Posts Tagged ‘six sentences’

Six-Sentence Stories

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Flash fiction lovers often cite a poignant six-word story, erroneously attributed to Ernest Hemingway, as the high point of the genre. The story reads, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Although Papa Hemingway might never have really written it, the mini-story is a perfect example of flash fiction that works. The six words encompass all of the conflict, emotion and tragedy of much longer stories, illustrating the potential of a well-honed piece of flash fiction.

Word limits for flash fiction can vary, depending on the print or online journal that publishes it, although most flash fiction has fewer than 1,000 words. Six Sentences, an intriguing flash fiction blog, sets a sentence limit, allowing authors to use as many words as they can pack into six meaningful sentences.

The following are two original, unedited flash fiction pieces that follow the Six Sentences guidelines. Below the unedited versions are my edits of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

First Story: The Mother

“You’re going to love having kids,” she said, tossing her hair over her shoulders and blinking so hard that Phillip thought she might have gotten dirt in her eye. “Ever since I had my son, I’ve been like a different person; I just feel so maternal to all children, no matter whose they are.”

Phillip started to say something, but she continued.

“I mean, I just see a child, and I want to take it into my arms.”

Phillip said, “It?” but she seemed not to hear.

The maid’s child darted across the lawn, chasing a round, red ball; the ball hit the woman’s feet, and she kicked it aside, examining her fingernails.

Second Story: Studying

Patrick never studied for tests, and he hadn’t studied for this final either. Everyone else walked into the classroom with notes and outlines, frantically cramming every last minuscule piece of information into their head before the exam began. Patrick knew the one exam question would be about Moby Dick, because it always was, in Professor Boylston’s class, as everyone knew. At least Patrick had read Moby Dick and knew every plot and subplot inside and out. “But what if he doesn’t ask about it this time—this one time?” Charlie asked as he sat down next to Patrick and rippled through his notes. Patrick looked at the exam question—“Please describe the concept of intellectualism as it relates to Casaubon in Middlemarch“—and witnessed the end of his academic career.

Below are the two stories with my editing marks. I have not included the stories in their final forms, because their authors will need to make modifications outside my scope as editor. My comments to the authors are in brackets and italicized. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.):

First Story: The Mother

“You’re going to love having kids,” she said, tossing her hair over her shoulders and blinking so hard that Phillip thought she might have gotten dirt in her eye. [I’m not sure about the relevance of Phillip’s dirt-in-the-eye thought. It detracts from the main point of the story, something you might not want to do in so short a piece. Couldn’t Phillip have some other thought about her blinking? Perhaps she’s batting her eyes coquettishly? Or is she adjusting colored contact lenses? You clearly convey the idea that this woman is self-centered, so her gestures should relate to this important quality.]  “Ever since I had my son, I’ve been like a different person; I just feel so maternal to all children, no matter whose they are.”

Phillip started to say something, but she continued. [In a story with a six-sentence limit, you don’t want to waste a single one. This sentence does not serve to further the plot or deepen the characterization of Phillip or the woman. If you cut this sentence, you would have an extra sentence for the end of the story, where I think it might be more useful. See my comments, below.]

“I mean, I just see a child, and I want to take it into my arms.”

Phillip said, “It?” but she seemed not to hear. [This is a good sentence. You succinctly add much to the character of the woman.]

The maid’s child darted across the lawn, chasing a round, red ball; the ball hit the woman’s feet, and she kicked it aside, examining her fingernails. [As I explained above, you could profitably turn this last sentence into two separate ones, because you convey a great deal of information here. I like how quickly “maid’s child” describes a child whom this self-centered woman would consider beneath her regard.]

Second Story: Studying

Patrick never studied for tests, and he hadn’t studied for this final, either. Everyone else walked into the classroom with notes and outlines, frantically cramming every last minuscule piece of [The words “frantically” and “cramming” sufficiently convey the idea that these are small bits of last-minute information. The five words I cut are unnecessary.] information into their heads before the exam began. Patrick knew the one exam question would be about Moby Dick, because it always was, in Professor Boylston’s class, as everyone knew. [“It always was” indicates the idea that this fact is common knowledge.] At least Patrick had read Moby Dick and knew every plot and subplot inside and out [These words are also unnecessary. “Every plot and subplot” gets the idea across clearly.] “But what if he doesn’t ask about it this time—this one time?” Charlie asked as he sat down next to Patrick and rippffled through his notes. Patrick looked at the exam question [The time sequence is confusing here, because in the previous sentence, Charlie is still looking at his notes. How does Patrick so quickly have a test? Perhaps you could replace “as he sat down…through his notes” with something like “as Professor Boylston handed out the exam.”]—“Please describe the concept of intellectualism as it relates to Casaubon in Middlemarch“—and witnessed the end of his academic career. [I like this dramatic ending.]

[Please post your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]