Wit and wisdom for wordsmiths

How (and why!) to write a 6-word story

Have you ever written a 6-word story?

A few months ago, Dutch freelancer Peter van der Stoep of LinkedIn‘s Freelance Writers Connection invited members to do just that. Hundreds of people have taken him up on the invitation.  More than 550 have Favorited the project on Facebook.

A lot of the submissions are fun. But the most striking thing about them is that at least half of them aren’t stories!

Why not? Because a story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. And it has to make something happen.

So “Angry. Cool down. Calmer. And Relax” doesn’t work.

“He waited. She never came back”  does.

The 6-word story craze began in the 1990s, based on the often-told story that Hemingway wrote “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” to prove a point. Naturally, he’s supposed to have written it on a napkin at the Algonquin Club, but who knows?

But in 2006, when Wired.com invited sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers to produce their own 6-word stories, the idea took off.

The same year, smithmag.net, which calls itself “The Home of the Six Word Memoir,” invited readers to write 6-word memoirs. A couple of years later, about 1,000 of them were published in a book called  “Not Quite What I Was Planning” .  Three sequels followed.

Okay, you’re saying, but so what? I’m a serious writer; I’m not playing games. I write press releases (speeches/articles/blog posts/memos from the CEO), for God’s sake.

Agreed. But whatever you write — you’ve heard this  somewhere before, yes?  — needs to tell a story. If it doesn’t, nobody will listen and nobody will care.

Your goal is not to use as few words as possible; it’s to use only as many of the right words as it takes to tell your story – which means the ones that will be convincing.

Whether it’s a press release, a memo from the CEO, an article, or a speech, figure out what the story is and why your audience should care.

Here are some examples from the Wired and smithmag projects that show how it can be done.

  • Dinosaurs return. Want their oil back.  David Brin
  • Longed for him. Got him. Shit. Margaret Atwood
  • Kirby had never eaten toes before. – Kevin Smith
  • Dorothy: “Fuck it, I’ll stay here.” – Steven Meretzky
  • The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly. Orson Scott Card
  • Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs Aimee Mann
  • Well, I thought it was funny. Stephen Colbert
  • I asked. They answered. I wrote.  Sebastian Junger
  • Found true love, married someone else.
  • And a few extras . . . 
  • Woman Seeks Men–High Pain Threshold
  • Aging late bloomer yearns for do-over.
  • (and my favorite) Still lost on road less traveled

Have your own 6-word story? Share a comment below! 

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