Think of the last good novel, story or poetry you read as a three course meal - something you savoured, invested time in and left with something to think about. But micro fiction or flash fiction is the chocolate truffle of literature – smaller, consumed more quickly, but still leaves you with a sweet taste that lingers.
In the past two years, micro-fiction has caught on in India, with Anuj Gosalia and Chintan Ruparel’s Terribly Tiny Tales setting the trend for others to experiment.
A “lazy Friday idea” around a year ago was what prompted 17-year-old Mohit Kumar’s The Scribbled Stories. “It was never a Eureka moment really,” says Mohit, who started it to publish his own writing.
Mohit Kumar, The Scribbled Stories
Mohit’s 10-member team has seven primary writers – the youngest is 16 and the oldest a 26-year-old Indian PhD student in Austria – curating between 300-350 submissions a day. They’ve never met each other but are working to launch a website and all help is volunteered.
With over five lakh Facebook followers, Mohit wants to get it registered as a company. “My dad is a businessman,” he offers by way of explanation for this leap of faith. “Plus I discuss everything with my team so there are a lot of different perspectives I get to learn from.”
However, as a Class 12 student, Mohit’s main focus remains his education. “If TSS becomes a full-time revenue model then maybe I’ll have trouble managing time for both. But I’ll make the decision when I come to that crossroad,” he says.
Even after going commercial, Mohit says there is no question of compromise on content. “I want to prove that it isn’t either quality or money. There is a grey area where you can be commercial without compromising on quality. And I want to make sure that TSS continues to stand for what it does now,” asserts Mohit.
Kolkata-based Promit Guha started Commas and Half Strokes (CAHS) in March to indulge his new-found hobby. But the organic reach of his page expanded to over 65,000 in just four months. Yet, Promit continues to see it as a hobby and has no plans of commercializing it.
"This is the only picture in which I am smiling" - Promit Guha, Commas and Half Strokes
Promit spends about an hour to go through 100 reader submissions a day, many of them do with love or heartbreak. “63% followers on my page are between the age group of 21-28. That’s why stories on love and breakups do so well,” he says.
However, unlike Mohit, Promit’s parents don’t know about CAHS. “Mamma is a staunch believer that social media is useless. So, nothing is ever going to melt that ice,” he says. And because he manages the page alone, he is “clueless” about what will happen when he appears for board exams next year.
Meanwhile TTT remains something both Promit and Mohit look up to for its content.
Thirty-year-old Anuj Gosalia says TTT began as in 2013 as “one of those interesting tiny ideas after he stumbled onto tweet-fiction one lazy day”.
Anuj would get together with 15 other writers who wrote tweet-sized tales and published them on Facebook. It was in these meetings that Anuj met Chintan, who now looks after TTT’s editorial while Anuj is the CEO.
"It's cheesy, but what the heck!" - Anuj and Chintan, Terribly Tiny Tales
Together, the two have brought the small writers collective setup a long way – they now have an office, with a 14-member core team and 40,000 registered writers and receive about 500 contributions every day.
“The idea was to make good fiction accessible,” says Anuj. “Text usually tends to get lost on social media what with selfies and cat memes for competition. We wanted to prove that if it’s a good story, there is space for it.”
Now, with more than 6.9 lakh followers on their Facebook page, TTT is one of first pages that comes to mind when you talk about micro-fiction. Starting with 140-character tales, they are now experimenting with TTT Glimpse (with 1400 characters), Terribly Tiny Talkies (short films under ten minutes) and even tales in Hindi.
While the response for most has been positive, Anuj says that a few times when they experiemented with putting out stuff for virality and not for quality, it backfired. “People said that they did not expect this sort of content from TTT. It just reiterated that we stick to the heart of what we are trying to do - storytelling.”
Now, despite being commercial, Anuj says they spend a lot of time rejecting client requests to promote products through stories. Even when they collaborate with companies, they prefer to focus on the emotion of the tale.
“With a constantly reducing attention span online, micro-fiction is something that rewards you disproportionately for your time. You take maybe 10 seconds reading a tale but it will leave you with a minute of emotion; and maybe if it’s really good, a thought that will stay with you for a whole day. The fact that we have created a platform where you can write beautifully and both the platform and the writer can earn money, is empowering,” Anuj says.