Richard Holt’s short story and micro-fiction collection 'What You Might Find' (Spineless Wonders, 2018) was described by The Australian as ‘a tonic for readers in search of new angles from which to spin the world around in their heads’. His stories have appeared in numerous collections and journals. He also produces micro-fiction for public spaces in a range of video, public art and performance formats.