I’m learning – the fewer words, the better. Each word should be as powerful as a punch to the gut – sparking the mind to fill in the rest.
In six words, I’ve told a story – a compelling one – that piqued enough interest that here you are… But here’s the thing – I didn’t tell the story – you did. Something compelled you to click – and here you are – question is this – what was that something?
For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn.
The above six words are often attributed to Ernest Hemingway – although that story is dubious at best and in all likelihood completely false. But it doesn’t matter – it illustrates a point – what story are you trying to tell me, and how well can you tell it?
I’m by no means expert on copywriting. I know I’m better than many – even those who do it for a living (I don’t). I’ve studied it a lot as of late, and I’m in awe of copywriters who spend hours thinking about the first 50 words. Those first 50 words are consumed in an instant, compared to how long it took to compose them.
But the first six are consumed almost instinctively and drive whether or not you decided to read:
For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.
Were you expecting a happy story? Were you expecting a story of loss?
Are you mad because this is actually a story on writing a story?
I know as people are reading this – I’ll get all three, and hundreds of others not even considered.
What I’m learning is this a good story is rarely about you – it’s more about what your reader concludes in their heads, than whatever it is you’d like them to conclude. A good story is told in the mind.
A website, based on the Hemingway’s fictitious “flash fiction,” focuses entirely on telling a story in the most minimal way – “Say it in Six” – your life in six words.
Mine might be – He struggled, never finding enough words.
What would your life be? You only get six words.
A daunting challenge. Reading it, however, reveals something about yourself, and about how a good six words can cast an entire story. How do you react to these entries that struck me as note worthy:
“Changing my status from punching bag.”
Why? Is she a victim of domestic abuse? Or is she someone who has been just submissive all her life and now found a voice to call her own?
“After years of Chaos, Finally Peace.”
Why? Is this about death? Redemption? Reconnection? Which did you conclude first?
“He just did what needed doing.”
Is this a story about duty? About honor? About murder? Was the deed traumatic? Was it personal, painful, or routine?
Can you condense down whatever it is you’re trying to say in six words? What picture does it paint?
As I continue reading these, and the reactions that people have, I’ve concluded my own “six words” about what “six words” reveal about storytelling.
In the mind, voices speak loudly.