Storytelling in Miniature: Microfiction and Reader Participation


  • Dan Irving Stony Brook University


Parole chiave:

microfiction, experimental narrative, cognitive narratology, reader participation


This article proposes that Iser’s work on gaps and blanks, as well as recent enactivist-inspired cognitive-narratological extensions of Iser’s work, can enlighten an under-theorized genre of experimental narrative, microfiction, typically identified as stories under 300 words (though often considerably shorter). The extreme brevity of microfiction results in stories that are similar, to a degree, to short stories, though experientially quite different; in the most thorough narratological treatment, William Nelles (2012) makes the case for a generic distinction between microfiction and the traditional short story. As I have argued elsewhere (Author 2016), borderline-narrative texts (microfiction included) make for oddly compelling reading experiences, largely due to the increased degree of reader participation necessary in narrativization. A main point of investigation here is as follows: while there is general agreement that Iser at least somewhat underestimates the extent to which narratives are perpetually fraught with gaps to be filled in by readers, there is still arguably a noticeably greater gap-per-capita (in a manner of speaking) in microfiction set against higher-narrativity texts; readers need to do more, in other words, to narrativize the typical piece of microfiction. Further, the extreme brevity of microfiction potentially affords readers a uniquely full experience of perceptual presence over the course of the micro-story.

Biografia autore

Dan Irving, Stony Brook University

PhD Candidate in English, Stony Brook University

Riferimenti bibliografici

Abbott, H. Porter. Real Mysteries: Narrative and the Unknowable. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2013.

Caracciolo, Marco. The Experientiality of Narrative: An Enactivist Approach. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014.

Davis, Lydia. “They Take Turns Using a Word They Like.” Samuel Johnson is Indignant. New York: McSweeney’s Books, 2001. 98.

—. “The Fellowship.” Varieties of Disturbance. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. 136.

—. “Interview with The Believer.” The Believer, January 2008. Accessed 9 April 2017.

—. “Can’t and Won’t.” Can’t and Won’t. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 46.

—. “Master.” Can’t and Won’t. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 87.

—. “Short Conversation (in Airport Departure Lounge).” Can’t and Won’t. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 210.

—. “The Woman Next to Me on the Airplane.” Can’t and Won’t. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 251.

—. “Writing.” Can’t and Won’t. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 252.

—. “Ph.D.” Can’t and Won’t. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 283.

Di Paolo, Ezequiel A., Marieke Rohde, and Hanne De Jaegher. “Horizons for the Enactive Mind: Values, Social Interaction, and Play.” Enaction: Toward a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science. John Stewart, Olivier Gapenne, and Ezequiel A. Di Paolo (eds.). Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010. 33-87.

Eco, Umbreto. The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979.

Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980.

Fludernik, Monika. Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Iser, Wolfgang. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.

—. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

Kafka, Franz. The Complete Stories. New York: Schocken Books, 2011.

Kuzmicova, Anezka. “The Words and Worlds of Literary Narrative: The Trade-off between Verbal Presence and Direct Presence in the Activity of Reading.” Stories and Minds: Cognitive Approaches to Literary Narrative. Lars Bernaerts, Dirk De Geest, Luc Herman, and Bart Vervaeck (eds.). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. 191-231.

McHale, Brian. “Weak Narrativity: The Case of Avant-Garde Narrative Poetry.” Narrative 9:2 (May 2001). 161-167.

Nelles, William. “Microfiction: What Makes a Very Short Story Very Short?” Narrative 20:1 (January 2012). 87-104.

Noë, Alva. Action in Perception. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006.

Popova, Yanna. Stories, Meaning, and Experience: Narrativity and Enaction. New York: Routledge, 2015.

—. “The Temporalities of Sense-Making.” Forthcoming.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Schreiber, Joe. “Progress.” Hint Fiction. Robert Swartwood (ed.). New York: Norton, 2011.

Sternberg, Meir. Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.




Come citare

Irving, D. (2017). Storytelling in Miniature: Microfiction and Reader Participation. ENTHYMEMA, (18), 150–159.



Indeterminacy, blanks and readers