For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

baby shoesThe title of this post was written by Ernest Hemingway, and is one of the first examples of ‘flash fiction‘, very, very short stories. The upcoming Wired Magazine challenged sci-fi, fantasy and horror writers to see if they could top Ernest’s very earnest six-word effort, in their own genres. The results are mixed, and, in my opinion, mostly disappointing. My favourites:

It cost too much, staying human.
– Bruce Sterling

Osamaís time machine: President Gore concerned.
– Charles Stross

Overall, this was the wrong group to ask. After all, these are the writers who bring you trilogies — they take up the whole first volume just to introduce you to the characters. Much better to ask poets, or cartoonists, the masters of brevity. TS Eliot, for example, could have proffered the following, converting brilliant epigrams to short stories merely by changing tenses from present to past:

Humankind couldn’t bear very much reality.

The only wisdom was wisdom of humility.

The whole world was our hospital.

In our end was our beginning.

Where was the unimaginable Zero summer?

Or the words of Charles Barsotti, cartoonist non-pareil, brief and witty even without the accompanying drawings:

I sure didn’t hire the consultant.

“Introspection”, he roared, “is for losers“.

Here’s a few I came up with on the spur of the moment (OK, in the shower, this is harder than it looks):

2027: Civilization crashed. Fire, then ice.

He loved. Lost. Grieved. Carried on.

Black ice. Ten seconds. Skid. Crash.

Hemingway’s opus brevis probably can’t be topped. It’s the personal that gets to us, stirs our imagination more than the funny, or the fantastic. The point of every good story is to engage the reader to make it her/his own, and to fill in the ambiguities and blanks with her/his own rich details and imaginings. And six words leaves a lot of blanks. Also, parsing the six words into several one, two, or three-word thoughts lets you say more, I think, than even the cleverestsix-word sentence.

OK. Your turn. Give us yours.

Six words, no more, no less.

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31 Responses to For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

  1. neo says:

    I am mad; you are mad.

  2. PaulSweeney says:

    To paraphrase The Famous:”Mother died today, or yesterday?””Mother passed away. Picnic. Lightning”

  3. Dale Asberry says:

    forgotten shoebox, old photograph, tear falls

  4. Dale Asberry says:

    quick glance – flashes smile, she melts

  5. Dale Asberry says:

    bones, belly, empty eyes, you ignore

  6. Niran Sabanathan says:

    Little party puff. Need more, please !Red dot floating. Love, life, flushed.

  7. Dale Asberry says:

    kill, die. kill, die. no more.

  8. Dale Asberry says:

    Looks up, big hug. Hi Daddy!

  9. Dale Asberry says:

    He looks. She looks. Fate tried.

  10. Dale Asberry says:

    Zomg!! N00b Leroy’s? Chuck Norris FTW!!

  11. James LaMee says:

    For Sale: Walker, Wheelchair, Wedding Dress.

  12. That’s the news for today, again.I killed her: I loved her.Watch. My. Brain. In. Slow. Motion.Hate for sale. Love sold out.OR:Love for sale. Hate sold out.

  13. Doug Alder says:

    eight legs, hot shower, down drain

  14. Dale Asberry says:

    Juggle dead kittens? Only on fire!

  15. I just thought of another, adapted from a “noir” joke:Sarah passed away. Selling Honda 97.

  16. dataguy says:

    after stormy night, dawn without her

  17. andrew says:

    no mind no matter no more

  18. Parge says:

    God: you should have forgotten Me.

  19. Save the world. Get well soon.

  20. MLU says:

    There’s always Milton (slightly tweaked):Together, they took their solitary way.

  21. Jason says:

    Still Here. Why? Why Not?!

  22. Candy Minx says:

    Tell me, does art live in Syriana?

  23. Pearl says:

    Raised brow, red face, shuffle papers.Neck, chest, eyes up. Award. Applause.Exchanged look. Separate exits to stairs.Cottage dawn. Countdown until mailman. Impatience.

  24. Italy! Free! All summer! Why…no?”Don’t go.” I left. For nothing.Choose. Maybe regret. But always alive.

  25. Hemingway started out as a journalist, so I imagine that’s where he learned brevity.

  26. Bell tower. Noon. We rise today.

  27. Dave Pollard says:

    Brilliant, everyone. It’s interesting that each of these conjures up an image first, and then the story that wraps itself around that image.

  28. Chris Boyd says:

    Seconds taught what 100 years couldn’t.A treadmill trackstar until the end.

  29. Nick Buckley says:

    Feeling creative going blank writing anyway.

  30. Nick Buckley says:

    “I cannot do everything”. Did nothing.

  31. Christina Upton says:

    Surgery can

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