“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” is the entirety of what has been described as a six-word novel, making it an extreme example of what is called flash fiction or sudden fiction. Although it is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, the link to him is unsubstantiated and similar stories predate him.
The claim of Hemingway’s authorship originates in an unsubstantiated anecdote about a wager between him and other writers. While lunching with friends at a restaurant, Hemingway bets the table ten dollars each that he can craft an entire story in six words. After the pot is assembled, Hemingway writes “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” on a napkin, passes this around the table, and collects his winnings.
Whether Hemingway wrote it or not, there is a bittersweet story in those six words. The “six-word story” has served as a prompt for decades, testing writers’ ability to create their own succinct masterpieces
Here are a couple more six-word stories from famous authors:
Longed for him. Got him. Shit. —Margaret Atwood (Canadian writer, author of The Handmaid’s Tale)
All those pages in the fire. —Janet Burroway (American author and playwright)
There are also a few web sites dedicated to six-word stories, with a wide range of quality. As I was reading them (it doesn’t take long), I thought, ‘I can do this.’. I’ll just pound out a few six-word stories and call it a blog post.
Well, two hours later, here’s all I could come up with:
- Sends flowers. Phone never rings. tinder.
- “Hello?” Crying. “Hello?” screaming. “Hello?” Silence.
- Finishes novel. Thanks, no thanks. Budweiser
- All that training. and for what.
- Begins test. Could care less. Enlists.
It’s harder than I thought. I also found myself stuck in a pattern, following Atwood’s approach. An action sentence. Action does not work out as planned. Faces reality/gives up/tries something different.
You can see that pattern in action in numbers 1, 3, and 5.
Anyway, five six-word stories was my goal, and so I was ready to call it a night. But then I thought six stories seemed more fitting, so here’s the last one:
6. Writes six stories. No one reads.