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Last year I wrote this article about how writing flash fiction, that is stories of 1,000 words or less, can help make you a better novel writer. I got some great feedback about that post from people saying how useful it was. One of the examples I noted was Ernest Hemingway’s famous six word story which he supposedly wrote on a bet:

‘For Sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.’

That’s the one everyone quotes as it’s the original and probably the best, but there are many other great examples.

This year I decided to take my micro fiction writing a step further when I saw a six word short story competition and decided to enter. At first I didn’t know where to start so I tried a technique I use when I’m trying to come up with new ideas. I made a list of about a dozen six word stories then left it for a night. The next day I went back to look over the list and found which ones worked. I re-worked and tweaked those stories until I thought they were right.

Regrettably, I became distracted by something else and almost missed the closing date of the contest. I ended up entering my stories at the last minute without doing a final check through them. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t win the contest but it was still a wonderfully creative exercise. I think it would make a great warm up exercise for a Creative Writing class or a way to get out of writer’s block. You can practise your writing skills and challenge yourself creatively without having to spend ages writing out a short story.

As a novelist and a Tolkein enthusiast, I always use excessive waffle in my stories so I think there are certain professions that are much better at this exercise than I am. Advertising copywriters are essentially doing this to sell products. News headlines need to grab the reader instantly. When you think about it, there are examples all around us of people telling micro stories every day. Some of them reminisce with us more than full length novels do. How many famous advertising slogans have been stuck in your head since you were a child?

It may seem hard to sum up an entire event or emotion in a few words but we do it all the time in our everyday speech. When we swear, we are basically venting all of our feelings and frustrations in a single word. We use the simplest words to express our deepest emotions, ‘Thank you’ or ‘I love you’.

As you can see, six word stories can teach us a lot about the usage and beauty of our language. I’m still learning how to write them myself so I’m not going to go into how it’s done just yet, but I do recommend you give it a go. It’s hard to get right but if you do, you’ll find how to write a great story with the bare minimum of waffle, which will help you with your long form writing. Maybe try writing a six word story every day or when you’re trying to get over a writing slump. You might even get good enough to enter or even win a contest.

Have you ever tried writing a six word story? Do you have any advice for how to write one? Leave a comment and tell me.

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