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Six Packed Words

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Care to take the Six-Word Story Challenge?

Oh, it’s easy enough in poetry, this minimalist business.

I still recall Aram Saroyan’s one-word poem “Lighght” from 1965. And I myself once published Shortest Love Sonnet, which was 15 words in 14 lines — a record crying out to be broken.

But prose? Writing a complete story in far less language than the average lyric ode to the sunrise? That’s enough to make key-tappers everywhere crack their knuckles, take a deep swig of the Monster Ultra Blue, and give it their all.

A larger-than-life author like Hemingway accumulates many myths and anecdotes over time. - COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
  • A larger-than-life author like Hemingway accumulates many myths and anecdotes over time.

Legions are doing so at this very moment in response to the Six-Word Story Challenge that’s been trending on Twitter lately. And it turns out to be only the latest enactment of a game that’s been hosted over the decades by various media. Many accounts trace its lineage to “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” a tale that is loosely and probably apocryphally attributed to Ernest Hemingway.

Twitter, home of the 140-character epistle, would be ideal for such a sub-subgenre that’s waited all its life for the advent of the smartphone. Tweets can flow in as fast as Mike Hammer’s reply to the treacherous, mortally wounded Charlotte: “How could I? It was easy.”

But it’s no fun if it’s easy; and when I asked local writers to try their hand at the quickie classic, I was curious to see how they’d raise a snippet of English from mere statement to story – or at least intimation of story. By “story,” of course, we mean a dynamic creature with action, cause, effect, conflict and resolution.

Poet Tracy Mishkin’s offering fills that bill, I think, with a little editorial comment tucked in for good measure: “Trump closed mouth, global warming ended.”

Performing arts blogger Jay Harvey gets it done more subtly – more in the way of intimation, if you will: “He'd never wrapped a lighter body.”

Don’t ask. I’d rather guess, myself. Didn’t Papa Himself say his simple SVO sentences were meant as tips of icebergs, with a whole mountain of the unstated lurking beneath?

Forrest Bowman is the author of A Patriot's Peril and Sylvia - The Likens Trial. - COURTESY BOWMAN & BOWMAN ATTORNEYS
  • Courtesy Bowman & Bowman Attorneys
  • Forrest Bowman is the author of A Patriot's Peril and Sylvia - The Likens Trial.

“It is an interesting exercise in brevity, sort of Hemingwayesque,” says author-attorney Forrest Bowman, who happens to be an aficionado of Ernie’s own Key West. Bowman gave himself one heck of a workout, submitting no fewer than 20 little tales and putative tales, from the cryptic (“I don’t know whose they are”) to the metaphorical (“Global warming melts cold, cold heart”) to the ambivalent (“I thought she would. She didn't.” “I thought she wouldn't. She did.”)

Not to hang anybody out to dry, but one certainly can nitpick about some of these, as well as others among my responses, as to whether, for all their cleverness or aspiration thereto, they constitute stories in the technical sense.

Consider whether Dan Wakefield, Indy’s most distinguished living prose writer, is in the ballpark when he pens “Fall six times, get up seven.”

How about this, from author-attorney Judith Vale Newton: “Tumor invading a heart, what then?”

From author-publisher Nancy Baxter: “Daughters yours for life; sons not.”

And then, author and Indiana University law professor Fran Quigley submits, “I’m important, because I am you.”

Nobert Krapf is a former Indiana poet laureate, but only moved back to the Hoosier state in 2004. - PHOTO BY RICHARD FIELDS
  • Photo by Richard Fields
  • Nobert Krapf is a former Indiana poet laureate, but only moved back to the Hoosier state in 2004.

By amazing coincidence, it turns out that former Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf actually is assembling a series of six-word lines about a Hoosier African-American history-maker named Ida Hagan (born, 1888).

A sample from his compilation includes: “Ida’s story an education in possibility.”

So it goes. On and on it goes not.

“Six-word Stories? They can call it anything they want,” says short-story writer and IUPUI creative writing professor Jim Powell. “There are 20-word stories, 55-word stories, under-200-word stories, stories-in-a-Tweet stories. If the fiction satisfies one's need for narrative, I don't care what it's called. But very few six-word narratives satisfy my taste for a good story.”

His contribution: “Indy writer draws blank. Types ‘stuff.’”

Both Powell and poet Tom Orr invoked the classic difference between statement and story from our school days: “The king died and the queen died” as opposed to “The king died and the queen died of grief.”

Tom’s story: “Fugacity shot her man too quickly.”

Ah. He knows I’m a sucker for romance.

As does Elizabeth Weber, poet and English professor at the University of Indianapolis: “Met him, loved him, left him.”

Novelist and director of the Writers’ Center of Indiana, Barbara Shoup offered:

​“Lovers look up from their iPhones.”

That one sort of brings us full circle, what with Twitter and all. Self-referential six-word

fiction.

Meta-mini-fiction.

A true monster, we have created.

Horror, for the joy of six.

Do the math.

Robert Indiana's Numbers One Through Zero stands outside the IMA. - PHOTO BY DAN CARPENTER
  • Photo by Dan Carpenter
  • Robert Indiana's Numbers One Through Zero stands outside the IMA.

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