Micro Science Fiction Prototyping

The core methodology of µSFP is the application of flash fiction as shorthand for describing innovative ideas for science, engineering, business and socio-political systems. As a tool to influence the future, µSFP has similarities to fables, parables, anecdotes, sayings, proverbs and maxims in that it seeks to capture and communicate an inspirational vision.

Science Fiction Prototypes can take several days to write and for situations where ideas need to be generated faster (e.g. meetings), the concept of micro Science Fiction Prototype (µSFP) can capture an innovative idea quickly, in the form of a micro-story. Micro Science Fiction Prototypes generally contain a product, a user, an action and a benefit, all integrated into a story that is typically less than 30 words. Being small, they are especially useful in brainstorming sessions since they provide a quick way to capture numerous and diverse ideas.

A Micro-SFP (µSFP) is a combination of three concepts:

  • Science-Fiction Prototyping, introduced before,
  • Micro-Fiction (also known as flash fiction, nano-fiction, sudden fiction or postcard-fiction) a genre of writing ultra-short stories as small as just 6 words,
  • Text messaging or texting, as a means of communicating meaningful messages in less than 140-160 characters. The emergence of technology such as Twitter and SMS (cell-phone texts) provided a well-specified limit on the size of messages (140 characters for Twitter, 160 characters for SMS) giving rise to the genre of “text-fiction“, “twitter-fiction“, “twitter-lit” and “t-shirt fiction” sometimes collectively labelled t-fiction, which is the most common style for writing µSFPs.

There are three components to a µSFP: the technology, a simple action and a person. Most literature on µSFP advocates the following steps for writing a µSFP:

  • Start by identifying the technology, process or service
  • Identify a character (try to use a very short person name)
  • Then create a plot (events that make up the story – should include an inflexion point and a benefit)

Because of its technical roots, Twitter-sized µSFPs (140 characters / 25 words) are more common. It is widely acknowledged that writing such ultra-short stories is difficult, so the general advice is to start big, then reduce it. As with larger science fiction prototyping, ideas can come from existing research, fiction or from people’s imaginations. Adding a protagonist and context that illustrates the technology in use is an important feature of a µSFP since such prototypes not just describe ideas, but test them by illustrating usage. µSFPs have numerous uses such as teaching English as a foreign language, motivating pre-university students to take up STEM studies and producing real-world technical innovations.