March 19, 2011

What Is Haiku Fiction?

Small stories, big impact. That's the basic idea. But what does haiku fiction actually mean?

It may be best to begin by saying what we don't mean. Haiku fiction is not necessarily flash or micro fiction. Don't get me wrong. These are great genres. I encourage everyone to try them. They'll teach you how to tell a story where every word counts.

But haiku fiction can also be a short story of a more standard length. I've even seen novels that would qualify.

Haiku fiction has less to do with length and more to do with focus and precision.

We'll talk more about haiku (in Japanese, the same form is both singular and plural) in upcoming blogs. In brief though, haiku are short poems that use the natural world to cause an "aha" experience in the reader. In thinking about my own fiction, I realized that I was using techniques from haiku without even trying.

Haiku start from the natural world, but we have to be careful here. This is not some idealistic natural world. Japanese haiku authors are very self-conscious of the poetic history of every single word they use. Japanese haiku thus often depend not only on observation of the natural world but on a very sophisticated network of allusions and subtexts.

Haiku are brief. Every single word counts. If a Japanese poet achieves a true haiku, not one character could be added, not one character taken away or substituted.

Japanese haiku are evocative. Their meaning often depends on a kind of mental...triangulation between two phrases. The poems suggest a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. But they only suggest. The writer and the reader both have to work at the poem for it to achieve the desired effect.

Haiku fiction tries to take these features of haiku and apply them to fiction. Even in fantasy, it strives for a realistic, even naturalistic style. It focuses on the particular, on individuals, on specific events rather than painting with broad strokes. It may appear simple, but it is also richly allusive. It is brief and precise. It strives for every word to count. It is evocative. It invites the reader to dialogue.

That's haiku fiction. Or at least my first attempt to define it. As I continue to write and as I continue to talk with the readers of this blog, we'll work on refining that definition together.

Time to get back to writing!