The Popularity of The ‘6-Word Story’

Fewer Words Can Be More Meaningful

When eating lunch at a restaurant in New York the writer Ernest Hemingway allegedly bet the table $10 each way that he could write a story in six words.

He took a napkin, wrote the following story on it, and then collected his winnings.

For sale: baby’s shoes: never worn.

Thirty years after Hemmingway’s death in 1991, the story was repeated in the book, Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing by Peter Miller who reported he had heard the story in 1974 from a ‘well-reported newspaper syndicator’.

In 1996 a play about Hemmingway debuted called Papa that was written by John deGroot. Everything in the play was said to be taken from things said by Hemmingway or those who were closest to him. A scene in the play was of the six-word story allegedly composed by Hemmingway to illustrate the pungency of brevity.

Smith’s six-word memoirs

Whether Hemmingway wrote the six-word story, or it was made up for the play or came from an unknown source the six-word story became popular when Smith Magazine posted six-word memoirs in book form in 2008 and again in 2009.

Smith readers were asked to submit their life stories in just six words.

The first in Smith’s Six-Word Memoir book series, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous & Obscure was released in early 2008. It collated over 1000 six word stories.

Modern-day six-word stories

  • Six-word stories have often been grouped by themes such as memoir, marriage, love, death, loss, employment, children as well as many others.
  • Six-word stories can be composed in one sentence, a number of sentences, over one line, or multiple lines.
  • Their brevity does not take away from their impact.
  • They also involve you as a reader, allowing your imagination to ‘fill in the gaps’ and evolve the rest of the story around the sentence.

Each story can, therefore, have a different impact on each individual as the reader’s mind has an influence on exerting emotional meaning.

I have put together a short selection of memoir, funny, and insightful six-word stories, as well as some original ones my boss and I, put together one morning we were working together packing in his shed.

From Six Word Stories

I’m beside myself; cloning machine works. 
~ jdgrafton

Left-handed woman seeks Mr. Right. 
~ Amber

Rain. Two strangers. One umbrella. Love
~ Magha

Logged out. Pulled plug. Found life.
~ Debra Argosy

From the New York Times

Born bald. Grew hair. Bald again.
~ A.J. Jacobs

Secret to life: Marry an Italian. 
~ Nora Ephron

From the National Public Radio

Extremely responsible, secretly longed for spontaneity. 
~ Sabra Jennings

A sake mom, not soccer mom. 
~ Shawna Hausman

Write about sex, learn about love. 
~ Martha Garvey

Personal Compositions

My boss and I had a lot of fun inventing a selection of short stories (he is quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair).

Screaming kids. Pregnancy test. Sad face. 
~ J. May

New shoes. Soles never wear. Wheelchair.
~ J. May

My condom broke. Twins. Life changed.
~ J. May

Was old. Died young. Confusion reigns.
~ J. May

Don’t wee on flowers, say’s wife.
~ D. Christensen

Eyes off road. Life changes instantly. 
~ D. Christensen

I’m rich. You’re poor. Death equalizes. 
~ D. Christensen

Love is licking the bowl — last.
~ D. Christensen

You like drama. Watch out. Karma.
~ D. Christensen

Have you ever tried to put together a six-word story? A reflection on your life, or a statement about what love means to you?

I would love to read some of them in the comments if you wanted to have a go at composing one.

Do you think there is room on Medium for a publication showcasing six-word stories, on varying themes? Let me know what you think I would love to hear.

Deborah Christensen is a writer, artist, and published author. She currently lives in Queensland, Australia. She lives with her husband, a rescue dog named ‘Lily’ and has six adult children (and one amazing grandchild) who live scattered throughout Queensland. She’s on Twitter @Deborah37035395 and Pinterest and is the author of the best selling and Readers Favorite 2014 award-winning memoir Inside/Outside: One Woman’s Recovery From Abuse and a Religious Cult.