Thursday, June 04, 2009

Practice: Six Words

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn." -Ernest Hemingway

Personally, I find Hemingway's famous six-word story extremely inspiring, efficient, and full of pathos. It does what a good story must--connects to the reader's own sense of common humanity and relies upon that sensilbility to fill in the background of the story. There are few stories that can blossom from those six words that wouldn't touch us, move us--and that is, to my mind, an amazing feat.

Because of that, I try to hone my own craft by looking into what Hemingway did and learning from it, then shaping my own stories from that understanding, with the same six-word limitation. Here are a few of today's renderings:

"The puppy licked his unmoving hand."

"The wedding band chafed her finger."

"He shoved her forward, then died."

"Wedding invitations, unsent, brought fresh tears."

To be sure, these are lacking detail that could flesh out the story that I see in my mind's eye, but when I go back to it, so is Hemingway's. I like the last of these best, if only because it has the same sort of rug-pulled-out feel as what Hemingway wrote. Honestly, you could simply revise his story to read "For sale: Wedding dress, never worn." and it would be almost as good. Though there's a particular pathos about the unrealized baby that resonates, I think, more than the unrealized wedding.

So, gentle reader, have you ever worked on this particular challange? Or are there other exercises you really enjoy in the quest to improve your writing? Or just for fun?

5 comments:

Kelly Swails said...

I love love love that Hemingway quote, and think of it often when I struggle with a story or concept. Sometimes I try to make things too complex and remembering Hemingway's six words reminds me that the reader and I are crafting this story together; I don't have to shoulder the whole load.

That said, I don't think I've ever tried it. Lessee ... here goes ...

"Death hurts more than you think."

Laura Bradley Rede said...

The Death Pixies did this for a meeting. It was a great exercise, but I'll be real: I sucked at it. :)

Kelly McCullough said...

It turns out they _are_ poisonous.

Sean M. Murphy said...

Ah hahahah, Kelly! I needed a laugh today. :-)

Sean M. Murphy said...

Laura, I usually suck at this, too. I just decided the other day that, damnit, I need more acute control over what I am writing.