I was recently invited to write a response piece to a scholarly article about six-word short stories for Connotations. The original author, David Fishelov, and I agreed that while all six-word stories in his study were narratives, they weren’t all truly stories. Fishelov defines narrative as ‘a represented action that involves “a change of fortune” … or a change or evolvement from one situation to a significantly different situation.’
Here’s an example of a six-word story that I would classify as a narrative but not story:
I invented a new word: plagiarism. (https://www.reddit.com/r/sixwordstories/top/?t=all)
This first appeared in a section of Reddit with the label of “Jokes.” Then it reappeared in a section on six-word stories. This mini-narrative reads as if it were a one-line joke. The only action in this narrative is the invention of a new word, with the punchline being that the word is about the wrongful borrowing of other people’s words. The action would be meaningless to the narrative if the invention were not of the word plagiarism. This example has a narrative element but would not be categorised as a story by most readers.
Since writing this piece, I’ve stumbled across a few other stories that I think are good examples of six-word stories:
Poked hole in condom. Divorce final. (From generatorfun.com/6-word-story-generator)
Alexa, where did my parents go? (By Lucy-Jo Dalby Six Word Story 2020 shortlist and winners announced | First Story)
It’s still you. Always will be. (From a Buzzfeed reader: messinab on BuzzFeed)
These little stories give us not only events or suggest a change in a situation, but also imply other events and narrative elements, such as background, resolution and character.
But my favourite six-word story is still the famous one attributed to Ernest Hemingway – he never published it, so I imagine it written on the back of a cocktail napkin at a bar in Havana:
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.