The other day, I came across a collection of short stories written by Sherman Alexie. Really short. Each one was only six words long. Here’s one example from the collection, called “The Human Comedy”:
Me ex-wife. My brother. They eloped.
I thought Alexie had made up this brilliant form, but, with a little digging, I found that there are whole websites and books devoted to the six-word story. There is even a legend, largely discredited, that Ernest Hemingway wrote the first six-word story: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Whether or not Hemingway wrote the above story, it’s worth studying merely for the fact that it shows the wonderful power of the written word to evoke an emotional response. The pair of shoes in the story could be unworn for any number of reasons, yet the author suggests – with the choice of shoes as imagery, the use of punctuation, and the choice to place “Never worn” at the end of the story – a much more dramatic narrative.
Ever since I heard of the six-word story, I’ve been obsessed. Here are a few that I’ve written myself.
Husband snored. He’s dead. Jail quieter.
Wait for me. Just a year.
I should have believed you, then.
Bed too full of empty space.
Giants extinct. Killed by common cold.
Tangled in sheets, I find socks.
Try it, it’s not as easy as you might think! Some six-word “stories” posted on the websites are actually just pithy phrases or sayings. Even if they are lovely writing, they are not stories. The challenge is to try to hold a sense of a dramatic story arc within those six tiny words.
This could be a very fun and useful exercise of a writer’s group. Everyone gets 15 minutes to write one or two, and then shares his or her best story. The group examines what works and what doesn’t.
Call me crazy, but I’d also love to have a six-word story reading club. At least no one would have to be embarrassed that they didn’t read the whole thing before the meeting.