Exploring the art of prose


Conversations Between Friends: Grant Faulkner and Meg Pokrass

Image is two book covers--THE ART OF BREVITY by Grant Faulkner and BEST MICROFICTION 2022, edited by Meg Pokrass; title card for "Conversations Between Friends: Grant Faulkner and Meg Pokrass."


CRAFT is delighted to share a triptych of humorous microfictions by Grant Faulkner, previously included in Best Microfiction 2022. The following pieces take on the subject matter of craft and critical essays from the perspectives of three fictional individuals, offering readers new avenues to understanding the art of linguistic compression through introspective, lighthearted genre-work. The voices range from academic to poetic to scientific, and grapple with brevity through theory, erasure, and microscopic specificity. To build upon his lessons in the triptych, and in advance of his forthcoming craft book, The Art of Brevity: Crafting the Very Short Story, Faulkner talked with fellow author, friend, and Best Microfiction series editor, Meg Pokrass. As buoyant and imagistically packed as their prose, Faulkner and Pokrass discuss the beguiling art of writing into small containers, and how their relationship with the form has developed throughout their careers.


Three Essays on the Craft of Microfiction by People Who Know What They’re Talking About


Theories of Linguistically Oriented Microfiction and the Role of the Author as Storyteller, Charlatan, and Seeker in a Cruel and Godless World

By Soren Court, Founder of the Flash Fiction Collective


Theory no. 1: Language is a tool of precision. Words can accurately represent the world. The author (as in one who has authority) presents a world with their words like God from Genesis. A story is told. People revere the author. The author gets paid.

Theory no. 2: Language is a tool of imprecision. Words inherently fail to accurately represent the world. The author (as in a person who imagines themselves to be a person of authority, but who is really a mystical waif in an immense and cold universe) evokes a world with telling hints, evocative images, whorls of suspense, fleeting glimpses, subtextually-oriented language, attempts at the sublime, and a whole lot of back story that is never revealed.

In other words, if all language is errant translation of an already blurry world, fewer words might offer less errancy. Or less is more as a lesser intelligence once posited.

So the author isn’t God, but the Easter Bunny.

The author is the Easter Bunny as tarot card reader, divining the story, and telling it with hidden eggs. The author is the Easter Bunny as tarot card reader who almost never gets paid and certainly gets no respect.

My invoice is in the mail and I accept PayPal.


tRuTh as the VeHICLE to Truth

By Emmanuelle Dickinson


Tell all the truth, but tell it slant*

Tell all the truth, but tell it _____

Tell all the truth.

Tell it slant.



{         }



* The truth God has served us in this world cannot be perceived by direct means.


How to Read and Write Tiny Things

By Bob Einstein


It’s called microfiction.

As in a story that needs a different lens to be seen.

Not reading glasses. Not a magnifying glass. A microscope.

It looks easy, but it’s not (funny how people think small things are less significant than big things, how they’re less in all ways).

You place your story on a slide. You look through the eyepieces of the microscope and move the focus knob until the image comes into focus. You adjust the distance between the eyepieces until you can see the story clearly with both eyes simultaneously (you should see the story in 3D).

Now, hold it—this is the moment most people mess up. Most people look quickly at the story and move on. Sure, you can see it all in a single glance, but you can’t see it all in a single glance (imagine Yoda saying that sentence and reread it). You have to pause and notice. You have to pause and study. Take notes. Pause again. Repeat this many times. Sometimes as many as 47 times.

To see a story in this way is a miracle. The way you get to see the thin line of a cell membrane. The way you get to see worlds within worlds. Protozoa. Phytoplankton. The shape of a cell, its nucleus, mitochondria.

If you’ve never looked at a story in this way, practice by looking at ordinary things under a microscope. You see alien lands. “Alien,” as in belonging to or constituting another place or person. Try it with your hand. That hand on your arm. Especially if you have hairy hands. Or even if you have hands with just skin on them.

You become alien. You realize the world is alien. God is alien. Your mother is probably alien.

And this is the gift of microfiction: you get to see the alien side of what most people see as an ordinary universe. You get to see the small things that make everything work.

And you don’t really need a microscope. I was just using that as a metaphor.


Meg Pokrass: I’ll start out with this. What is craft?

  • Choosing which underwear to wear
  • A neighborhood block party
  • Choosing a dog at the pound
  • Having sex
  • All of the above
  • Other

Grant Faulkner: A wise man once told me that if you’re driving across the country, it’s best to wear silk boxers. Underwear is largely unseen—yet you can feel it, literally and figuratively, and it can change your sense of self, so your choice of undergarment will affect how you see things in your story. It will influence the way you greet every person at your neighborhood block party, whether it’s the annoying neighbor next door or the flirtatious person up the street.

If your underwear shapes your interior sensibility, then choosing a dog is all about who you want to be in the world—your sense of the personality of your story. Is it big and bounding or shy and troubled or cute and mischievous?

And then there’s sex, which is perhaps the best metaphor for craft. I once heard craft defined as the contours of a story. I think that’s true, which implies that craft is the way you want to touch a reader. Craft is, in the end, a lover’s touch. So my answer is all of the above.


MP: In your triptych of essays on the craft of microfiction that we published in this year’s Best Microfiction, you wrote each piece by a different fictional character, and one, Bob Einstein, says microfiction is “a story that needs a different lens to be seen.” What did Bob (you) mean by that? Is it about wearing different underwear? Or the interchangeability of dogs? Is it something like a combination of those two things, all swirling around in a character’s head at the same time?

GF: I liked writing those craft pieces through different characters’ viewpoints because microfiction requires different reading glasses. Or different underwear. Choose your metaphor. I just didn’t want to be me.

One of the things I’m endlessly fascinated with is the different forms flash can take—everything from a Mad Lib to a complaint letter to a shopping list to a dictionary entry. It’s endless. To be able to see what spaces or containers the world provides for stories requires special imaginative lenses, and the same thing goes for reading microfiction. You can’t read a microfiction story expecting a conventional story. You have to view it differently.

On that note, I’m curious about what you’ve learned about microfiction as a publisher and editor and why you started the Best Microfiction series.


MP: What stands out for me is that there is no formula.” The key seems to be telling a story in the way that only you can tell it. It must spring from a real and personal place. The writer must know very well what they are writing about in order to successfully leave things out. This will result in making the reader feel something.

How the series came about: I fell in love with the W. W. Norton Anthology both of us are in, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotallaro, and by an earlier microfiction anthology, Micro Fiction, edited by Jerome Stern. Co-Editor Gary Fincke and I felt it was time for a yearly anthology series that highlighted and showcased the best microfiction of the year.

GF: It’s interesting because one thing that draws me to flash is that the unique way of seeing things you mention often happens through omission. What’s left out can be more haunting than what’s on the page. So all of who we are is largely about the fragments of who we are.

With that in mind, why do you think flash, unlike other forms, is like a Russian doll, with one form nested within another?


MP: With flash, size (word count) matters. So it does with Russian nesting dolls. I’ve found that sometimes one can find a perfect microfiction or prose poem breathing inside a longer story. It’s as if the baby story has been living a secret life inside the mother. And it’s amazing how the longer story and the tiny one, when taken apart, feel like completely different stories. 

GF: I actually just wrote the first story in history that has negative words. It’s called “Minus Seven.” I’m writing in a whole new realm of micro.


MP: A whole new form…Negative Realm Stories: a story told in under zero words!

GF: Seriously, though, I like to think of stories less in terms of word count and more in terms of metaphor. You actually once asked me in an interview, if flash fiction “were an animal, what would it be—and why?” That question led to my Literary Hub essay, “13 Ways of Looking at Flash Fiction,” which is also included in my book, The Art of Brevity.

Here’s what I wrote then: “I considered a chicken because you can peck at the stories. Perhaps a badger because short shorts sometimes have to be more tenacious than their larger brethren.” And, “I almost decided upon a cat because a cat can fit perfectly in your lap, and even as you pet it and listen to its purrs, it stares at you with a mysterious menace.”


MP: That’s so true. At least, with my cat!

GF: But in the end I chose a coyote that saunters into your backyard and then stops to stare at you. I wrote, “You lock eyes, and the world is suddenly a little dangerous, a little less predictable.” The craft of the story is the intensity of the moment.


MP: Speaking of metaphors—and of your book—reading chapter eight, “Plotting in Miniature (and with a Slant),” I thought of a micro of mine in Damn Sure Right that exemplifies this idea of plotting miniature and telling it slant—similar to your coyote:


Rollicking at night under the waning gibbous moon with Freddy, the dogs bark continuously. One has laryngitis. When they bark continuously, they’re just like people.

I have strong opinions.

No I don’t. I just mesh with what I’m given. Say you run away with a trickster, a con-artist. Say he’s your step-father. Say he asks you to do things you like at first for thrill but you know are wrong. You will only sop up so much, then your long stalks come out. Halt! Don’t parcel me out!

Freddy is so gentle he hides behind his hair like an endangered species. Say he sits on a weed, flattens it, apologizes.

It’s all about the wispy days of knowing that all you can stand to watch is Animal Planet. That’s when you have to leave. Not good. Animals are so much better than we are. Smarter too. When I run away that’s what I want to say in my note. Ma has stripped her throat so many times yelling at me that it is dangerous.

Worse than that. Freddy knows.

Flatfish are born with one eye on each side of their heads. One of the eyes begins to move until both are on the same side so they can lie around on the ocean floor and see food. Say this is about how smart nature is.

I’m hiding behind his hair. I’m learning how.

GF: That’s a great example of plotting with a slant because you’re essentially plotting through motifs rather than causal actions—seeing the world hidden behind hair, the flatfish looking at the world differently through its peculiar eyes, and the metaphor of being an endangered species amidst the barking and yelling.

It’s a risk to plot with a slant, though, isn’t it? It’s a risk to tell one of these tiny stories in a peculiar way. We’ve each faced a lot of rejection, like all writers. I always say that to be a writer is to be rejected. And to persist. The slant of a story keeps calling me.

Most writers talk about their early rejections, as if rejection isn’t part of being a writer even after you’re well published. We should all talk about our rejections more because rejection is such a crucial part of the process. How has rejection shaped your craft over the years?


MP: I see us as circus performers, and more specifically, glasswalkers. Walking over the shards of rejection. Our feet become hurt, but after so many years, we develop the remarkable ability to heal up more quickly. And there are the benefits in learning from editors what is, and what is NOT working. We can use that information, and grow as writers, as long as we don’t give up. 

GF: I like your analogy of glasswalkers because writing is a type of dare, and you have to walk on different terrain with little protection. Rejection is interesting on the psychological level, and I think it’s important to connect the psychological with craft. My way of dealing with the hurt of rejection is to actually view it as a craft tool.

Rejection helps me hone my sense of “divine dissatisfaction,” as Martha Graham put it. Rejection helps me to go deeper into a story, to cut any flourishes that don’t serve the story. Rejection allows me to better feel the contours of a story, to question each sentence, each word. It makes me a more sensitive lover, to riff on an earlier analogy.

I am genuinely thankful I get rejected (sometimes, at least). I don’t know where I’d be without my rejections. There would be so many mediocre stories by me in the world that I’m now ashamed of.

The topic of rejection reminds me of how many writers have felt anxiety or trauma these past few years, and then I think a general brain fatigue is becoming all the more prevalent these days because of the pandemic, the Internet, all of our busy-ness. I know that fatigue plays a role in your craft.


MP: I sometimes write when I’m falling asleep at night. My story “The Plank,” currently on the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2022, was written in that half-awake state. I’d say, harness your nighttime tiredness or morning bleariness, when the mind is less sharp and self-critical, and use it to your advantage.

GF: I have a different take on fatigue. I started writing one-hundred-word stories as a break from the fatigue of a doomed novel I’d been working on for ten years, and I found that writing shorts helped my creative energy—because I got a sense of completion and the gratification of being published.

Also, writing miniatures allowed me to write when I was fatigued or when time was tight. Instead of having the daunting task of trying to finish a novel, I could open up my laptop and focus on just one hundred words.

It’s odd to say, but flash fiction is perfect for the fatigued, the inebriated, the ill, and the downtrodden. It’s the most accessible form, but I say that with the qualification that that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest.


MP: I do like this idea! How for the novelist, the short form can be medicinal.

GF: I know that early on you took some of your poetry that had been rejected and took out the line breaks and then molded the pieces into flash stories. I loved when you told me that because it’s fascinating to me how our voices, our sensibilities—our craft—change with age. My mode of storytelling, whether I’m writing long or short, now forms itself around the crevices and caesuras of a story. I focus more on omission and suggestion—writing to the “intensities,” as Lidia Yuknavitch puts it, instead of writing to the plot.

The aesthetic of brevity has opened up infinite worlds of writing for me. I’m unable to exhaust the form, so I expect my voice to continue to change. I could write a book about this—wait a minute, I did.

MP: I love that, Grant! How your longform writing benefits from omission and suggestion. This confirms to me that flash fiction is wonderful craft training and practice for the novelist. 

As for me, I am becoming more playful as I get older. I’ve been dabbling in collaborations with writers I have long admired. I feel that changing things up is helpful. I am a big fan of trying new things.

GF: In that spirit, I’ve omitted my conclusion to this interview. I’ll only say that it involved a dog in silk boxers. And that we’re at the word limit.


GRANT FAULKNER is the executive director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the cofounder of 100 Word Story. His book The Art of Brevity is forthcoming in February 2023. He’s also published Fissures, a collection of 100-word stories; All the Comfort Sin Can Provide; and Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo. His stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines, including Tin House, Southwest Review, and The Gettysburg Review, and have been anthologized in collections such as W. W. Norton’s New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and Flash Fiction America, as well as Sonder Press’s The Best Small Fictions. His essays on creativity have been published in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Literary Hub, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. Find Grant on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @grantfaulkner. Listen to his podcast Write-minded and subscribe to his Substack newsletter, Intimations: A Writer’s Discourse.


MEG POKRASS is the Scotland-based author of ten prose collections and two novellas-in-flash. Her work has been widely, internationally anthologized and has been included in three W. W. Norton anthologies of the flash fiction form: Flash Fiction International (2015), New Micro (2018), and the forthcoming Flash Fiction America (2023). Recent honors include selections in The Best Small Fictions (Sonder Press, 2022) and the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2022. Her stories have appeared in journals such as Electric Literature, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Five Points, The American Journal of Poetry, Plume, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Wigleaf. Also forthcoming in 2023 are two new books: Kissing the Monster Hunter (Bamboo Dart Press) and Disappearing Debutantes, cowritten with Aimee Parkison (Outpost19). Meg is the founding editor and series co-editor of Best Microfiction, a yearly anthology series, founded in 2018. Meg teaches online microfiction classes. Find her on Twitter @megpokrass.