Nano-Fiction by Bill Turner


Miriam N. Kotzin wrote the first Per Contra article concerning flash fiction nearly three years ago. Nano-fiction, however, remains enigmatic to many.


Two specific types of nano-fiction require explanation. The fifty-fiver and sixty-niner forms of flash fiction are often confusing and difficult to define.  Like all forms of flash fiction, these forms are short stories.  But unlike the longer flashes, they are distilled into a powerful and pure essence.  A fifty-fiver, or sixty-niner, must adhere to the same principles as a five hundred to seven hundred word flash, but it must deliver a story in one-tenth of the space.


The effect of well-crafted nano-fiction is a not at all subtle impact on the reader's intellect and emotions.  The distillation of the story to create nano-fiction usually requires the writer to place the reader directly into the conflict of the story and carry him or her through to the resolution in a space that could scarcely fit a description of an egg, or some other small object.  The intensity of such a form is immediate to the reader.


Just as flash fiction has varying opinions of length and form, so too does nano-fiction.  Some people believe that fifty-five word fiction is defined strictly by the number of words it contains.  The Wikipedia entry "55 Fiction" states that it is merely fifty five words or less.  I prefer the definition used in Miriam N. Kotzin's essay that compares a Fifty-fiver to a sonnet.


In this sense, not only is it distilled by length demanding economy and forced to express the range of fiction in concise terms, but it bears the second demand of form.  A fifty-fiver set in form is a close relative of poetry, while retaining the elements of fiction that make a good story.  The form is outlined in the fifty-five word explanation I've written below: 


Make sure that your fifty-five word fiction adheres to form. Fifty-five words must form the ten sentences in order.  The first sentence is exactly ten words long.  Each following sentence is one word shorter.  The last will contain one word.


This could seem quite difficult.  In fact, it isn't.  It demands efficiency.  It's simple.  Right?


While those sentences demonstrate the form, they are not a true fifty-fiver.  As I mentioned, the form still requires the elements of fiction to be present.  Below I include a sample of a true fifty-fiver:


Taylor's father never missed a game in ten years' time.  He sat on the fourth row, eight seats down.  One year he almost caught a foul ball.  It bounced near them to the right.


Taylor would've loved to get it.  He never had a chance.  Sitting alone he remembers.  One seat's empty.  Dad left.  Unfulfilled.


The sixty-niner is not restrained by form.  It only requires that sixty nine words are the length of the fiction.  The lack of form only makes this nano-fiction slightly less difficult.  Like its longer relatives, a sixty-niner should function as a complete story.  Miriam N. Kotzin provides an example:


Lace Curtains 


We were happy together. I'd tell you.  Fifty-three years.  Week nights I had dinner ready at six -- and when they were still home I had the children sitting, clean and quiet, around the table.  This very morning after Mass I lit a candle.   Kathleen or James, the darlings, take me to his grave each week for a wee visit.  Happy?  What would be the point, now, of the truth.


Fortunately, growing interest in flash fiction makes my essay one opinion of many.  As flash grows in popularity, the demand for fiction will ultimately determine which forms of it survive and which become snapshots of a generation.  These nano-fiction forms may serve as steps to another experiment, or may be an end in themselves.  Regardless of the outcome, they are vital fiction at present.


That alone makes them worthy of publication and preservation.



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Bill Turner


2005-2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas