How to write really, really short fiction

Students participated in a microfiction workshop on Monday.

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Students participated in a microfiction workshop on Monday.

Three editors from Hoot, a monthly literary magazine based in Philadelphia, led a microfiction workshop for students in LPAC yesterday evening. With the Shakespeare motto, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” Hoot collects submissions of short poetry and prose, finds a complementary illustration, and puts together one postcard each month that is sent to subscribers. The only guiding rule for submissions is that they be at most 150 words.

Creative posters advertised the workshop.

Amanda Vacharat ’06, co-founder, editor, and art director of Hoot, came to Swarthmore in the fall to plant Hoot postcards (essentially cards on sticks) and returned yesterday after speaking with English professor Peter Schmidt. She taught the workshop along with fellow co-founder and editor Dorian Geisler and associate editor Janie Cannarella.

Six students came to the workshop in the cozy second floor seminar room, gathering to read, learn, write, and analyze this incredibly short form of fiction. Students read their compositions aloud twice through, then listened to the reactions of the Hoot editors and other students. Comments were highly specific, encouraging, and full of helpful suggestions. The Hoot editors gave advice geared at making microfiction as effective as possible, including making titles significant, choosing familiar settings (that tap into readers’ memories), and framing a story with the title and opening in lieu of explaining at the end.

HOOT Print Issue 3--December 2011 "Circus Life"--nonfiction by William Henderson. To purchase copies, go to

The workshop leaders were very pleased with the attendence, especially considering that, in Vacharat’s words, “It’s raining, it’s cold, and it’s Swarthmore.” All three noted how much they appreciated the thoughtfulness, openness, and intelligence of the participating students. “So much depends on the group of people being able to build a safe and constructive environment,” Vacharat said . Like the depth that can fit in 150 words or fewer, much was learned and shared in this two and half hour workshop.

Photos by Cecilia Paasche/The Daily Gazette.

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