I’m talking about “short-short” stories, otherwise known as “flash fiction” or “microfiction,” stories between 100 and 1000 words. I enjoy reading and writing these, and have been doing a lot of that recently as part of the Avenir Eclectia shared-world writing project, sponsored by Splashdown Books.
This project is unusual for several reasons:
1. It’s limited to microfiction, so the larger story of the colony emerges from numerous tiny snapshots of characters, places, and the events of daily life. It’s like a mosaic pavement, which doesn’t make much sense when you consider a few tiles in isolation, but reveals a beautiful image when you pull back a few feet and view it in its entirety. You also don’t have to invest a lot of time to follow a story that comes to you in 500-word chunks, give or take, three times a week.
2. It’s an original universe. Shared-world communities are often founded on Star Wars, Star Trek, or other popular franchises. This is not fan-fiction, and it’s not constrained by ten years of television episodes and movies. The website also includes art and music created specifically for Avenir Eclectia that’s worth a look and listen all by itself.
3. It’s free-range. Writers aren’t limited to particular characters or storylines, though they’re at liberty to develop those in more detail if they choose. Connections between successive vignettes may be intimate or nonexistent. You never really know what’s going to pop up or what new revelations about Avenir Eclectia will be revealed.
4. It’s still in its infancy. There are many shared-world writing communities on the Net, but most of them have been around for a while, and a new contributor is confronted with a staggering amount of backstory and worldbuilding canon to sift through before they can start writing. Once they do, they can expect to get hammered by the continuity police when their story fails to hook in neatly with what has come before. There are still plenty of areas on the Avenir Eclectia map that aren’t filled in yet, so there’s room to move around without knocking over another kid’s blocks, and it’s not too hard to play nicely with others if you’re inclined to do that.
5. The tag cloud works. As stories are submitted, they’re topic-tagged so the reader can easily trace a story thread from beginning to end. If you want to follow a character, an author, or a particular piece of the Avenir Eclectia world, it’s easy–just click the appropriate link in the tag cloud (toward the bottom of the right sidebar, the spot with all the words in different font sizes), and all the posts that fall under that category will come up.
6. There’s editorial control. Now, don’t freak out about this–it’s not at all heavy-handed, but there is some reasonable quality control screening that goes on when a story is submitted. This helps balance creative freedom with order, and keeps the enterprise looking professional, rather than something with the aesthetic appeal of spaghetti thrown at a wall. If things continue to go well, a published collection or integrated novel might come out of all this.
There have been about 44 vignettes posted so far, and I’ve contributed four of those, with a couple more on the way soon. You can use this link to read my stories, as an example of how it works. I’m developing two threads at the moment. One revolves around Smith, a young man who tends a community of orphan children in the seedy lower levels of the Avenir space station. At the other end of the social spectrum, I’m spinning the tale of John Milton, a bored aristocrat who stumbles onto the real power behind the colony. You can also go the index of stories and read everything from the beginning. Even with 44 installments to date, it won’t take too long.