Diaries Magazine

When Briefs Are the Right Kind of Tight

Posted on the 12 June 2013 by Cfburch4 @cfburch4

You've heard the complaints and criticisms before:

Americans don't read enough. When they read, they read short stuff.

They don't read books, so they don't have sophisticated thoughts. Or long thoughts, or in-depth thinking.

Who knows if the people who are buying George Orwell's 1984 -- in reaction to the ongoing NSA scandal -- will reach the last page?

Americans have short attention spans, the argument goes, so various short forms have emerged.

Short films are breeding like bunnies, available on websites like:

Short of the Week


Short Film Central

Global Short Film Network

Online journals like Brevity devote themselves to "concise literary nonfiction" of 750 words or less, and "flash fiction" (usually under 1,000 words) has become a niche for writers of all stages and abilities, appearing in online journals like 3:AM Magazine.

I imagine some people are discouraged by this tendency toward shorter texts, even though many established writers have written "flash fiction."

Maybe short forms are becoming more popular, and maybe that's due to the rise of a short-attention-span society.

Still, short forms didn't begin in the era of television, and they've tended to be rather smart, tight literary works.

First, the fable. Consider Aesop's Fables -- short, moralistic tales originating from an actual Aesop who lived back around 620-564 BC. More recently, Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) wrote a series of fables imitating Aesop but often with different endings and "twisted humor."

The ancient parables of Jesus in the New Testament were short and had various moral, spiritual, and ethical messages. Meanwhile, during the past two centuries, writers like Franz Kafka and Soren Kierkegaard have included parables in their works.

How about the haiku? The Japanese form that became haiku probably originated before the 1600s. Its English form allows only 17 syllables -- a line of 5, a line of 7, and another line of 5 syllables.

Speaking of poetry, Shot Glass Journal -- tagged as an "online journal of short poetry" -- includes a glossary of poetic forms, some shorter than others, many originating before the era of television.

Those are just a few examples of shorter forms. The longer a form has been around, the more useful it has proven to be for humanity.

For example, Aesop's fable of Androcles translates to only 268 English words, including the moral of the story. The Androcles fable illustrates simple yet timeless message: "Gratitude is the sign of noble souls."

Now as ever, young people could benefit from keeping that moral top-of-mind, and as human beings, we usually learn best through a story. At any age, it's easy to learn from stories involving animals and archetypal characters like slaves, kings, travelers, and emperors.

Anyone who has appreciated a short, pithy quotation, zinger, or bumpersticker ought to be able to see the value of shorter forms, whether film, nonfiction, fiction, or poetry. After all, proverbs, aphorisms, one-liners, axioms, and other types of short sayings have stuck around a long time, too. Whether yesteryear's fable or today's flash fiction, brevity can reveal new insights and open new horizons for a reader.

-Colin Foote Burch

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