Thursday, February 5, 2009

Six Words, a World

By Beth Terrell

I just bought a fascinating little book called Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak. Written by "Writers Famous and Obscure" and edited by Smith Magazine, the book is composed of the shortest of short stories: six words each. I was amazed by how much could be told in so few words.

For example, there's this little gem by Joe Hill: I thought we had more time.

There's a world in that brief phrase. Is this the story of a widower realizing that he took his wife for granted? A woman watching her mother slip into dementia? A bridge designer being pressured to meet an unexpected deadline by rushing a design he knows may result in disaster? None of the above?

All of the above?

This book is a treasure trove of ideas for a writer, because each one contains the seeds of many stories.

Here are a few more.

Should have listened to the soothsayer. - Lisa Johnson

They never seemed crazy at first. - Eric Heiman

Found soul mate. Became call mate. - Harlan Stanton

Good men? Like promises, easily broken. - Bill West

And how about this one, by Christopher Moore? Heartbroken, until the bitch finally died.

If that doesn't spur the imagination, I don't know what will. Who is the bitch? Why is the narrator heartbroken? If you gave this line to a hundred authors and directed each one to write a novel about it, you would get a hundred different stories. Maybe the narrator is a henpecked husband whose wealthy wife makes his life a misery. Maybe he's a dutiful son whose overbearing mother comes between him and the woman he loves. Maybe "the bitch" dies of natural causes, after the narrator's years of self-sacrifice, or maybe he is the one who killed her. Six words, but what a wealth of ideas!

As snippets of commentary about the human heart, the book is thought-provoking. As a collection of story starters, it's invaluable. Story stuck? Skim this book (or its companion Not Quite What I Was Planning), and you're sure to come across something that sparks an idea.

But it works the other way, too. I tried it with my first novel (Met wrong woman. Framed for murder.), my most recent book (Loved nephew like son. Wasn't enough.), and my current work in progress (Tried network marketing. Upline murdered. Oops.). It's harder than it might seem to distill an 80,000-word novel to a mere six words.

How about you? Can you come up with a six-word distillation of your book, or, like the authors of Six-Word Memoirs, a six-word story of life, love, and heartbreak?


Anonymous said...

Fascinating info, Beth! That's a book I'd like to read.

I envy writers who can boil it down to 6 words. I would probably get stuck on "duhhh" ... (-:

Pat Browning

Jean Henry Mead said...

Fascinating and difficult, Beth. My forthcoming book could be distilled to "Proves sister murdered, deeper in danger" and the last one: "Serial killer hides in tule fog."

Treasures By Brenda said...

That is a great idea to use the quotes as starters for further writings. I find the book both lovely and sad and wrote a page about it at Six-Word Memoirs On Love and Heartbreak.


Chester Campbell said...

How's this for the starving mystery writer:

Have book. Will sell. Any takers?

Beth Terrell said...

Great six-word stories, Jean and Chester. (Chester, you just wrote the story of my life!) Thanks for getting into the spirit of it!

Pat, it's a fun little challenge. I plan to get NOT QUIT WHAT I WAS EXPECTING as well.

Brenda, I checked out your blog post. Very nicely done. Your observation that the book is both lovely and sad is right on target.

Anonymous said...

Your six words say it all!
Pat B.

Timothy Hallinan said...

Great post, Beth --

My upcoming pne, BREATHING WATER, could be encapsulated as "The small bring down the great." This is actually a very valuable way to think about one's book -- something I should probably try to establish relatively early in the writing process. It could be a touchstone that would help me stay on track as possibility after possibility presents itself to me.

Would you mind if I borrow this for my own blog?


Beth Terrell said...

Hi, Tim! I would be honored to have you use this on your blog.

Can't wait to read the next book!