Your World in a Six-Word Story

The Pythagoreans considered the number six to be a perfect number. In mathematical terms, it is perfect because when all of the number’s divisors are added together, the sum is the number (1 + 2 +3 = 6). As it happens, six also seems to be the perfect minimum number of words in which it is possible to tell a complete story. What will you choose to say in your six-word story?

History of the Six-Word Story

Ernest Hemingway is credited with having told the first six-word story. No one knows if he did or if it’s a literary myth. Whether he was the first or not, whether it was the result of a bet or not, since Hemingway actually penned the following words, he gets full credit for the world’s shortest story full of pathos and heartbreak. His six-word story? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Smith magazine picked up on the idea in 2006, calling them six-word memoirs and inviting people to write and submit their favourites to the magazine’s website. Thousands participated, spawning many books, including two that I own: Β Not Quite What I Was Planning by writers famous and obscure, andΒ I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets by teenagers.

Now you can publish your six-word story on the Smith magazine site, this Twitter site, and on Reddit.

If you like to blend image with text, you can also publish your six-word story with an image on Flicker, or create six-word story videos like this one created by a sixth grade language arts class.

Steps to Writing a Six-Word Story

Read Examples.

Writers read…a lot. They read to learn, to be inspired, and to analyze what works and what doesn’t work in someone else’s writing. Here are a dozen six-word stories. Which ones work for you? What do they have in common?

  1. I leave. Dog panics. Furniture shopping. –Reed
  2. A thousand wrinkles. A thousand stories. –Gareth
  3. Longed for him. Got him. Shit. –Margaret Atwood
  4. “I love you, too,” she lied.–Unknown
  5. He read his obituary with confusion.–Steven Meretzky
  6. Father: “Anything but journalism.” I rebelled.–Malcolm Gladwell
  7. The miserable childhood leads to royalties.–Frank McCourt
  8. Bad brakes discovered at high speed.–Paul Schultz
  9. Changing mind postponed demise by decades.–Scott O’Neill
  10. It was embarrassing, so don’t ask.–Alex Lindquist
  11. Never really finished anything, except cake.–Carletta Perkins
  12. Five continents down; two to go.–Virginia Graham

Personally, I like six-words when they have the structure of a story, meaning there is conflict, action and resolution, or at least the sense of a beginning, middle and anticipated end. However, they are more difficult to write so lots of the six-word stories you see online are bits of thought-provoking advice, not stories.

The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.

Orson Welles

Write and Rewrite.

Decide whether you are writing advice or writing a story. Either way, make it personal. If it’s advice, it’s your advice–how you see the world. If it’s a story, capture an experience or a memory from your life. (Unless, of course, you write fiction. I don’t know if Margaret Atwood–#3 above–was writing about her own life.)

Since you only have six words, they have to be the very best you can summon to mind. Try coming up with a focus word and then using a thesaurus to find synonyms. Keep exploring until you find the exactly correct words.

Once you find your words, you need to put them in the best order. If you have a magnetic poetry kit available, use that. You can also write words on bits of paper, but be careful. Magnetic poetry kits were invented by Dave Kapell, a struggling songwriter, when he sneezed and blew all of his little bits of paper across the room.

Extend or Share if You Wish.

You will know that you have written a six-word story if you can use it as a prompt to write a longer piece. I think I’ll try extending #5 above–He read his obituary with confusion.

Consider sharing your six-word story or six-word advice with others–in the comments below, imprinted on a t-shirt, or layered on a photograph. Negative Space is a good website for copyright-free photographs with room (negative space) where you can insert text.

If you need a bit more inspiration to get started, let’s give the second-to-last word to Larry Smith, owner of Smith magazine. It’s a two minute video.

Here’s an idea. Let’s make this a tribe challenge. I’ll try to write some six-word stories or six-word bits of advice if you will. Send them to me at karen@profoundjourney.com or put them in the comments below. I will gather up all of our contributions and will put them together into a post or video. It will be fun and creative. Are you game? Let’s do it!

10 comments

  1. This is so cool! I really like how it captures it all with brevity and simplicity. Dang it, now I will be reading each sentence and counting the words! LOL Okay, I am game…let’s do this. The following is my foray into the six-word memoir.

    Happiness is elusive keep on searching!
    Artist’s Life: What color is next?
    My future is now much brighter.
    Tears behind me only smiling ahead.
    Sadly missing cats purrs and snuggles.
    Life is busy so slow down.

  2. Oh my gosh, Susan. These are great! You and Donna and another Susan who sent her six-word stories via email – the three of you put me to shame and intimidate the heck out of me. All three of you are excellent writers of flash fiction – six-word stories being part of that genre.
    Thanks for your contributions. I’m going to wait a couple of weeks, hope for even more from tribe members, and then put them all together to share with everyone.
    And yes, when my brain isn’t tired, I WILL try to write some six-word stories of my own. Although I can guarantee that my efforts will take much longer and be more painful! The three of you make it look effortless. I’m so envious.

    1. Aww, thanks for the accolades Karen. πŸ™‚ I am not sure how much I deserve such glowing tributes but you did put a huge smile on my face. I am glad you enjoyed my offerings.

      I look forward to seeing how many you can amass in a couple of weeks. I also can’t wait to see what your brain comes up with when it is not tired. I am willing to bet you are not as bad at this as your tired brain thinks you are. πŸ˜‰

      I never knew about this six-word story flash fiction thing. I have now gone to the Negative Space website and downloaded some of the photos (bookmarked it too) to try my hand at putting words to them meme style and using six words. πŸ™‚

  3. Awesome about doing this with photos. Very creative!
    And no, I did not overestimate or oversell your ability. You deserve the accolades.
    My tired brain thanks you for your confidence.

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