Writing the Story Is Left as an Excercise for the Reader

I came across one of the stupid things that replaced email forwards but doesn’t have a name yet which (erroneously) claimed Hemingway once bet people he could write a short story in six words, and wowed everyone with how moving and profound yadda yadda:

For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

We’re supposed to imagine the tragedy and the sorrow of the parents who lost their infant child, etc. And yes, there could indeed be a very sad story of loss and grief behind these words. Or there could be a story of someone with a healthy, happy baby who was given more baby shoes than they could actually use by friends and relatives. It could even be the story of someone who had baby shoes and realised that the things are utterly pointless because babies can’t walk and once the child actually arrived the practicality of real parenting set in and they set the stupid things aside. Maybe it’s a science fiction story in which an alien used a replicator to duplicate baby shoes. Maybe it’s a spy-thriller in which the baby shoes were used to hide secrets. It could be anything at all.

Now, I have heard people defend this sort of thing on the grounds that this provides a wide scope for the imagination. It does, but only because it doesn’t provide anything else. It provides as wide a scope for the imagination as a blank page, because it basically is a blank page. If the reader is willing to do all the work, this sort of thing is super easy. Here’s one:

“Bottoms up,” he said, and died.

That can be about someone in a suicide pact, or perhaps a man being executed who got a last drink before execution. Here’s one in five words, though I’ll grant it’s not original:

And then there were none.

That one is about a serial killer on an isolated island. Here’s one in four words:

I knew love once.

A person who fell in love while on military deployment but could never find her again when he went back. Three words:

Call me Ahab.

Modern retelling of Moby Dick from Ahab’s perspective, because I saw a poster for Wicked in the train station today. Or if that’s too derivative, how about this:

I died, once.

Story told by a ghost or sci-fi where medicine can bring the dead back to life? You decide! Two words:

Me: Tarzan.

A new Tarzan reboot by someone who can’t afford the rights to a superhero. One word:


You write the rest, I’m tired of this.

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