There is an old tale about Ernest Hemingway writing a “six word story.” It tends to go like this:
Ernest Hemingway was dining with several fellow writers, and claimed he could write a complete story in less than 10 words. Bets were placed against him, and he took the challenge. On a napkin, he wrote: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Used.” Hemingway won the bet. His story was complete, as it had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Though this tale is fairly well known, even among people who only know of Hemingway by reputation, it is specious. The six words are, no argument, evocative, and somewhat reminiscent of Hemingway’s style of writing. But there is no evidence Hemingway ever made such a bet or wrote these words.
Plus, the usual claim that the “story was complete, as it had a beginning, a middle, and an end,” isn’t correct. The six words are a description, not a story. There is no beginning, middle, or end. Though there is a story suggested, there’s no actual story. There’s no actor, no action, and no setting.
But, even with the spurious nature of the story, it is an interesting idea: writing a story in six words. I don’t think it is truly possible to write an interesting complete story (beginning, middle, end) with an action and an actor. Sure, you can write an actor and an action in six words, (e.g. “The man picked up the apple”), but a beginning, a middle, and an end?
Now, writing an evocative idea in six words: that’s possible, and a fun exercise. For instance, here’s some I came up with in a few minutes:
Being dead is not fun anymore.
When the tree fell, someone heard.
Tonight the stars went out early.
He screamed, she ran, it smiled.
Some fish can’t take a joke.
The coconut fell out of style.
Time for a calculated home run.
Don’t come home without more ammunition.
It’s like writing poetry in haiku. The tight constraints open many possibilities. But it can become a habit.