Femto-Horror: The Newest Trend in Microfiction

Some time ago, there emerged Pico-Horror, the microfiction format wherein internet writers attempted to craft the scariest story possible using only two sentences. Now, hot on its heels comes Femto-Horror, a bone-chilling trend in constrained storytelling. If you find that the airy canyon of Twitter’s 140 characters gives you too much elbow room, if Pico-Horror seemed like a good start but you keep having to add filler to stretch it out to two sentences, then you’re certain to find Femto-Horror the ultimate in creative minimalism, because Femto-Horror challenges the writer to come up with the scariest story possible while keeping it to a length no greater than one letter.

Already, some of the most well-known names in literature have come forth to put their own spin on this clearly excellent idea. Noted internet person Cory Doctorow threw down the gauntlet with his acclaimed spooky story, “C,” meeting with a flood of accolades and upvotes from all corners of Reddit or boingboing or whatever. Though he faces criticism for making his story out of the first letter of his name, Doctorow insists he only picked the letter because he’s always found it powerful, and commanding of attention.

More stories emerged. None other than Neil Gaiman spoke to Commuter Barnacle about his barn-burner of a story, “H.” Says Gaiman, “Oh, I thought the idea was glorious. I find writing with constraints to be quite cozy, really, like a proper cup of tea or late Sunday afternoons in autumn, but I was quite stymied at first by how steep the restriction is. Given the limitations, Femto-Horror winds up being mostly about picking what you think is the scariest letter. I decided on H because it looks a bit like it’s raising its arms, sort of, like a monster. But perhaps we may find that sometimes we’re wrong about who is truly monstrous.”

Meanwhile, genre luminary Charles Stross stepped up to the plate with his Weird Fiction pastiche, “Q.” While the story debuted to a mostly positive reception, critics have found things to dislike about it. As one anonymous commenter whinnied, “Ugh, typical. He’s just taking something from Lovecraft and adding something to it. Like he thought nobody would notice that he just took the letter O from the fourth page of The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward and added a curvy line sticking out.” Similar charges were leveled at Wil Wheaton, whose ghost story “M” has been called a ripoff of John Scalzi’s “N,” which is also a ghost story, but in space.

Charges of unoriginality are less likely to stick to author Mark Z. Danielewski, who announced via his message board that he’d completed work on a Femto-Horror story of his own. His story, “ə,” has been eagerly received by audiences, who’ve praised its inventive  structure and ambitious prose but mostly admitted it’s still not as good as House of Leaves.

But it’s not only professionals getting into the action. Reddit user fudgechugger had barely put the finishing touches on his pulse-pounding zombie epic, “L,” before he received notification that it had been optioned for a film by 20th Century Fox. Principal photography is expected to begin in early spring. The movie has a projected budget of $80 million and Adrien Brody is expected to star. When we spoke to fudgechugger, he was terribly excited – not just for the fame, but for the unexpected windfall. Mr. Chugger did not tell us an exact figure, but he confirms that the studio is paying him a sum in excess of eighteen dollars.

It’s not all good news and roses and rainbows and that sort of thing, though, as author Seanan McGuire was unfortunate enough to learn. She unveiled her apocalyptic cyber-thriller, “@,” to wild paroxysms of orgasmic retweets, and even received much praise for the tale’s strong, well-written POC characters. Readers were so excited, and so hungry for more stories in the fully realized world of “@” that McGuire immediately went to work on a sequel. She proudly released “ƒ” two weeks later, only to be met with a hail of controversy. It seems that ƒ is also the preferred pronoun of a Tumblr user named clobberbatch, who was none too pleased to see it used in a story. “This is appropriation and it’s not okay,” ƒ said. ƒ went on to write a 20,000 word essay (though the essay is only 150 words if you do not count each use of the word literally) explaining how McGuire’s use of the character is problematic. At press time, this essay had ben reblogged eighty quinitillion times between the same six people. The kerfuffle is already being referred to as ƒ-fail 2014.

But the creative voice is unlikely to be dissuaded, as Femto-Horror continues to spread all through the internet like some kind of metaphor for a thing that spreads rapidly through a system. Already, anthologies are being hastily assembled and edited, even as writers gear up to tackle what some say will be the next fad in constrained storytelling: Un-Horror, whereby writers attempt to scribe the scariest story possible while sitting on their hands and not touching a writing implement of any kind. Fright afficionados are already looking forward to the terrifying blank pages their favorite authors come up with, and when they do, you can be sure Commuter Barnacle will be here to tell you all about it!

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