A Word

Web Watch: Just six words... by Jacqueline Alexander
First published in the Henley Standard

Your challenge this week is to write down just six words.

It may not seem too arduous considering the Oxford English Dictionary lists over 171,000 words in current use and another 45,000 obsolete, but there's one condition; the six words you choose must constitute a short story.

In the 1920s, colleagues of Ernest Hemingway challenged him to write a short story in just six words. His endeavours resulted in the quite brilliant, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." It is said that Hemingway considered this to be his best work, not that The Sun Also Rises isn't up to standard, nor For Whom The Bell Tolls, it's just the six word story entices us to have a go. It sounds easy, doesn't it?

Ernest Hemingway

A few years ago, a journalist picked up on the idea and challenged our modern-day writers to compose their own short stories. Some submitted lacklustre samples such as "Will this do (lazy writer asked)?" but a few are within touching distance of Hemingway's brilliance. "Megan's baby: John's surname, Jim's eyes", submitted by Simon Armitage, causes a sharp intake of breath, or possibly a wry smile.

Other contributions only serve to prove just how difficult it is to create a story in the reader's mind with just six words. Hemingway did it. Armitage did it. It's possible. Can you do it?

Sixwordstories.net lists many of the examples offered by today's writers and invites you to comment and submit your own ideas for a short story classic.

You can take a quick look at the entries from fellow surfers via the navigation options but many contributors seem to forget that the words have to build the story in the reader's mind. It's all very well to come up with a clever phrase but your words have to suggest the beginning, middle and end of the story. Still think you can do it?

If you can match Hemingway, or even get close, we want to hear from you. Send you entries via our website at henleystandard.co.uk, and we will publish the best submissions in next week's Henley Standard. There's no prize - just the satisfaction of knowing that thousands of people may read the best six words you have ever written.

The subject matter can be whatever you want. Sixwordstories.com divides their content into over 20 different categories so you may get some inspiration there. To get you started, how about "Adult club to open. Henley worries."

Hemingway had a distinct advantage when accepting this challenge from his colleagues. He was already an established author with a penchant for short, succinct sentence structure - an economical approach to writing distinguished by an ability to inspire the reader to do the work. It's a style that has spawned many admirers and is known to have had a dramatic influence on JD Sallinger (Catcher In The Rye) and Jack Kerouac (On The Road) to name but two.

Hemingway's work is the main reason many want to know about the man. His gruesome death, together with the multiple suicides within his close family, rumours of homosexuality and a distinct distaste for his own mother all combine to cause much curiosity, morbid or otherwise.

Whether you are a fan of the man, the work or both, Timelesshemingway.com has one of the largest FAQ sections dedicated to Hemingway - it is an extensive resource answering more than 100 questions on his life, his loves and his legacy, which includes, of course, the six- word story. How are you getting on with that?

Next: Let's get biblical

Audio: Jacqueline Alexander presents Web Watch with Phil Kennedy on BBC Berkshire and BBC Oxford:

Copyright: Jacqueline Alexander 2012

  • Steveredgrave.com
  • Antics.co.uk
  • Geoffhurst.com
  • Trade-air.co.uk
  • Matthewpinsent.com
  • Whitemanandwilliams.com
  • Atholestill.com
  • Bowenhurst.com
  • Wine-talk.co.uk
  • Acsurveys.com
  • Cartwrightgroup.co.uk
  • Londonrock.co.uk
  • The Cricketers
  • Steveredgrave.com
  • Brutoncharles.co.uk
  • Henleyplayers.com
  • MLScorporation.com
  • Nickiwhiteman.co.uk