The Six Word Story: An Economy of Words Can Yield a Profit of Ideas


ImageWho doesn’t like a good story? There’s nothing like curling up with your favorite book, or eReader (still seems weird to me), and escaping into a world of rowdy cowboys on the cattle drive, a conflicted detective trying to solve an impossible case, or the desperate struggle for existence as the people of the planet Zilfho battle their imperialistic overlords, the Hicputis.

Short/flash fiction, sometimes called micro-fiction, is becoming more popular these days as people find they have little time left in the day for reading. This isn’t a new idea. My book shelf has several volumes of anthologies that contain short stories. One of favorite writers, Edgar Allan Poe, was known for his short stories, as well as his poetry.

I enjoy the craft and skill that it takes to write a short story. The author must make all the pieces to fit with the least amount of words. It’s the epitome of “doing more with less.” The more frugal the writing, the more difficult the task. Some writers can even write a complete story while only using six words. That’s right, six words.

What fascinates me about a six word story is the relationship between the writer and reader. The point of view and the task of storymaking is shared. The writer provides the catalyst, the middle, and end of the story and the reader fills in the details from their imagination. One six word story, complete with beginning, middle, and end, has the potential to yield an infinite number of stories in the minds of readers.

Here are some of my favorite six word stories.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.” – Joss Whedon

“With bloody hands, I say good-bye.” – Frank Miller

“It’s behind you! Hurry before it- ” – Rockne S. O’Bannon

“The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.” – Orson Scott Card

“K.I.A. Baghdad, Aged 18 – Closed Casket.” – Richard K. Morgan

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104 comments

  1. Courtney · · Reply

    Ernest Hemingway’s is the only one I had heard before and can recall. Such is the power of those six words, anymore would be wasted.

    1. It’s my favorite, that’s why it’s first. Sets the tone for the rest, I think. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  2. Courtney · · Reply

    And Richard there at the bottom is a cheating cheater. Technically he worked in more words.

  3. plz plz plzzzz check out some of my posts!!

    1. Well, since you said please…

  4. ok, i will, but isnt that spam?? 😮

      1. ….what?….

  5. I have done this. A magazine I subscribe to used to have a section called 6 Word Memoirs. Reducing your life (or even one small aspect of it) to 6 words is a very good writing exercise.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. I love flash fiction too. Here is a one sentence story by Jon McGregor, and another he judged to be a winner. http://www.granta.com/New-Writing/Fleeing-Complexity

    1. Nice! Thanks for the link. And thanks for reading and commenting.

  7. Very entertaining post. I’ve also begun to see people use the term “flash novel” for what’s typically been called a novella–the idea being that novella as a diminutive makes it seem like the poor little book tried to be a “real” novel but couldn’t quite make it, while “flash novel” suggests it was meant to be this length all along. I wonder what would be the lowest word count of something that still gets away with being called a novel…

    1. Lol, I tested myself and witnessed my mind beginning to create a story with each six word story. So I’m sure I could do the same with one word. It’s all on how one can utilize ones brain and memory. After all, isn’t that all we need to create every story? Our memories? Just sharing some un-idle thoughts.

    2. I think it’s up to the editors. I’ve seen flash with a minimum of 500 words and others at 1000. I view flash like a moment in time with the history implied. Like a one act play, if you will.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. pozkarma · · Reply

    Oh the power of simple thought….

    1. Indeed…

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. This is a fav or mine:

    I came, I saw, I conquered. Julius Caesar

    Unless you want the story in Latin, then it’s only three words—even BETTER!

    1. Who knew Julius Caesar pioneered the first six word story? 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    2. That’s a good classic. I never thought of it that way. The essence of Julius Ceaser in those six/three words.

  10. InTeleGent · · Reply

    We invaded, won. Saddam’s damn sad.

    1. I guess it depends on how you define winning. But another good six word story.

  11. InTeleGent · · Reply

    We came,saw, conquered and left

    1. Rome came, saw, conquered and left…about 500 years later. Let’s hope we don’t stay that long.

  12. I do this with my writing students. They love the challenge! We also write 50 word short stories. They usually come out more clever than the stories I don’t give them perimeters for. Good read & good advice!

    1. We only did journal writing in school. I would have loved those exercises. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  13. pozkarma · · Reply

    Reblogged this on pozkarma and commented:
    What a wonderful exercise in writing. This blog post inspired me to think in terms of being able to convey thoughts with the limitation of a word budget. Here goes:

    Breathe. The though only lingers temporarily.
    His mind searches, his heart waits.
    Without warning the air was still.
    He contemplated feelings of belonging, alone.
    Be still. It happens very quickly.
    The fleeting moment was worth it.

    I find it interesting that the meaning and emotions some of these convey can easily swing between positive and negative.

    1. Thanks for the reblog and comments. Your offer reminds me of free form poetry. Positive and negative are both sides of the same coin and they are never far from each other. When stripped down, this is all we have left.

  14. Which comes first- Death or Six?

    1. Good question…and good offer. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  15. helenamallett · · Reply

    Yes whenever someone looks puzzlingly at me and asks what i mean when i say i write Flash Fiction i quote the Hemingway example … wonderful!

    1. And a fine example. Like my example above, I compare flash fiction to a one act play. Most people can understand that…or, at least, they tell me they understand. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  16. GaryPboX · · Reply

    Reblogged this on Summer.

    1. Thanks for reblogging!

  17. There’s always the classic SciFi story:

    The sun rose in the west.

    1. I’m not into SciFi but this sure tickled my funny bone!

    2. I had this conversation in a construction yard when I was 19. The old pipefitter swore that the Superbowl, which was played in Miami that year, was going to be on television two hours earlier because Florida was behind us in time. I could not convince him that Florida was an hour ahead because they are east of us and that he was thinking of California, which is west and two hours behind us.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  18. Thank you for sharing ,i like nice post

    1. You’re welcome! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  19. It’s an art in itself to distill an idea (or many ideas) into just six words. It’s a fascinating way to look at what the human mind can create without so many details. Just the basics, and you do the rest.
    Great topic!
    Cheers,
    iRuniBreathe

    1. Yes, and there’s so much more the mind can do if we could just tap into the remaining eighty to ninety percent. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  20. “Yes, we have no bananas.” Oh wait, thats five. Fun post.

    1. Hahaha…good try. Thanks for the read and comment.

  21. I like to call the six word story the haiku of fiction. Straight to the point. I am meeting a lot of readers that love stories that don’t waste their time. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Good comparison. Thanks for the read and comment.

    1. Thanks for reblogging! And thanks for the read and comment.

  22. This entry was posted in education and tagged Brent Weber, inspiration, Journalism, literature, teaching, University of Oklahoma, writing by Brent Weber.

    1. Thanks for the reblog, Brent. I trust you’ve credited me as the author…

      Boomer!!!

  23. Oh wow, these are great. I think my favorite is the first one…or the last one. They make my heart ache.

    1. Thanks for the read and comment.

  24. Love those! I have so much respect for people who can write something so full in so few words. I just can’t do it!

    1. Me, too. Thanks for the read and comment.

  25. Killed in action. 18. What more is there to say?
    I play a silly game of Six word Saturday, but it’s just a way to connect with people.

    1. Anything that keeps you writing and connected to readers can’t be bad. Thanks for the read and comment.

  26. Reblogged this on arnoneumann and commented:
    No time to write a story ? Try a “six word story ” !

    1. Thanks for the reblog. Great idea, too. Thanks for the read and comment.

      1. Thanks for connecting Norman. I liked your blog post as is , so , thought it best to send it out in its entirety. Your 6 word idea reminds me of the Japenese Haiku poetry…short , meaningful and with their own set of rules. AN.

  27. Interesting! So how many words should make up a short story? A novel? I’ve pondered this for a while and have no answers. I have written mostly short stories, some as short as one page. I’ve also written much longer pieces, 50,000+ for NaNoWriMo last November and still not finished; a current piece that I thought would be a very short story but has now reached over 7,000 words with no end in sight. Maybe I should try for a six-word story and see what happens. 🙂

    1. According to some “experts,” a short story can be somewhere between 1,000 and 9,000 words. I’ve also seen a minimum of 7,500 words for a short story. I think, typically, it’s up to the editor. Go for it! And thanks for the read and comment.

  28. Done flash prose. But not nano!

    1. Nano intimidates me…thanks for reading and commenting.

      1. Especially chosen words give greater weight.

  29. marvin keith · · Reply

    Old man seen in my mirror?

    1. Good one! Thanks for the read and comment.

  30. Reblogged this on Clockwork Marionette and commented:
    I think Orson Scott Card’s was my favorite. These are the kinds of things I can respect.

    1. Thanks for the reblog! And thanks for reading.

  31. I read. I enjoyed. I commented. 😀

    1. And I thank YOU! 🙂

  32. Some. interesting. ideas. in. this. blog.

    1. Agreed. Thanks for the comment.

  33. fairydancer221 · · Reply

    Reblogged this on Cat on the Bookshelf.

    1. Thanks for the reblog! And thank you for reading.

  34. They’re all so good. My favorite is the last one. It gives me chills.

    1. Me, too. Both the first and last are sad, but in different ways. Both imply lives lost too soon.

  35. I enjoy creating cartoons (see my blog) where the wording is continually abbreviated and rearranged until the punchline is conveyed to the reader in the shortest possible time.
    The impact is always better if delivered quickly.

    1. Thanks, I’ll check it out. Thanks for reading.

  36. That Hemingway story has to be one of the most powerful ever written in English – gained from that brevity.

    1. Agreed. Thanks for reading.

  37. Reblogged this on Catholic College Chronicles and commented:
    Imagination is a powerful thing which we are certainly not called to use in this day and age.

    1. Thanks for the reblog and good comment. Thanks for reading.

  38. Blogging publicly is difficult yet gratifying.

    Those are the six words that describe the past week for me. After nudging from friends, I started a blog. Putting my writing out there has made me feel vulnerable but I am also enjoying exploring the blogging world! I enjoyed your post. Important to remember quality over quantity!

    1. It’s also important to reply to all the comments that are left for you…which I somehow missed your comment and a few others. I apologize for that. Thanks for reading and commenting. Good luck on your blog!

  39. Thanks for sharing some of the six word stories and reminding us of the beauty in micro fiction! I will be incorporating my own one-sentence stories in my blog soon (I’ll try to keep them at six words, but not always that’s for sure! =).

    Great post, and a fine title for it too. Keep it up.

  40. brokenballerina · · Reply

    1) Every single one pleaded for death.

    2) That book became my guillotine.

    Haha. This is fun! Thaks for posting.

    1. brokenballerina · · Reply

      My first one is kinda over rated though. :b

  41. So true….I have a whole list of first lines of novels yet to be written….just have to get round to turning them into something….that’s the tricky part I guess….

    1. I have great first lines and awesome endings, yet nothing to fill out the middle…

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  42. I enjoyed this, and like others had only previously seen the Hemingway. I looked again at your first sentence: ‘Who doesn’t like a good story? and wondered if that was deliberately six words? It got me thinking.

    1. Well, it certainly wasn’t deliberate. 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  43. busyellebee · · Reply

    I came, I read, I reblogged! 🙂

  44. busyellebee · · Reply

    Reblogged this on BusyElleBee and commented:
    Very interesting post, that I thought I should share 🙂 Enjoy!

    1. Thanks for the reblog! Sorry for the late reply…

  45. Cool man, I enjoyed reading this! Keep the great blogs comin! 🙂
    Please try visiting mine too! http://theguyleftbehind.wordpress.com
    Thanks! 🙂 More support!!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’ll check your blog out.

  46. […] there was Vonnegut’s Rules of Writing.  Then, I found these “economic” stories.  But, I write about project management.  How could Vonnegut apply to me?  Condensing that much […]

  47. busyellebee · · Reply

    Hello, I was at a train station yesterday when I overheard a teen-aged boy say to 2 teen-aged girls, as they parted company,

    “Good bye, have a nice life”.

    I immediately thought of this post. What will their future hold? Will their paths ever cross again? Why won’t they keep in touch? Were they happy to part or saddened? Did they just receive their exam results? Had they known each other from nursery school, or just over the summer? What will they do next? How will this encounter influence their futures? Will they all have a nice life? So many questions, that will never be answered. So many questions from just 6 little words.

    1. That’s awesome! Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience.

  48. So you know I have to try this. Ahem…cough… Alright, let’s see. “Hanging from the rafters, Howard died.” Hmm. A bit humdrum. May have to put some thoughts into this but it proves to be quite a nice little exercise.

    1. Pretty good, Jack. So many different scenarios can be created by this six word story; which is why I like this type of itsy-bitsy micro style of fiction. Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

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