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Shorter-than-Short Story Craft

What do you really need to tell a story? For Steve Tuttle, it’s just a single page.

Associate Professor Stephen Tuttle (Literature and Creative Writing) would rather write a short story than a novel. As evidence, he shared 14 of his short stories during his English Reading Series presentation on January 26, 2024. “I’m interested in condensed writing. Highly compressed writing,” he began. “I once tried to write a novel; it was very bad. Most of what I write fits on a single page.” In his work, he seeks to explore the emotion of the human experience using only the most essential details.

Referred to as flash fiction or microfiction, the stories Tuttle writes don’t have enough space to contain all the detail and description that a typical short story does. While longer fiction follows characters as they change over time, flash fiction focuses on how a single moment can change someone—a perfect format for someone seeking to combine the brevity of poetry with the narrative of prose. To capture those transformative moments, Tuttle’s stories often draw from his life even though they aren’t autobiographical. Tuttle said, “People ask me if my stories are about them. For the longest time, I said ‘No, fortunately.’ Recently, I have stopped saying that. I’ve started to say ‘Probably. These stories are probably about you.’”

A headshot of Stephen Tuttle
Photo by Marcos Escalona/BYU Photo

The most helpful parallel Tuttle has found for his work is the anecdote—the perfectly told story you hear as you’re passing someone in the hallway. In both anecdotes and microfiction, twists usually appear in the last few lines of a story. These twists are the backbone of the emotion Tuttle wants to convey: a gut-punch that makes you rethink your entire interpretation of the narrative. “These stories are all about getting to the zing at the end,” he said. “As in, there's a reason I’m telling you this and here it is.”

Tuttle teaches courses in creative writing, fiction writing, and American literature at BYU. He’s published short stories and prose poetry in a variety of publications, including The Threepenny Review and the Baltimore Review, and was a finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in 2020. Check out his most recent work in The Citron Review, the Milk Candy Review, and 3:AM Magazine.

See who else will be presenting at this semester’s English Reading Series here.