Posted by: brian | March 16, 2008

Six word stories? Not so much.

A while back, Wired asked a number of writers to follow in Hemingway’s footsteps. (No, not with the suicide thing – besides, Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t sell guns anymore.) The backstory is included in the article, but I’ll recap: Hemingway once wrote a six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”), and according to legend claimed it was his best work. So Wired decided to see what other authors could do in six words, and asked for submissions from a variety of writers in the fields of sci-fi, horror, & fantasy.

I remember seeing this piece in Wired when it was originally published. It’s interesting that very few of those submitted to Wired have the same power that Hemingway’s piece does. Hemingway’s example uses specific details to force the reader to imagine the story behind those six words, and creates characters for whom we can have some empathy. Thinking about the tragedy of a child’s death and its impact on the prospective parents made me realize that as much as I don’t really enjoy much of Hemingway’s work, he clearly had talent. So many of the pieces submitted to Wired lacked that. Meretzky’s “I win lottery. Sun goes nova.” and Lee’s “Automobile warranty expires. So does engine.” generate a momentary chuckle, and Moore’s “Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time” is clever, but so few of these offer that deeper meaning that Hemingway provided. Even the writers I love (Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman, David Brin, Margaret Atwood) didn’t quite get there, although I did enjoy “Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.”



  1. Six words is tough. “Personal note: Lottery tickets aren’t fireproof.”

  2. Oh, I like Rockne O’Bannon’s: “It’s behind you! Hurry before it”
    Also Orson Scott Card’s: “The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.”
    I give third place to Steven Meretzky’s “He read his obituary with confusion.”

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