Tuesday, December 16, 2014


“Do I have a story for you…” 

Chances are this is a phrase you’ll hear more than once during any given week. 

In fact, it’s a good bet that whenever two or more people are gathered in the same general vicinity someone is bound to reel out a story of a recent experience or retell someone else’s story from their own perspective.

Storytelling is the world’s greatest indoor and outdoor sport. Oral storytelling has been around, of course, since humans began grunting. Way back then, people used words, drawings, gestures, and facial expressions to entertain, educate, inform, and even inspire.

The best stories were told and retold--epic stories of ghosts and gods, legends and heroes, war and love. Travelers tucked these stories into their memory banks and carried them to other lands and cultures where they exchanged them for even more stories, which they brought home to share.

Good storytelling requires an attentive audience. 


Today, attention spans aren’t what they used to be, which is why the best oral stories tend to be brief and vivid so listeners can engage as many senses as possible. On the other hand, we’ve all been in situations when you'd like to implore the storyteller to “puh-leeeeze get to the point!”

Economy in storytelling is a special skill. Especially in writing. Choosing the right words to tell a story is a challenge most of us face, whether writing a short story or novel—although economy of words isn’t usually a priority consideration for someone trying to churn out a 40,000- to 80,000-word novel.

When I worked in broadcast news, I learned to write “fast and tight”—to tell a breaking story in as few words as possible, written in a way that provided listeners with the sense of a complete story. 

Today, thanks to social media channels, even the non-professional writers of society are learning to express themselves with brevity. 


Text messaging, Twitter, blog comments, chats, and other electronic communication formats demand a minimum number of words to get a point across.

Magazines get into the act, as well, in different ways. For example, the other day, while skimming a local city magazine, I saw a column labeled, “One-Sentence Stories.” The column featured six stories, these two among them: 

  • “A woman allegedly smacked his sister-in-law across the face with a dead catfish in a domestic disturbance in Lufkin.”

  • “Aggie legend Johnny Manziel was photographed in an Austin swimming pool, sprawled across an inflatable swan and guzzling from a champagne bottle.”

These and the other four sentences weren't really stories. I’d classify them as statements or, at the very least, story-starters. Valid stories usually contain action, conflict, and perhaps resolution. 

Telling a story in the fewest number of words possible is generally referred to as flash fiction


The most intriguing Flash Fiction challenge is the Six-Word Story. Books - yes, books - have been written about writing Six-Word Stories. Entire websites are devoted to the concept. The idea has inspired a literary movement proving that lots can be said in few words. 

The idea started, according to literary legend, when Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a short story in only six words. No doubt you’ve read the six-word story somewhere along the way:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Hemingway supposedly bet a table of other writers ten-dollars each that he could develop an entire story in six words. After the money was produced, he wrote the six words on a napkin, passed it around the table, and collected the money for winning the bet. Whether the story is true or not remains unanswered. Its accuracy has come under fire a number of times. 

Regardless of the reality, the idea of writing a six-word story represents the ultimate challenge in storytelling. 


Check out the website, Six-Word Memoirs  where contributors from all walks of life use six words to tell the story of their lives. The results are mixed, but many are quite creative.

And everyone, regardless of the quality, should be applauded for their effort to Say It In Six

Confining our creative efforts to six words forces us to be more selective in word choices. Sometimes, it’s as frustrating as it is challenging. But it’s a good way to focus and refine your thinking. Here are a few I attempted: 

  • Financial markets collapse. Penthouse to poverty.
  • She aimed. She shot. He bled. 
  • Santa Claus arrived, left no gifts.
  • Fugitive family rescued from sinking yacht.
  • No use crying over dreams unfulfilled.
  • The genie appeared. Granted no wishes.

Give it a go yourself. 

Consider this a participatory blog. In the Comments section below, leave your own six-word story. 


Tom, author of the post-Civil War action-adventure Last Stand At Bitter Creek, is working on his second novel. Soon to be released are several works of nonfiction:

  • The StoryTellers, Interviews with Writers about the Art of Fiction
  • Tall Tales from the High Plains & Beyond (three volumes)
                  --Book One: The Unexplained and Other Stories
                  --Book Two: The Law Keepers
                  --Book Three: the Lawbreakers



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I love flash fiction, Tom.

    Dictator Wanted! Occupied Country. Headless state.

  3. Can't resist another!

    Once cherished, now useless, toothless comb.

  4. Good for someone ... with no hair.

  5. A quantum one!

    Paradoxically, Schrödinger's cat died, yet survived.

  6. Thanks for the six words, Doris.

  7. Don't believe in miracles? Think again.

  8. Well done, JR. Thanks for contributing. (JR counts as one)