Just a Hint of Fiction

Johannes Vermeer painting, “Lady writing a letter with her maid” (1670-1)

“The king died and then the queen died” is a story. “The king died and the queen died of grief” is a plot.

~ E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

Recently, I purchased a palm-sized book titled, Hint Fiction edited by Robert Swartwood. In his introduction, Swartwood discusses the hierarchy of fiction as:

  • novel
  • novella
  • novelette
  • short story
  • sudden fiction
  • flash fiction
  • micro fiction
  • drabble (a story of EXACTLY 100 words)
  • dribble (a story of EXACTLY 50 words)

Swartwood claims,

“the very best storytelling [is] the kind where the writer and reader meet halfway, the writer only painting fifty percent of the picture and forcing the reader to fill in the rest. [This] way the reader truly becomes engaged in the process.”

So what about Hint Fiction? Swartwood wondered about stories that did not meet the readers halfway – such as the Six Word Memoirs. He suggested that fiction that only hints of a larger story be coined Hint Fiction; a story of 25 words or fewer that alludes to a larger, more complex story.

Some excerpts from Swartwood’s compilation of hint fiction:

“The Man of Tomorrow or Maybe You’ve Heard This One Before, But You’ve Never Heard It Like This” by Will Panzo

Dying planet. A boy, a rocket, a last hope. Kansas cornfield crash landing. Ma finds it sleeping in the crater. Pa fetches the shotgun.

“The End or the Beginning” by James Frey

Across the river.

The city.

Was just waking.

When I saw the flash.

Heard the noise.

Felt the shockwave.

Everything disappeared.

Except the blooming cloud.


Write a drabble (exactly 100 word story), a dribble (exactly 50 word story), or a hint of fiction (25 words or less) that hints at a story, forcing the reader to fill in the details. For inspiration, you may want to use Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrations from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. 

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