Quiet Desperation

Contest launched, and headline is clue


William Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Dorothy Parker wrote, “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”

Now, on the same footpath as the 17-syllable haiku contest comes this: a six-word story contest.

Your due date is 11:59 p.m. June 14. One entry per author, please. Try not to plagiarize.

There are no prizes, but I will site salient examples.

Please include your name and city.

This is an unoriginal contest: There have been others, partially stemming from the myth of the first six-word story, allegedly written by Ernest Hemingway.

One version is Hemingway won a $10 bet by writing this complete story in six words.

“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

The website Open Culture states, “The extreme terseness in this elliptical tragedy has made it a favorite example of writing teachers over the past several decades, a display of the power of literary compression, in which, writes a querent to the site Quote Investigator, `the reader must cooperate in the construction of the larger narrative that is obliquely limned by these words.’”

(A “querent” is “one who seeks.”)

Hemingway may have won a bet with that composition, but it appears he swiped the idea.

In 1906, when Hemingway was 7, in a newspaper classified section called “Terse Tales of the Town,” a similar sounding item appeared: “For sale, baby carriage, never been used. Apply at the office.”

The first time I read Hemingway’s six words, I might have said, “How sad.”

But then my sense of interpretation kicked in.

Maybe the shoes were too small, and nothing else. Or maybe the kid was born with two left feet. Or someone who was faking a pregnancy and went as far as buying clothing for a baby, and painting a spare bedroom with clouds and clowns, got psychiatric help, and backed her way out of the deception, and ultimately placed an ad for baby shoes that had never been worn. Simple as that.

One way or another, it is evocative.

Do a search for “Six-word story contests,” and you will find pages of guidelines and examples, although the only true guidelines needed are: be original, and stick with six words.

I think the best six-word story is only three words long.

“Less is more.”

An entire symposium could be based on it. It’s credited to architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohr, who adopted it from a Robert Browning poem.

Others have amended it.

“Less is a bore,” and “Less is less,” and “More is more.”

If you are wondering about “More is more,” among the longest English sentences is Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” It is 3,687 words long, or seven times the length of this column.

Annually, I try to read “Ulysses,” but invariably quit after the first page.

“For sale: `Ulysses.’ Never been read.”

In addition to six-word stories, there are six-word memoirs. There’s a book of them edited by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser.

“Her dreams kept her reality warm.”

“Please do not sit on me.”

“Maybe art school was a mistake.”

That last one? Hits home, Craig?

Not at all. Art’s an antidote.

Have some fun with the contest.

Say something in six, send along.

“Sorry, soldier, shoes sold in pairs.”

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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