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Thursday, May 7, 2015

The art of the short story: A warning to long talkers and writers everywhere.

 For Sale, baby shoes, never worn.

If done well, it may only take six words to write a poignant story. This one is credited to Ernest Hemingway.

As the story goes, Hemingway was lunching with fellow writers and claimed that he could write a short story that was only six words long. His pals doubted that was possible. Hemingway told each of them to put ten dollars in the middle of the table; if he was wrong, he said, he’d match it. If he was right, he would keep the entire pot. He quickly wrote six words down on a napkin and passed it around, then collected all the money.

Now all the world is not lived in a day, so short could mean lots and long could be few but the point is, get to the point before you lose the opportunity. Enough is just what it takes.

Mark Twain was known for his wit, among other things and he could put together a few pretty good sentences now and again. All of his quotes are fun to read and some of his quotes about writing offer a key to his success.
  • A successful book is not made of what's in it but what's left out of it.
  • One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.
  • The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell together, as quickly as possible.
    Old lady screaming.
  • Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.
  • I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”
  • It takes a heap of sense to write good nonsense
  • The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.
  • Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.
  • My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water.
  • I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
  • The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
  • Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.  
He said one thing that so resonated in his time that it was repeated as often as it had relevance...
which is why it is still repeated today.

Larry Smith founded Smith Magazine in 2006. He started The Six Word Memoir project   in November 2006 in partnership with Twitter. It was a simple online challenge asking: “Can you tell your life story in six words?” It really caught on. Now more then 1 million Six-Word Memoirs have been shared across Smith Magazine sites and picked up by media around the world. It has proven to be an impressive teaching concept in schools and a team-building technique in the corporate world in getting to the core of conceptual thought.

Tweets and six-word submissions to the many Smith contests and challenges show humor, love, happiness, food, America, etc. succinctly and impactfully in just six words proving how simple it is to convey a feeling, idea, concept, question, emotion... It's a discipline that rewards by just getting it out there.

"Love bites. But so do I.
"We met over silverware and dysfunction."
"Only wine can save me now."
"Dispensing wisdom I do not have."
"I can always make myself laugh."
"Unplug for 24 hours and recharge."
"I'd pick you over french fries."
"Saw my mom in my reflection."
"Parenthood is a form of insanity."
"Wrote 2167 words today. Deleted 2141."

Then I read this book: How To Write Short. It's funny and smart... with lots of reasons why and examples that made it worth its cost. First lesson in the book is a keeper.

 Consider these documents:
  • The Hipppocratic oath
  • The twenty-Third Psalm
  • The Lord's Prayer
  • Shakespeare's Sonnet 18
  • The Preamble to the Constitution
  • The Gettysburg Address
  • The last paragraph of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech
If you add up the words in these documents, the sum will be fewer than a thousand, 996 by my count.

Then you have the author's fun examples to illustrate what he is saying:

"Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect." Steven Wright
"God is love, but get it in writing." Gypsy Rose Lee
"Ran out of deodorant midway, so one arm is Shower Fresh, the other is Easter Lily. This has the makings of a wild day." @phillygirl
"Santa has elves. You have Target."
"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
"Where's the beef?"
"I like Ike."
"Just got a press kit in the mail from Gallo with a wine cork marked 'starter cork.' They obviously don't know me."
"Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly."
"If Jesus had been born just 40 years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses." Lenny Bruce
"The Hokey Pokey Clinic: A place to turn yourself around."
"I wish I were an Oscar Mayer weiner."
"If you live in New York, even if you are Catholic, you're Jewish."
"The baby just saw me naked. Now she knows where she got her thighs." @AuntMarvel
"Take my wife, please" Rodney Dangerfield
"Jesus wept."

Last paraphrase mine: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the sentences I cannot change,
The courage to edit the words I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

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