”For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”
That tragic piece of work is a complete six-word story written by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was challenged to write a story using only six words, and that’s the story he came up with. It’s tragic, poignant, and extremely impactful.
A lot of writers get caught up in word-count, which is normal considering, you know, one of the things agents look at when we’re submitting a work to them is the length of the novel in question. Too short and it hardly counts as a novel. Too long and no one wants to take the chance (and spend the money) on printing it without knowing for-sure it’s going to sell. In other words, unless you’re Stephen King or George R.R. Martin, you probably shouldn’t submit a novel longer than one-hundred thousand words if you want to seriously be considered for representation.
So with how obsessed we are over word count, flash fiction and similar short-order pieces are something a lot of us both love and dread simultaneously. There’s a competition one of the local papers in my area runs every year for a ninety-five word story. I haven’t entered yet, mostly because I just recently found out about it and in part I worry that I’ve spent way too long writing novels to be able to compress a story down into ninety-five words.
(Read: I don’t like losing.)
Anyway, despite my and many other writers’ anxiety over competition and writing super-short fiction, exercises like the six- and ninety-five-word stories are great for making us think outside of the box and rely on other methods to tell a story than the ones we’ve relied on for most of our writing careers. It’s hard to get a lot of action or dialogue into a story that’s literally shorter than the paragraph you’re reading right now–and it’s a lot harder then to do anything similar at all in a story that takes up fewer words than the average sentence.
Hemingway’s six-word story inspired a lot of people, and you can find dozens of six-word story and memoir books on Amazon and the like. You can also find competitions, journals, and projects dedicated to the idea of telling a story (or your own life’s story) in just six words or less. In fact, this article was influenced because I found this string of six-word stories online earlier today.
So, while I’m typically nervous about trying this kind of thing out, I figured it was worth giving it a shot. Here are a few six-word stories written by yours truly:
The doctor just shook his head.
“I love you!” Screamed before impact.
I didn’t check my blind spot.
One thing I’ve noticed about these six-word stories is that the vast majority of them have a depressing spin to them. I think that’s because it makes them more powerful and paints a more vivid image than stories that aren’t sad. I’ve been trying to come up with a happy one for a while, and it’s pretty challenging.
(And I technically have a big report to write for work, so I admit I’m a little distracted.)
You guys should leave your own six-word stories in the comments below! I’d love to read them. The person with the best happy six-word story gets virtual cookies.