Maybe we have less time than ever before. Or maybe we’re just filling that time ever more carefully. But there seems to be a rise in stories that take up very little of it.
Flash Fiction has been rising in popularity. These stories of only a few hundred words are designed to fill the time it takes to smoke a cigarette or drink a cup of coffee. Amazon’s Kindle Singles – books of only 5000 to 30,000 words – are released at a rate of over three a week. These speedy reads include fiction and non-fiction, and stories that range from memoirs and journalism articles to novellas and essays. The speed in which they can be written, edited and published allows for timely pieces, such as Christopher Hitchen’s story, “The Enemy”, which was released only two weeks after Osama bin Laden was killed
The latest instalment of these tales of extreme brevity is Twitter Fiction. Joanne Harris (of Chocolat fame) regularly holds a tweeted story time, in which she tells an original, and often charmingly odd, story in a series of bite-size, appetite-whetting 140 character messages. And this month, The New Yorker will tweet Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Egan’s new short story, which was written specifically for the Twitter format.
The conciseness of these works appear not to drain any of the pith or attraction. In fact, stories that can fill those dead bits of time – that can liven up a train journey or make waiting for the kettle boil magical – feel like an enriching way to celebrate the short and sweet.