Bigger on the Inside: emerging forms of contemporary short fiction
A one day conference on the short story at Newman University, Birmingham, UK
Thursday 20 June 2013
Pamelyn Casto reminds us of Keats' description of poetry as ‘infinite riches in a small room’, and suggests that this description is apt to the contemporary phenomenon of short-short fiction (2002). It seems increasingly likely that such short-short fiction will be a dominant form of the twenty-first literary landscape: both in print and online there has recently been an explosion of short narratives. The myriad names of such fiction indicate its proliferation: micro, flash, sudden, postcard, fast, skinny; in China, pocket-sized, or smoke-long; in France, nouvelles … the list goes on (Casto 2003). Explanations for the popularity of such brevity in fiction range from laments over the increasingly short attention spans of modern readers, to practical recognitions that electronic forms of writing such as Twitter or text messaging are the perfect media for publishing very short fictional forms.
This new phenomenon is having a transformative effect on contemporary literary genres. An increasing number of organisations (such as Writing West Midlands) and magazines run regular short story competitions; and writers are being encouraged to experiment with short forms through such events as the recent Twitter Fiction Festival (28 November - 1 December 2012), and through specialist publications such as Flash:The International Short-Short Story Magazine. The democratic nature of the form - published by a wide range of professional and non-professional writers, often, in the latter case through blogs - is indicated by the Costa Awards’ decision this year to include a short story category which invited anonymous submissions, and where the winner will be voted for by the public.
Although these narratives are partly defined by their length, the question of ‘how short is short’ is impossible to answer: instead, writers are revelling in opportunities to innovate, challenged by the brevity of the form to explore how they can make every word count. Stories frequently embrace postmodernist techniques of borrowing and merging of different forms; often, it seems that very short fiction’s need to occupy a small space leads to shameless adoption and adaptation of poetic technique causing a blurring and merging at the boundaries of genre definitions. Relying on implication, precision, and surprise, microfiction is frequently innovative and, as Holly Howitt-Dring notes, ‘feels bigger than its small space on the page allows’ (2011: 57).
This conference seeks to explore the increasing importance of this up-and-coming fictional form, and invites papers from academic researchers and creative writers which address the following topics, or other relevant discussions on short fiction of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries:
- Literary transformations: the ways in which short-short fictions are altering genres, and changing our definitions of literature;
- Literary forms: effective forms of short-short fictions; what might typify the genre;
- Production and reception: how short-short fiction might be challenging traditional ways of publishing and disseminating literature;
- Writers and readers: how working in this emerging form has transformed writers, writing practices, and readership.
Abstracts of 300 words and a short biographical note (max 100 words) should be emailed to H.Cousins@newman.ac.uk by Monday 20 March 2013.
Pamelyn Casto’s article ‘Flashes on the Meridian: Dazzled by Flash Fiction’ (2002): available at http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/casto.
Howitt-Dring, Holly (2011) ‘Making micro meanings: reading and writing microfiction’ Short Fiction in Theory and Practice 1 (1): pp. 47-58.