Jayne Martin

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” —Nora Ephron

We’ve all heard it ad nausem: “Show don’t tell.” That is especially true for microfiction, where imagery has to do the heavy lifting. And the more specific the imagery, the more likely your reader is to be drawn into your story and come away wanting more.  

Engaging Your Readers’ Emotions

You may have heard me say it before, and you will hear me say it again and again: A writer of micro must think like a painter. Description won’t cut it. Imagery engages our imagination. Sensory details engage our emotions. In micro, that engagement needs to start with the opening sentence.

Opening with Description

He stepped off the curb and was hit by a bus. As a horrified crowd looked on, his body flew through the air and landed on the sidewalk in front of a hot dog cart where a group of kids were waiting in line.

It’s okay. Certainly, an inciting incident, but it’s just information. You could imagine it coming from the guy on the Six O’clock News. The reader may be curious enough to continue, but there’s no emotional engagement. We “process” information. That’s a left-side brain thing. But in micro, a writer must get to the heart of the reader immediately.

Opening with Detailed Imagery

A screech of brakes, steel meeting flesh, as the #39 Downtown bus launches the old man’s body in a perfect arc above the eyes of onlookers who follow its trajectory to Al’s Hot Dog cart, where it slams onto the pavement like a discarded ragdoll, scattering a Boy Scout troop waiting in line.

See the difference? We hear the screech of brakes. The old man is not just hit by a bus, steel meets flesh. It’s not any bus. It’s the #39 Downtown. Those onlookers watching the body launch in a perfect arc are your readers.The body doesn’t just land, it slams onto the pavement like a discarded ragdoll. And not at just any hot dog cart, but Al’s Hot Dog cart in front of not just kids, but a Boy Scout troop.

Specific imagery places your reader inside the story, holds them there, and creates emotional resonance that will have them looking for more writing from you.

Here’s an example that’s from my collection, “Tender Cuts.” The story is called “Zero Tolerance.”

Lights blaze from above day and night, but give none of the sun’s warmth. Around me the little ones grab onto the metal fence, cry out “Mama,” “Papa,” and look into the eyes of strangers in brown shirts who laugh at their terror.

But what if I had written:

The bright ceiling lights are on day and night, but the room is cold. Young children grab the metal fencing, call for their parents as the guards laugh at them. 

Pretty high on the ho-hum scale, wouldn’t you say?

In writing micro, grab your readers by their emotions through vivid sensory imagery first and you’ll have their attention for the entire story. Bore them with description, and they may not stick around.