How to write the best Six Word Stories

Anyone who follows my blog will know that I publish a weekly ‘just for fun’ Six Word Story Challenge. For some, this type of micro fiction is a familiar concept even if their stories had never been released into the world. For others, the discovery of my challenge is a new and exciting way to practice the art of condensing a plot and theme to just six words.

‘Just six words? Is that even possible?’ is a question I get asked quite often and my answer is always a resounding ‘yes!’. I also get a number of detractors who will argue that six words is not a story at all, it is a sentence, a construct, an idea. If you are one of them, let me see if I can convince you otherwise.

The perfect start to any story of evolution is generally the beginning, in this case, the origin of the six word story. It’s a tale oft recounted that the originator of the six word story medium was Ernest Hemingway. He is said to have offered his table of writerly compatriots a wager of ten dollars each that he could write a fully crafted story in just six words. They readily accepted his bet so with the pot having been thus assembled, Hemingway wrote the now famous six word story on his napkin:

for sale baby shoes never worn

The story goes that his companions could not deny he had written a fully formed story and Hemingway collected his winnings. Now, there is some debate as to whether this is any more than urban legend since there are several sources of similarly themed tales, albeit of more than Hemingway’s six words, but whether substantiated or not, it’s still a good yarn.

Other famous authors and novelists have turned to six word stories over their careers, here’s a selection:

Mind what gap … … …?   Hillary Mantel

Megan’s baby: John’s surname, Jim’s eyes.   Simon Armitage

Served the pie, watched him die.   Maggie O’Farrell

The pillow smelled like my brother.   Patrick Neate

Funeral followed honeymoon. He was 90.   Graham Swift

So what makes a good six word story? I have given this much thought and I shall let you into the secret of what I think goes into creating the stories that really reach inside your head, grab your imagination by the scruff of the neck and lead it to the promised land.

  1. Be concise. Be precise. 

concise precise six word storyBe concise – Every word counts when you’ve only got six words to get your plot, theme, conflict and characters across! Don’t use three words where one will do the job. There’s no room for verbosity, connectives or adverbs in these stories. Write a longer story, choose the best six words and put them in the best order.

Be precise – writing micro fiction is great for writers who need to practice selecting words to pack a punch. Just like in your longer prose, don’t use ‘tree’, use Oak, Cedar or Pine. Use words that promote your theme, onomatopoeia is your friend, as are contractions, homophones, double entendres and any manner of linguistic magic tricks you can lay your hands on. Your job is to create a picture in your reader’s mind, choose your words wisely.

2. Promote Participation

For participation six word storyme, this is the most important aspect of a successful six word story. The best examples give the reader enough information to spark their own imagination into filling in the gaps themselves. In Hemingway’s story, we read, we gasp, we instantly conclude a baby was lost and the heartbroken parents are selling reminders of the child they’ll never see grow up. We imagine we see their demeanour, the sorrowful looks passing between them and the pain as they pass the items onto new owners looking forward to their new arrivals. We’ve written the rest of the story based on real life experiences and our own memories of books we’ve read, films we’ve watched and people we’ve known.

Read through the below examples of other heartbreaking six word stories and see if you don’t do the same with each one:

  • Goodbye Mission Control. Thanks for trying.
  • The smallest coffins are the heaviest.
  • Introduced myself to mother again today.
  • He hit send, then a tree.
  • I once called him my brother.

3. Include theme and genre

genre six word storyThis one may sound impossible when you only have six words but you’ll be surprised at just how easy it is when you choose the right word combination or even make references to well known stories or characters.

These are some examples of entries to my challenge, see if you can see tell what genre they belong to and what the theme of the story is:

  • Today would have been his birthday
  • Blood splattered shoes in neighbours bin.
  • Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary

4. Movement. Conflict. Resolution

Story arc six word story

This is the hardest to achieve. Your job is to tell the reader what the conflict in the story is, move it along (either explicitly or by suggestion) and provide an ending. Tough isn’t it? What you want to avoid is writing six words that just make a statement, as Truman Capote once said about the work of fellow author Jack Kerouac, ‘That’s not writing, that’s typing.

Here’s a couple of examples:

  • His obsession. Her mistake. Their funeral.
  • An only son. A folded flag.

I often get asked for examples of bad stories. I would never label any story as bad, only as not meeting the above stipulations. I’ve crafted a few below to demonstrate what I mean, they don’t quite hit the mark and I’ve given you my opinion as to why:

  • When your child takes first steps.

This is not a story, it’s a statement, a memory, an opinion. It has no conflict, no movement and all it does is make me think of a baby walking and falling.

  • She looked at him and smiled.

This is a point in time observation. I don’t know what the story is about (other than someone smiling about something). It’s just a sentence from a longer piece. My mind constructs nothing in response.

  • The grass needs mowing again today.

Whilst this could be used as a story to demonstration monotony, I don’t feel any connection to it as a reader. I see no storyline emerging, I only see a person looking at their grass. It feels like there’s more there, I just don’t know what it is, the author isn’t leading me anywhere.

So there you have it, my thoughts on what makes a good six word story and I hope you will craft stunning micro fiction in response. I would love to see your stories over on the Sometimes Stellar Storyteller Six Word Story Challenge. I post a new prompt every Saturday morning with the winner being chosen by popular vote and announced the following Friday.

Happy writing!

Over to you

To warm up your creative muscles, why not do the exercise I give to my classes? Take a well known film and try to summarise the plot in six words. If your friends or followers can guess what film it is, you’ve probably done a good job! Here’s a list to get you started:

Shrek
Spiderman
Pirates of the Caribbean
Mr & Mrs Smith
Casino Royale
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Star Trek
The Hangover
The Social Network
The King’s Speech
Finding Nemo
Mall Cop
Snatch
Toy Story
Shaun of the Dead
Limitless
Gravity
Thor

Let me know how you get on with these, either write in the comments or send me a ping back to your own posts summarising the films. I love to read them.

 

 

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About Nicola Auckland

Busy wife to one & mum to two. I've caught the creative writing bug, now need to practice, get awesome and write something worth reading. Simples.
This entry was posted in Six Word Story Challenge, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to How to write the best Six Word Stories

  1. RAK says:

    That was really helpful… Thank You!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Six Word Story Challenge: LEAVE – Purpose-driven achiever

  3. Pingback: Sometimes Stellar Storyteller Six Word Story Challenge | Sometimes Stellar Storyteller

  4. halwaai says:

    I am gonna try this! Good post. Negative examples helped in understanding better

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d love to see your entry over on the challenge page. I was keen to include negative examples but, like you, I find they give me a much better understanding of what I should be doing.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting, good luck with your micro fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: And the winner of this week’s OBSERVANT Six Word Story Challenge is… | Sometimes Stellar Storyteller

  6. Pingback: Sometimes Stellar Storyteller Six Word Story Challenge | Sometimes Stellar Storyteller

  7. Pan says:

    Limitless, a hard pill to swallow.. 😉 (TV show)

    This is a great tutorial and a fun read for the imagination 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: And the winner of this week’s LEGENDARY Six Word Story Challenge is… | Sometimes Stellar Storyteller

  9. Simon says:

    I’ll have look at doing this. Thanks for being my 900th follower 😃😃😃

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: guess. | what sandra thinks

  11. ron877 says:

    This is a very thoughtful response that provokes … a lot of thought. Parts of this will work its way into my Literary Appreciation class this week. I have to face an additional problem with cross- cultural concerns such as with the quote attributed to Hemingway. My students would (mostly) not get the loss of a child message. They would (mostly) ask why someone would buy shoes for a baby.
    Thanks for the guidance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make an interesting point about the cross-cultural concerns, this is not something I had thought about before. It makes sense though, when we send donations of clothing to African schools we are asked not to send shoes as they are never worn by the children who attend.

      Do you teach the literary appreciation class? I’d love to read a post on this theme, although I appreciate that it might not fit with your content. I’d be more than happy to feature you as a guest contributor on my little corner of the blogosphere if you ever feel the urge to write one.

      Liked by 2 people

      • ron877 says:

        I teach a class on literary appreciation to 3rd-year university students. I emphasize in all our class assignments that I want to see a connection between our discussions of discovered themes and their meaning (or lack of meaning) to Indonesia. I would be interested in contributing although not until after Halloween. From Oct 26 to Oct 30 we have an international writer/reader conference in Ubud (Bali) and I am busy with local promotion and prepping my students on what to expect. There will be several workshops on cross-cultural issues in literature. I can’t resist including this link http://www.ubudwritersfestival.com.
        Thanks for the reply and suggestion.

        Like

  12. EDC Writing says:

    Bit busy right now … do you have a six word version of this post? In truth saving this for the evening quiet, when … all builders gone and dust settled!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is great advice! I don’t always participate in the story challenge, but I always like reading others’ entries! Have you seen The Devil Wears Prada? I think my 6-word summary for that movie would be: Fashionable woman verbally abuses frumpy lackey. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Hélène says:

    How wonderful. I so enjoyed reading all this information. None of my previous entries were of any quality. It is great to learn, so now forward we go and produce great six word stories.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Hèléne, I hope you’ll find some pointers in there.

      These are just my opinions and things I have learnt along the way, the list is not exhaustive and I welcome input from anybody who has other pointers for storytellers out there.

      I look forward to reading your entries to the challenge!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Meritings says:

    Great advice. I wish to withdraw 80% of my entries so far!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. blissobirds says:

    This is fantastic advice and insight into the genre! I am so glad you shared – thank you! I’m definitely going to use this with the current 6 word story prompt!

    Liked by 1 person

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