The Magic of Microfiction

In a world that moves so fast all the time, and where the consumption of media has become a constant barrage of options with little opportunity to sit down and savor (or at least, feel like you have the opportunity, as a media journalist), I’ve found some comfort in microfiction and microepisodes of non-fiction. They’re the bite-sized episodes of audio that you can swallow in under ten minutes, and that means they’re perfect for a small section of time where you can sit with them to ruminate on them, to get excited, even if you dn’t have a ton of time.

Much like flash fiction in the writing world, I often see these episodes being dismissed as being of little substance, or too short to either contain any important information or ability to impact emotions. But the writing and creation of microepisodes is just as complex as that of flash fiction, because yes, there’s not a lot of room to work within — but as various audio fiction creators have mentioned, including Erin Kyan of Love and Luck, giving yourself limitations and restrictions can open up your mind for storytelling.

I would be remiss to talk about microfiction without mentioning the breadth of work of Anthony R. Olivieri (2298, Magic King Dom, Great & Terrible, The Easiest of All the Hard Things), who specializes in surprising and hurting his audience in as little time as possible. 2298 was admired as a work that lingered in contrasts, in uncomfortably tense music that reflected the path of its protagonist, and in repetition. Out of his work, his most recent, The Easiest of All the Hard Things, has been a source of intense interest for me, where near-total isolation on a deserted island (if you don’t count Turtle) leads to a forefronting of character and one single event that changes everything. It’s a butterfly wings to tornado form of a bottle scenario.

But you don’t even need episodes where an event happens on screen. The first season of Moonbase Theta, Out was a masterclass in using structure to create a lingering horror scenario. In five to six minute episodes, we understood that the character of Roger had a strict weekly report to make on the shutdown of the scientific base on the moon he was on, and thirty seconds at the end for a personal message to his partner. The incremental reveal of what’s happening both on the base, and on Earth as it affects the base, is one of the most worrisome reveals for me in a long time.

Finally, a lot can happen in a short time, as Fan Wars: The Empire Claps Back has shown in the first half of their season by presenting the evolution of a romantic relationship in less than ten minute scenes of Skype calls between two people who spend a lot of time fighting about Star Wars. Here, the short episodes are a boon to the sensation that “life comes at you fast”, and sparks are often too hot to grasp with ease.

I encourage everyone to try some microfiction, not just in the five-minute slot you have left of your lunch break (though that’s great too!) but in maybe the ten-minute moment of peace you have before you really have to pull out of that parking lot. Let the work sit with you and give it some space, even if you don’t have a lot of time. Maybe listen to it twice, and see what you notice the second time around that you didn’t the first time. Embrace microfiction and microepisodes as the audio crunch you need in a busy day! And if you’re interested in writing and recording some, check out some of the advice out there for flash fiction and adapt it to suit your audio needs.

This essay was originally published in Audio Dramatic Issue #35, September 3, 2019.