Short-Short Fiction Critical Essays

Introduction

Short-Short Fiction

The following entry presents criticism on the representation of the short-short form or subgenre in world short story literature.

Although the categorization of the short-short story as a subgenre of short fiction is recent, the form has been around for many years. In fact, critics have identified classical fables and parables, such as Petronius's “The Widow of Ephesus,” as prototypes for the short-short story. With the resurgence of the short story genre at the end of the nineteenth century, short-short fiction also reasserted itself as a viable form. Such prominent authors as Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce, Anton Chekhov, and Isaac Babel utilized the brief and condensed structure of the short-short story. In addition, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, and Bernard Malamud composed short-short fiction pieces. With the rise of experimental fiction in the 1960s, very short works became increasing popular with magazine editors and readers. The publication of several short-short story anthologies in the 1980s and 1990s, beginning with Short Shorts: An Anthology of the Shortest Stories in 1982, legitimized the short-short fiction form as a subgenre of short fiction. In structure, short-short stories range from one paragraph to twenty-five hundred words in length. Within that compressed space, these stories do not have complex plots; instead, they concentrate on anecdotes and dramatic incidents that provide insight into the human condition. Critics praise the intensity and spontaneity of these stories. The recent popularity of the short-short story has been attributed to the changing demands of magazine editors, the brief attention spans of most readers, and a rebellion against the rules of the traditional short story.

Therefore, some commentators view the recent popularity of short-short fiction as a sign of cultural deterioration and assert that the form is inferior to longer short stories. Moreover, some critics consider short-short fiction more like narrative poetry or prose poetry. There has been some critical controversy as to the most fitting name for the short-short genre. It has been called micro-fiction, one-minute fiction, mini-fiction, flash fiction, and sudden fiction, among others. Whatever the accepted designation, the short-short story continues to gain popularity and recognition as a category of short fiction.