six-word stories

Hemingway by StraterThere are an infinite to the power of ten number of games, tricks, memes, generators, and other gizmos to give writers the well-deserved smack on the bottom or the top that they need to be really creative, including Flash Fiction. One of the best Flash Fiction sites is David B. Dale‘s, and fortunately the standard there is high enough to give some feeble hope to us skeptics. Not enough, though, to override my belief that in very few cases do these artificially confining pretences lead to actually great writing. I can think of Ramsay Campbell‘s short story, “Heading Home,” which literally could not have been done in any art form other than writing. It is the least-filmable piece ever committed to mass market paperback. There is also the great Dorothy Parker‘s perfect poem “Two-Volume Novel,”

The sun’s gone dim, and
The moon’s turned black;
For I loved him, and
He didn’t love back.

But this, six-word flash fiction, and perhaps the most restrictive of those challenges, takes inspiration from this great work of Ernest Hemingway‘s

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

How much daring must a human being have to go up against competition like this, or even to exist in the same sphere? Hemingway himself said it was his best work, and he was no slouch in the work or opinion departments, for all his boozing.

This is the roundup that Wired magazine collected from some of the top SciFi writers today(stolen from Wil Wheaton), and I must say that, however neat the idea, this is one sad sack of sentences. While some of them would make a good first line for a conventional novel

Kirby had never eaten toes before.
Kevin Smith

most of them are rather laurel-resty

Don’t marry her. Buy a house.
Stephen R. Donaldson

Hearteningly, a scant handful actually live up to the challenge and do justice to the reputations of the writers. It lights a fire in my soul and the souls of all good readers and writers when we see good or great writers writing this well:

It’s behind you! Hurry before it
Rockne S. O’Bannon

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
Margaret Atwood

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
Alan Moore

And here, to leave you with our ambiguously depressing thought for the day, is Hemingway’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, as read at the banquet by the American ambassador to Sweden. At two minutes and ten seconds, it is in its own right Flash Speechifying, but nonetheless eternal for that. If the player doesn’t work for you the text over the jump, and here is a Realplayer version of Hemingway himself reading it; if any of you can convert that horrific medium to an MP3 I would be much obliged.


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Hemingway’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Having no facility for speech-making and no command of oratory nor any domination of rhetoric, I wish to thank the administrators of the generosity of Alfred Nobel for this Prize.

No writer who knows the great writers who did not receive the Prize can accept it other than with humility. There is no need to list these writers. Everyone here may make his own list according to his knowledge and his conscience.

It would be impossible for me to ask the Ambassador of my country to read a speech in which a writer said all of the things which are in his heart. Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

I have spoken too long for a writer. A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it. Again I thank you.

13 thoughts on “six-word stories

  1. Dear R-C

    Duchess Bride cried “God, shot missed”

    Aristocracy & Wealth
    True Romance
    Loud volume
    Religion
    Crime & violence
    Disney Happy ending

    Your obedient serant etc

    GE

  2. Veni, vedi, vici
    Faint heart never won fair lady

    I’ve always enjoyed the classics.
    One of my own:

    Unfortunately, I never finished writing my

    It is, however, unreasonable to ask a writer of my stature to confine himself to only six words. I just yesterday received my certificate from the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest, with a special award for length. Pat me on the back, willya?

  3. Taking up the newly concise Monsieur Metro’s Latin theme :

    Favourite Latin Verb

    Bendo whackere ouchi-sorebum

  4. Oho! And the Constructivist ramps up the literary tension a notch!

    Actually, some of those read like misguided Hallmark cards. Have you contacted them about buying some of these? They actually have “sorry I gave you herpes” cards, so there’s a spoiler right there.

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