I used to write poetry. This seems surreal to me now, but it’s true, there was a time when I wrote poetry. And I have a dusty rubber-banded stack of old Mac floppy disks to prove it. All my groping attempts at verse are backed up on those disks, which reside in a box in my bedroom closet, packed away and ignored for more than a decade.
A few things got published, but I was never much of a poet. What I liked, though, and what’s stuck with me and informed my fiction writing since then, was the satisfying sense of finality and completion I experienced after finishing something short and brief, whether four lines or four stanzas. I also really liked the compressed impact that a poem can have—I wanted my short fiction to be like that too.
My future wasn’t in poetry. This was a detour and I knew it all along, having always gravitated toward fiction. But when I switched back to fiction (a couple of unpublished novels; “traditional” length short stories), I also started writing shorter short fiction, all the while influenced by my brief foray into poetry.
Poetry taught me about the need for language to be disciplined. The way words fit, the way they speak to each other, the way they sound, even the way they look on the page—these things were important. In a poem, you can’t, to paraphrase Elmore Leonard, include the parts that readers skip over. Every line, every syllable, every comma needs to be exactly where it should be and everything needs to be just so. Every word should seem inevitable and haunt the reader with its inevitability.
Likewise very short fiction. A twenty-page short story better be tight. But a three-page story? That sucker better be fucking airtight. The reader should be breathless by the last sentence, simultaneously left wanting more and hungry yet also fulfilled and completely satisfied. There is no room for a whimsical digression or long-winded description about the color of a leaf.
Get in, get out, leave a mark, hint at or pull back the veil of human mystery—that’s what I look for as a reader of very short fiction and it’s what I strive for as a writer too.
Bio: Andrew Roe's fiction has appeared in Tin House, One Story, Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review, and other publications, as well as the anthology Where Love Is Found: 24 Tales of Connection (Washington Square Press). A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, he lives in Oceanside, California. Predictably, he has a blog.
Read “Why We Came to Target at 9:58 on Monday Night” at Freight Stories
Read “Three” at Wigleaf
Read “Why Is There Champagne in the Fridge?” at Night Train