Many people have seized upon the gimmick of a six-word story and written what they think is a story, but not as many have actually succeeded encapsulating a world. Breaking it down, bit-by-bit we have first "For sale." Someone doesn't want or need something, s/he desires to either make money and/or get rid of the shoes. "Baby shoes" is next. We assume that either the shoes have been outgrown or someone has a shoe store. "Never worn" tells us the shoes are new. The reader realizes that either the baby was never born or that the baby has died. A relative must be selling the shoes, perhaps the mother or the father. Change has occurred. Tragedy in six words.
One reason it works is that a conflict is set up and developed. The concepts rub against each other and create a scene. "For sale" is general and familiar and gives us the desire. "Baby shoes" gives us a person to imagine, either the baby or a parent. "Never worn" creates the context and tells us that something actually happened.
Peggy Gotthold of Foolscap Press recently created a book of six six-word stories by six writers. I also think that just one six-word story has great potential to become book art. The book itself can provide the setting and the tone with color, texture, binding, and pacing.
Let's see how writing a six-word story might work. We'll try for subtext: we should be able to read the story on more than one level of meaning. Let's start with three questions:
- what is desired?
- who/what is involved?
- what is the outcome or consequence?
- Airport shuttle has broken clock. Sorry!
- Hungry cat meets skunk at dinner.
- Horse falls. Winner by a nose.
- Old boat. Wet shoes. Date over.
*This is attributed to Hemingway. The story is that he wrote it on a napkin, but no one has been able to verify that these were actually his words and that the event actually happened. In any case, we do have the six-word story, which has sparked much imagination and many contests. Snopes.com has one explanation.