To read a book is now a luxury, and not just because books have become so expensive to print, but because no one really has the time anymore to sit down with a good book. At least, not in the traditional sense. We all spend so much time on our phones, but even in that context, reading something like a novel is often inconvenient. Then our attention spans come into play – how many of us start a book (in whatever medium) and continue reading it to the end? Our attention ends up being diverted one way or another, and often, we simply forget to return to that book.
Instagram with its Reels, Snapchat, and Twitter have popularised the consumption of ideas and entertainment in bite-sized clips. Has the time come for bite-sized literature? The Sunday Morning Brunch chatted with Rohitha Perera, an author who recently published a collection of what he calls ‘microtales’ – bite-sized prose poetry that tells compelling stories and provokes food for thought.
Truthfully speaking, microtales qualify as flash fiction; a genre of fiction defined as a very short story. While there is no set word count that separates flash fiction from more traditional short stories, flash fiction stories can be as short as a few words (while short stories typically run for several pages). In Perera’s case, one of his microtales is about 100 words and is a blend of written prose and poetry.
“I’m not the first person to write microtales,” Perera explained, “have you heard the poem frequently attributed to Ernest Hemingway – ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’? That is flash fiction, or rather, nanofiction. There is a great deal of flash fiction, microtales or nanofiction, if you really look through history. Parables and proverbs are all microtales that tell an eternal truth. The reason microtales actually work is because they’re in short form, and in this day and age especially, people don’t have the time to read novels upon novels. Microtales are very short but there are lots of truths in them.”
Speaking about his own recently published book, ‘Rage/Love: A Collection of Microtales,’ which contains 112 microtales of certain situations that deal with the human condition of expressing rage and love, Perera shared that a lot of his microtales drew on themes that he had personally experienced or witnessed.
“One particular microtale, ‘So Alike,’ is about infidelity among friends. We all know of novels where you have multiple genres and multiple themes, and even in microtales, there are sub-themes explored,” Perera said, noting that microtales allowed readers to engage with multiple stories very quickly. “There’s nothing like a great story, whatever the genre it falls into, but more tales in one book would be an attractive proposition to any reader.”
So how do microtales fit in as an emerging genre within literature?
What sets microtales apart is that ultimately, they’re easily digestible and being short-form, people can relate to them better on the go, in much the same vein as to how people respond to Instagram stories and other short-form content. “Having read widely, something I can gravitate to is microfiction because it’s easy to read and understand and you don’t have to have the patience required when reading a book. How many people today have the time to read an entire novel? Unless they’re absolutely interested in it, they just don’t have the time.”
Many authors have written microtales, from Joan Didion to Roald Dahl. Microtales are simply a literary form, and now, in today’s world, they stand to have their strongest market to date. This is not to say the traditional book is dead – there will always be a huge market for novels, but even in terms of what it takes to create, microtales allow writers to produce work more easily, with them taking much less time to produce and edit, and is also a wonderful stepping stone for new authors looking to share their work with the world.
To illustrate this, Perera quoted Seth Godin: “To know that you’re going to write something tomorrow. Something that might not be read by many people – it doesn’t matter – it will be read by you. If you can build that up, you will begin to think more clearly. You will make predictions. You will make assertions. You will make connections. And there they will be, in type, for you to look at a month or a year later. This practice of sharing your ideas to people who will then choose or not choose to share them helps us get out of our own head, because it’s no longer the narrative inside. It’s the narrative outside, the narrative that you’ve typed up, that you’ve cared enough to share.”
Microtales allow authors to gain feedback and followings, Perera noted, sharing that even his microtales had been previously published on Reddit where they gained quite a bit of leverage and highlighted the potential in the marketplace for short-form fiction like microtales.
‘Rage/Love: A Collection of Microtales’ by Rohitha Perera is available on Kobo and will be available in print in the second quarter of 2023. It is published by Jam Fruit Tree Publications which has published in excess of 100 books that transcend multiple genres.