hint fiction (n) : a story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story

Hint fiction, a genre that has been around since the beginning of story-telling, has made a great comeback on the literary scene, thanks in large part to one of my all-time favorite books, titled, aptly, hint fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer edited by Robert Swartwood. This small, sea-foam green publication, borne of a contest Swartwood put on, is amazing for the brevity, bravery, and power of the tiny stories it contains.



The stories included in the anthology work with the intricacies of language to present a huge, multi-faceted story in a sentence or two. In the age of 140-character tweets and status updates, hint fiction is an unobtrusive genre that can be read at a glance and then internalized.


The power of hint fiction stories, however, is that they are not something that can be skimmed and forgotten. These stories, tiny though they are, stick with you. They float around in your skull until they make sense, or make you laugh, or make you cry.   They make you want more explanation, more development, more closure. But most importantly, they make you want more hint fiction. These stories are addictive.

In his article “Hint Fiction: When Flash Fiction Becomes Too Flashy,” Swartwood describes the beginning of his understanding of hint fiction:

“Nearly everyone is familiar with Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The legend of where this piece came from varies in detail, but basically Hemingway was challenged to write a story in just six words; he came back the next day with that little ditty, what he supposedly claimed was his best work.

Now do those six words constitute a story?

Some people think so; some don’t.

Some argue that there is no protagonist, no conflict, no beginning, middle, end.

Some argue that you don’t necessarily NEED a protagonist, conflict, a beginning, middle, end to make a story.”

Swartwood took this story (and the flash fiction movement) one step further:

“Me, I want to coin a term, so I’m going to do it here and now: those very, very, very, VERY short stories should be called Hint Fiction. Because that’s all the reader is ever given.  Just a hint.  Not a scene, or a setting, or even a character sketch.  They are given a hint, nothing more, and are asked — nay, forced — to fill in the blanks.  And believe me, there are a lot of blanks.”

Some of my favorites from the anthology? Only since you asked…


“Trust” – Don Lee

At the party, he tells her he’s a painter, meaning of houses. She misunderstands, assuming he’s an artist. Harmless, he thinks. (87)


“Love is Forever” – Merrilee Faber

We came around the corner and there they were; young lovers, hands clasped. I drew the outline, Joe directed traffic


“In Common” – Min Jin Lee

‘When do you read?’ Helene asked the man.

‘Before bed.’

‘Your wife?’

‘She doesn’t.’

He took out a pen, and Helene took off her glasses.


You can read the introduction and some of the stories in google books, but I really and truly do recommend buying the book for yourself. If you are anything like me, you will read it many times.


“Some of these stories suggest entire novels in just few words. So, in this small book, you have a whole library. It’s reading at the speed of light.” — Robert Shapard, editor of Sudden Fiction and Flash Fiction



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