University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Summer 2011

Hint Fiction

What can you write in less than 25 words?

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In his 1846 essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” Edgar Allan Poe famously noted that the ideal work of fiction was one that could be read “in one sitting.” Recently, as our collective attention span has shortened, micro-storytelling formats seem to be flourishing. The 1990s brought us flash fiction and postcard stories.

Now, in the age of Twitter, comes “hint fiction” – a term coined by the American writer Robert Swartwood to describe stories of 25 words or less. Although some have called the concept gimmicky, Michael Winter, an author and University of Toronto creative writing instructor, finds merit in the ultra-short form. “I was once involved in a one-word poem contest, and we had some incredible entries,” he says. “The winner was the word ‘despite.’”

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