Monday, 4 July 2011

Don't blink

Small post today, but with a big question. What's the shortest a story or game can be?


christian said...

How about the Orc and Pie scenario?

christian said...

Oh, eff. I read "story" and thought adventure. Apologies.

Porky said...

Gaming is just fine.

Orc and Pie is short for sure, but there's still a lot going on there. It's pretty rough too - kill and steal, and just for a pie..?

I feel bound to point to an alternative approach assuming more diplomacy, even if the edition and the way of going about it mechanically might be offputting to some of us. It's still fairly long though.

Jedediah said...

Hemingway did it in six words. For sale: baby shoes, never worn." (at least, so the legend goes).
And here's a slightly longer one by Arthur C. Clarke.

So the shortest story is very short indeed. Although I would tend to call it a story seed instead. We have this need to make everything into a story, it's how we deal with the world. And so, just like some random dots and lines make a face, very few words can make a story.

Laughing Ferret said...

one of my favorite books growing up was the edited by Asimov "100 short short science fiction stories'. Stories ranged from about 10 pages down to one sentence.

Been many years, but if I recall correctly some of the shortest was "science fiction for telepaths" that was just "Ah, you know what I mean." and "The sign at the end of the universe" that was "This End Up" which was printed upside down.

Those may be more jokes than stories, but the actual short short stories themselves had some very good gems.

Trey said...

I think really short "stories" are actually something different entirely. Hemingway's 6 words (for instance) are sort of implied story rather than actual story, I think. I would say an actual story has to narrate some action (however mundane) so making the reader a witness of a sort to an event occurring.

Things without that action are scenes, or vignettes, or ideas.

But I don't think I answered your question. ;)

James S said...

I'm with Asimov, I think narrative is the psychological method humans use to orient themselves as individuals in the world. One word could be a story:

"So . . ." Where your mind leaps next reveals your personal narrative.

Trey makes a really good point too though, I think. If we don't restrict our definition of a story to some sort of action or movement, what's not a story? Witnessing is a good way of putting it. You don't really witness a ball sitting on the side of the road. You witness it rolling into the storm-drain.

Porky said...

Some solid examples there. The Hemingway story is striking and the Asimov book idea very interesting, and the jokes themselves pretty good too. I'd say though that the Arthur C Clarke story is if anything overlong..!

That three-word end-of-the-universe sign also suggests the rules can be bent, if say a title is used to set context or provide some other element we might expect of the main text. That said, I'd bet I'm guilty of similar, with a 15-word Expansion Joint maybe or 140-character Flash Fearsday. These are so short the title becomes an extra tool.

Based especially on entries for Expansion Joints and Flash Fearsday, my personal feeling is that six words isn't necessarily too short, and that implication is a fair element of storytelling, as with the idea of lines and dots being able to suggest faces. Even a novel might have plenty of that of course, especially one with a more complex setting or plot, and especially where the reader needs to be kept in the dark, in a thriller say.

With that kind of ultra-short microfiction I usually aim to show some kind of development, so even if the ball is only standing and not rolling, something else does happen, or change or move, no matter how insubstantial. I'd say though that I doubt I always manage it, and many of the texts do end up only as images, more or less expansive, with that development sacrificed to get the attempted joke in.

In this sense I can agree plenty with the suggestion "So..." is a candidate for shortest. I'd say though that the shorter the story, the more it might depend on us bringing expectations of our own in, rather than providing much that's new itself, beyond of course pointing to spaces we're aware of, or could be, but haven't fully explored yet.

The Angry Lurker said...

Eliminate courier or rescue hostages?

Porky said...

Maybe. The first might be tricky though given a single target can hug the terrain well, and the second definitely has potential to run on. This reminds me of the triffles.

Maybe identifying a particular target or feature, or guiding something in, or even just taking and holding something in advance? They seem like they could be pretty short.

Maybe wargames don't do enough to represent non-events. Things like a whole force turning up late, not only reinforcements, or at the wrong coordinates, or mutinously refusing to deploy. Wouldn't make for much of a game admittedly, but maybe this kind of thing is just below the threshold of minimum game length, and something only a little more drawn out is what we're looking for.

Jensan said...

Interesting discussion! Talk about starting in medias res...