My koan for the day: Can you joke about the riddle of "Hint Fiction"?

I love jokes, especially when they play off a deeper truth. Riddles drive me crazy because I always miss the obvious--but then so do most people. Koans show so wonderfully why reason is rarely a path to enlightenment.

Now comes the Norton Anthology of Hint Fiction, which will shortly be accepting submissions. What is hint fiction? As the anthology guidelines state, "It's a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story. The thesis of the anthology is to prove that a story 25 words or less can have as much impact as a story 2,500 words or longer." Robert Swartwood coined the term in this essay, where he explains that longer fictional formats like flash fiction--or heaven forbid, an actual short story--are simply to painful to be read by modern men and women, who evidently suffer from epidemic amounts of ADD.

And so we have hint fiction. 25 words or less.

My attitude to Swartwood's hint fiction--more power to him. I hope writers submit to the anthology, which pays at the astoundingly high rate of a $1 per word. But let's not pretend that hint fiction is anything new. The genre is merely a new term for the millennia old storytelling forms of riddles, jokes, and koans.

I'm sure some people will get their cackles up at that; after all, I've said similar things before about flash fiction, (although I should note that I've also praised certain examples of flash fiction for being very good stories). But the simple truth is that storytelling comes in all shapes and sizes, with riddles, jokes, and koans being examples of extremely short format stories. It's also possible for the best riddles, jokes, and koans to endure much longer than the long format stories and novels we're all familiar with. For example, the koan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" evidently comes from 16th century Japan. How many of today's novels and short stories will survive another 500 years?

So yes, hint fiction is a legitimate fictional genre. Enjoy submitting to and reading Swartwood's anthology. But please, people, don't pretend hint fiction is anything more than an upscale rebranding of riddles, jokes, and koans.