I've been trying my hand at shorter works of fiction lately, and I have to say it seems to be rather catching.
Instead of working on material I can submit to publishers, I've become a bit addicted to Ficly, a little site for little stories.
Ficly reminds me quite a bit of open source software. In 1024 characters (roughly 190 - 200 words) or less, an author writes a piece of flash fiction and publishes it on the site. This story can be as rough or as polished as the author wants, as professional or draft-form, as highbrow or juvenile. There are no guidelines save for the arbitrary character limit and the use of non-proprietary characters (which is often broken). Readers can rate these stories on a scale from one to five or leave comments without rating it at all.
Here’s the interesting part. Other users can come along and write a prequel or sequel to any story on the site. One of my own stories, “The Anything-Goes Call In Show,” was recently continued by someone other than myself. It didn’t keep the dialogue-only style of the original, but it certainly was interesting. There’s something both surreal and highly entertaining about seeing someone else continue something you yourself started.
The only drawback to this site is that I feel compelled to do my best there, and a lot of work that I could have submitted to actual publications for real money (or real contributor’s copies) are now online and considered published and, thus, ineligible for submission. The above referenced story is something I’ve come to be incredibly proud of over the last few weeks, and there’s no way for me to find it a publisher now. It’s a small price to pay, though, for the fun and community that is Ficly.
I’m sure I can come up with other work to shop around, though the temptation of immediate readership and critique over on Ficly will always be there.