Friday, February 24, 2012

Condensing Words

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

With just six words, Hemingway was able to get his point across and he was able to get it across well. You understand the story exactly. Baby shoes were bought for an expectant baby. However, there was either a miscarriage or a stillbirth and those shoes were never able to be worn.

Hemingway doesn't waste a word. It hits you with a quick punch and then it's gone. Just like that.

It's quite tragic actually. When I first heard it,  I was stunned. I assumed that only a brilliant writer like Hemingway could do it and that I would never be able to reach such a place in my writing.

I don't know why but the idea has been haunting me all week. A six word story. Six words.

Those six words, of course, have to be subtle but not too subtle. It can't sound like a synopsis or something corny or, God forbid, cliché. Basically, all of the usual restrictions apply except I knew a six-word story would be even more.

I told myself that it would be like a haiku. Except, of course, I would have even less to go on and I wouldn't have to worry about syllables.

As a poet, I know that economy of words is important. Condensing your words is key. In the case of a poem, less is more (but there has to be enough, of course, or else it lacks in description). Sometimes things are so simple and beautiful (or on the other hand, ugly and nasty) that a long-winded description just doesn't do them justice.

A poem is a snapshot. It's not meant to capture a life story (although my poems have often told stories) but they are just meant to capture a moment, a frame of thought and what has led up to that thought. While long-winded descriptions are appreciated and admired in the novel and short story world, a line that is too long and awkward just ends up flowing awkwardly.

Of course, there are other forms that require quick, sharp descriptions but poetry is the place where I find this the most apt. I almost saw this little writing experiment as one of these kind of moments so I had quite a bit of excitement over it.

I was thinking of that six-word story for some reason and then I decided to make my own. Of course, from that story alone, we know so much. I had to make my six-word story have that similar effect. I worked on it a while until a perfect six-wordn story sprang in my head while I was (in all places, of course) the shower.

I wrote one. Only then I got going and going and going. I knew right away that I had hit something good and I just kept tapping that creative vein.

Here are my six-word (some are seven. The first is also an acronym so I counted it as one word) stories that seemed good enough to post here:
Injuries sustained: Fatal head trauma. BAC (Blood Alcohol Content): 0.3
Obituary: A soldier's never coming home (you could replace "a solider's" with "my brother's" to make it more of a personal touch).
She's sobbing in the bathroom. Words hurt.
From the ambulance: a tiny bodybag

Those were fun to write. I also tried to do ones on other themes but it seemed the darker, sadder ones seemed to make it in (I suppose I've always done better on the dark side).

At least, six-word stories don't come with the same strings attached. You tinker with it a little bit and then you just write it.

I'm still learning the art of economy of words. It's a wait-and-see thing.

1 comment:

  1. I was just reading a bunch of these in last month's issue of O. I'm amazed at people's cleverness. You'll note no attempt by me to write one. I write long and that's all there is to it.