Review: Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer

HintCoverHint Fiction is a genre I was exposed to during a course I had taken a few years ago for a capstone/synthesis/senior seminar (whatever they call it now) course for my undergraduate degree. Except I was a junior at the time…so…?

Anyway, “tiny texts” was a really interesting course exploring everything from ten minute plays, hint fiction, and prose poetry.  I fully credit that professor with encouraging my interest in the weird and experimental.

Ten minute plays are exactly are what they sound like–plays that occur over the course of ten minutes. They’re harder than you might think, but I did once try to write one for a playwriting workshop. I don’t think it was effective, but hey, I tried.

Prose poetry is, well, a mixture of prose and poetry–prose with some of the tips and tricks of poetry.  Baudelaire is an excellent prose poet for those looking interested.  For our purposes today, though, we’re looking at Hint Fiction.

Hint fiction is a story told in 25 words or fewer. One of the earliest (and most famous) pieces of hint fiction is probably Hemingway’s, which goes:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Though Hemingway’s story is both incredibly brief and lacks a title, it implies an entire story that leaves much to the imagination while providing enough to give a glimpse.  The story is an absolutely emotional punch to the get, yet it occurs in only six words.

Not the type of hint I’m talking about.

In Hint Fiction, Robert Swartwood assembles a collection of hint fiction pieces by writers from across the literary spectrum.  Joyce Carol Oates and James Frey are present, as are writers far less well-known.

Hint Fiction pieces span from humorous and light to incredibly dark as seen in the examples below.

“The Lover’s Regret” by Tess Gerritsen

They are now grown up, the children I abandoned to be with you. They hate me. But not nearly as much as I hate you.

“Children” by Jake Thomas

He took her out for a picnic to discuss what they wanted to do about it. “You want Bud Light or O’Doul’s?” he asked her.

A very important aspect of hint fiction is the title.  The title plays a large function in terms of giving information in such a limited space, as seen in the two stories above. Gerritsen’s speaker has left her children for a lover.  In Thomas’ “Children,” the speaker indirectly asks a woman about abortion.  Heavy, aren’t they?

“Ransom” by Stuart Dybeck

Broke and desperate, I kidnapped myself. Ransom notes were sent to interested parties. Later, I sent hair and fingernails, too.

They insisted on an ear.

Here, though, is a bit more of a humorous one, though still rather sad.  There’s the hint in the story, and then we’re left to wondering what this gentleman’s story is.  Is he wealthy?  Is there a reason no one seems to particularly care about him?  Did they know?  It’s whatever you want it to be.

 “Peanut Butter” by Camille Esses.

He was allergic. She pretended not to know

This one was one of my favorites.  What we traditionally did in class was go around the room with everyone reading a piece, and then we would discuss certain ones.  “Peanut Butter” gave a lot of dark chuckles.

Hint fiction is actually incredibly difficult to compose.  It’s not only the restriction tumblr_lb07av7iWN1qz6f4bo1_500of 25 words or fewer, but it’s more of what to put in.  The language requires a skill in the economy of words, and what you put in can be just as important as what you leave out.  Don’t forget to use the title to your advantage.

Hint Fiction is an anthology that provides for a very quick read, but the brief journey that really makes you pause to think about the many forms that literature can take.

And just one more–one that dares to change literary history:

“Found Wedged in the Side of a Desk Drawer in Paris, France, 23 December 1989” by Nick Mamatas.


GODOT enters, stage left.

Have you ever tried writing hint fiction?  Why not try below?


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