For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
ONE short story. Six words.
(Pic by asifthebes / sxc.hu)Writer Ernest Hemingway once bet US$10 that he could write a complete story in just six words. He won the bet, with the terse but morose tale of a pair of baby shoes.
It seems Hemingway didn’t just win the wager. The legendary six-word story inspired others to explore this brief form, either for fun or as a writing discipline in brevity, clarity and creativity.
My daily dose of online literature, courtesy of DailyLit, recently challenged readers to share their autobiography in six words. Which got me wondering: What kind of life stories emerge through one’s entire life being percolated and distilled into six words?
DailyLit is an excellent way to have a literary quickie on a busy day. The website promotes reading by sending short instalments of poetry, fiction or any other genre selected by a subscriber directly to his or her e-mail or RSS feed. It’s five minutes of reading a day and you end up completing a whole book in a month, or a short story in a week.
Titles range from classics like Henry David Thoreau’s Walden to The Bootstrapper’s Bible; from Seth Godin’s pointers on starting a business on a small budget, to Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!) by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. (Gauging from the title, the self-proclaimed bitches would fail the six-word test miserably.)
But other than providing literature in time-released doses, DailyLit is also a virtual book club. It also has a readers’ challenge forum that has inspired many to be creative.
Reader MaggieH posed the six-word autobiography challenge, which has received more than 300 replies or life stories.
nieske sums up his or her life as such: “Worries too much, lives too little.“
Meanwhile, zetesis is “trying everything to find true self.“
jerry32303 had this to say about his or her life story: “Followed the rules. Got spanked anyway.“
On a more positive note, littlegreenman wrote, “life too great for six words” and atd422 declared, “I am a work in progress“.
Short and sweet
Sci-fi fans or comic or tech geeks may recall Wired magazine’s feature on the six-word form in its November 2006 issue. It cited the Hemingway precedent and invited “sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers from the realms of books, TV, movies, and games to take a shot themselves.”
Wired roped in 33 writers and five designers for the feature. Among them were writers Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Stan Lee and Ursula K Le Guin, comic writer and artist Howard Chaykin, and graphic designers and artists John Maeda and Stephen Doyle.
Author Margaret Atwood, whose The Blood Assassin won the Booker Prize and The Handmaid’s Tale received the Arthur C Clarke Award, wrote, “Longed for him. Got him. Shit.“
Actor William Shatner’s story envisioned that dropouts can still boldly go where no one has gone before: to space, the final frontier! “Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket,” he wrote.
Joss Whedon, creator of TV series Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, stuck to his specialty: “Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.“
Online magazine Smith has also jumped on the six-word bandwagon. Other than memoirs, it has six-word stories for different categories, such as the environment, food, and a section for teens.
In the memoirs section, when asked to sum up their lives in just six words, it seems like people are not so different, after all. The weight of life as articulated in DailyLit also seems heavy on some in Smith:
“Worry about tomorrow, rarely enjoy today!” Richard Rabone lamented.
Teenager Like.A.Kite saw more in life than six words. He or she declared in Smith, “I’m not editing my life story.“
DailyLit readers had a little practice before the six-word challenge with the 50-word challenge, posted by susan. The idea, she said, was adopted from Daniel Pink‘s book, A Whole New Mind, which explained that “storytelling is essential for professional success and personal fulfilment.”
The challenge was to write a mini-saga with a beginning, middle and end in exactly 50 words. DailyLit visitors have posted at least 170 mini-sagas.
And just like that, surrounded by her family, Lillian’s heart stopped beating.
Fifty kilometres away, Nadia’s Mom sits praying by her bed. As her daughter struggles for breath, she knows she is the lucky one. She knows that someone else’s child has died tonight.
And given Nadia a second chance.
I was into my second glass of ice water when he called. That old flame was not able to meet me at the bar.
“Cold feet,” he said.
I went home to wrap in blankets, in books. He called again but I didn’t pick up. My feet were quite warm.
As SSimon2000 put it in DailyLit: “This is addictive!”