SHORT SHARP SHOCK: Plays on the Short Form in Prose & Verse

Each workshop begins the same. Before doing anything, I stride to the whiteboard and write I didn’t have time to write you a short letter today, so I had to write you a long one instead. From here a sequence of events follow. Scenario Uno: Absolute silence. This is typical with sleepy undergraduates or the novice writer. And looking back didn’t you posture the same? Seriously, folding your arms in silence was a badge of honor when it came to your badass writerly self. Scenario Dos: Initial confusion. This is typical with the book smart scribe. Which one of us didn’t pull out an iPhone or page a friend (yes, I’m dating myself) to learn which writer said what, thereby showing your commitment to craft? Granted we might never have written an actual letter, but at least we were exhibiting resourcefulness! Finally, and most necessary, Scenario Tres: Honest skepticism. This is where we get to the business of taking a long hard look at what it is we do in a critical fashion. Besides, words are all we have. Instead of trying to woo the reader with linguistic sleight of hand, we should confront Twain’s challenge and give each reader, in prose and poetry, a punishment that is quick and severe.

6 WORD STORY: In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway’s colleagues bet him that he couldn’t write a complete story in just six words. They paid up. Hemingway is said to have considered the following his best work:  “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.

- Margaret Atwood

She gave. He took. He forgot.

- Tobias Wolff

HINT FICTION: A story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story.


After seventeen days she finally broke down and called him “daddy.”

- Joe Schreiber


The terminal is unkind. You watch me go through security. In six months, you’ll say “Tell me about the nightmare,” and I promise I will.

- Donora Hillard

MICROFICTION: A story told in a page (or the time it takes to smoke a cigarette).


By the time they reached Indiana, Bill realized that Ruthie, his driving companion, was incapable of theoretical debate. She drove okay, she went halves on gas, etc., but she refused to argue. She didn’t seem to know how. Bill was used to East Coast women who disputed everything he said, every step of the way. Ruthie stuck to simple observation, like “Look, cows.” He chalked it up to the fact that she was from rural Ohio and thrilled to death to be anywhere else.

She didn’t mind driving into the setting sun. The third evening out, Bill rested his eyes while she cruised along making the occasional announcement.

“Indian paintbrush. A golden eagle.”

Miles later he frowned. There was no Indian paintbrush, that he knew of, near Chicago.

The next evening, driving, Ruthie said, “I never thought I’d see a Bigfoot in real life.” Bill turned and looked at the side of the road streaming innocently out behind them. Two red spots winked back – reflector nailed to a tree stump.

“Ruthie, I’ll drive,” he said. She stopped the car and they changed places in the light of the evening star.

“I’m so glad I got to come with you,” Ruthie said. Her eyes were big, blue, and capable of seeing wonderful sights. A white buffalo near Fargo. A UFO above Twin Falls. A handsome genius in the person of Bill himself. This last vision came to her in Spokane and Bill decided to let it ride.

- Linda Brewer

EPIGRAM A short poem with singular insight where the last line addresses a “you” that may refer to either the writer or the reader.


Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

- Dorothy Parker


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About the Author

Stace Budzko has been published or is forthcoming in Blip, Southeast Review, Versal, Upstreet, Necessary Fiction, Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction, Press 53, PANK, Hobart, elimae, The Los Angeles Review, Night Train, The Collagist, Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Forward, Brevity & Echo, Quick Fiction and elsewhere. The screen adaptations of his stories have received numerous honors and showcases as well. At present, he is a writing instructor at Emmanuel College and writer-in-residence at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

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by Stace Budzko



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