Friday, February 11, 2011

Write Tight

Ernest Hemingway (public domain)
This is a story I’ve read and heard about for years (you probably have too), but not even Snopes can really confirm it. It doesn’t matter; it’s still a great story. In a discussion about brevity, someone bet Ernest Hemingway he couldn’t write a story in six words. He took the bet. This is the story attributed to him.
For sale, baby shoes, never used.
Can six words bring you to tears? They can me. At least these six words can. This story has images, pathos, tragedy, and despair. It shows, it doesn’t tell. It’s a magnificent story. Hemingway is also supposed to have said it was his best work. I might argue with that, but it’s certainly a powerful work.
Based on Hemingway’s words, someone put together a little book about life in six words. (I really need to find the name and get a copy.) One that stuck was “I still make coffee for two,” by Zak Nelson. Another poignant tale.
Okay, got off my duff and looked for it. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon. (Since I looked, the Smith Magazine site has gone down--thanks, Donnell, for letting me know.)

It’s all there, making this blog completely superfluous (maybe not entirely—how often do I get to use that word?).
Have any you’d like to share? I’m thinking but to no avail.


Donnell said...

Oh, Ellis, the link says unable to connect. This is fascinating, and I completely agree. Hemingway's six little words tell a great story.

Ellis Vidler said...

Thanks, Donnell. All the Smith Mag sites say Suspended. Maybe they're down for updating or something, but I put in the Amazon link to the book.

Sandy Cody said...

I'm moved by those six words too. Wonderful post. You always have good advice for writers. Thanks!

Ramona said...

A writer friend told me this:

"I write, therefore I am, crazy."

I enjoy your blog, Ellis. You have a nice array of topics and thoughts on them.

Polly said...

This is eight words, but...

My God, I'm pregnant. Who's the father?

A dilemma, to be sure.

Cutting a few of those overused words can tighten any work. Another thought-provoking post, Ellis.

Polly said...

I can't count, either. Seven words.

Ellis Vidler said...

Sandy, thank you.

Ramona, you (or your friend) nailed it. We ARE all crazy. Well put!

Polly, contractions count as one word, at least in the Smith Magazine ones. I counted it as one in mine, which sums up my life right now.
But yours is definitely a problem for the character. See? A new book!

VR Barkowski said...

Seems like no matter how many times I reread my work, I can always find a few more words to cut. The tighter the better.

Okay, I'll give this a try.

'He said he didn't know her.'

Cliche and not up to Hemingway to be sure, but provocative, I think.

Ellis Vidler said...

Yes, a lot is implied in that. Surely he DID know her, so why deny it? Many possibilities I can think of. These lines might be a good way to start a new story.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm a Hemingway fan and not just because I was born on his birthday.

Here's my six-word story:

Husband, dog lost. Reward for dog.

Zak Nelson said...

Glad you like my piece! Thanks so much. I think you have a lovely blog, by the way.

Ellis Vidler said...

Zak, thank you. I remembered your piece since I first read it. It touched me. Just a beautiful little story that said so much.