Fifty Word Fiction Tom Hartman Zine-O-Rama

import_contacts Fifty Word Fiction

reviewed by Tom Hartman

Published in Issue No. 55 ~ December, 2001

From one of the
folks behind the smart UK zine Tangents comes Fifty Word Fiction, a new
zine that seeks to publish what might be the shortest stories possible.
If you think 50-word fiction sounds suspiciously like a creative writing
workshop exercise you’d be right: the mag owes its genesis to an
assignment a friend of editor Alistair Fitchett distributed to her
students. Fitchett told his friend the assignment was impossible, but, he
says, “I dashed off to try my hand at it anyway. Fifteen minutes
later I had my first fifty word fiction written, and a day after that I
stuck up this website. Such is indeed the beauty of the web: hardly any
lag time between conception and execution. But can these micro-stories
– perhaps the ultimate hyperbolic expression of flash fiction? –
really amount to anything more than tune-up exercises or pallette
cleansers for would be novelists? The jury’s still out, though
there’s some intriguing work waiting to be discovered here. Some of
the pieces decidedly feel like homework, as in Paul D.
Pfeiffer’s untitled 50-worder about a motorcycle accident in which,
regrettably, just to make word count it would seem, “fall’s
remains” replaces “leaves.” Other pieces are merely
jokey, and some are real groaners, like Ben Myers’ “Reasons
for Divorce”:

“Did you just fart?”

“No. And I’m offended you even asked me that.”


“That’s OK.”

They stared at the screen.

” But you did though, didn’t you?”

“Christ, what is this?”

“Just admit it.”

Five minutes later, straining, he followed through. Three weeks later
she found herself a solicitor.

Some entries, however, are honestly memorable: because of their
compression, the collision of images or appeals to the senses they
contain in so few lines; they are not-quite-poems – certainly
poem-like, as can be said of the best flash fiction as well; for
instance, Ethan Paquin’s Mezzanine III:

The average American mall has two levels, lots of open space and
marble flooring, even wishing fountains. One can buy pizza, Chinese,
sandwiches, bagels, hamburgers. Cotton, rayon, polyester, latex and
wool. Britney, Mandy, Christina, Jessica, Penny and Jackie. Spaces
where girls debate with friends what boys taste like.

Or the following untitled piece by Sandra Tappenden:

We sat round the fire like runaway boy scouts. We were all deprived.
Someone old enough to know better ripped off a line from Monty Python
and the reference was beautifully lost. A man ran up to the flames and
wanted to stick his head in; someone talked him down.

That 50 Word Fiction has managed to attract interested writers is
perhaps less an indication that, like Fitchett, some scribblers will try
anything (i.e. in the hope of belt-notching another publication credit?),
and more telling of how fiction writers continue to search for
web-friendly ways to ply their trade. Certainly, this is one kind of
web-published fiction that doesn’t leave you reaching for the
bottle of eye drops.

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Tom Hartman has been a regular contributor to Pif since 1999. He lives in Philadelphia.