During my vacation last week, I read Hint Fiction, Robert Swartwood’s collection of ficlets. All sorts of authors contributed to it, each writing a particular sort of story: a composition of 25 words, or fewer, which does not simply tell a story but hints at a larger picture.
For example, the very first: Joe Lansdale’s “The Return.”
They buried him deep. Again.
5 words that imply a man or masculine creature, one who apparently died and certainly was buried, who was buried deep the first time but nonetheless was exhumed (or dug his own way out), and who They, once again, buried…for all the good it will do, which may not be much. A brief respite? A century of rest? We don’t know! But we’re left to imagine it.
It’s a strong entry to lead the anthology. That sort of compression, almost a prose poem, takes a lot of thought and the ability to sift the wheat from the chaff.
Unfortunately, for every hint that grabbed me, making me pause to ruminate on the larger picture implied by it, there were four that let me pass on by. Fortunately, in a book of 125 hint-fics, that’s 25 stories that left some impression. The finer specimens make the most of their title, or use allusions to other stories (Penelope, “Not Waving But Drowning,” Shark Week) as a shortcut.
In the interest of moderating my judgment, I tried writing a few; to try and focus my thoughts, these hint fics are summaries of longer books I’ve read somewhat recently, though that’s not necessarily the best method to achieve this sort of iceberg-writing.
Where dreams come true, so do nightmares.
Suffering the rough buffs away our raggedness until we shine.
Curiosity, puzzle-solving, and loving the 1980s enough could make you a billionaire. Bonus girlfriend, if the evil corporation doesn’t kill you first.
They shared what beauty they could find like war rations, to multiplicative effect. Friendship does not destroy death, but it does discourage suicide.
I wouldn’t call Hint Fiction a must-read, and I certainly wouldn’t call it a must-buy. But it’s a fun read, and beneficial to writers who don’t otherwise weigh out their words. Certainly these droplets of story prove that a lot of horror fits in a small space; it’s harder to fit a great deal of glory into that same small space.