Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words.
For sale, baby shoes, never worn.
So simple and yet so haunting.
Of course, it’s a little more complicated with a novel. We have to consider scene, characters, plots, subplots, goals, conflict, tension, structure, dialogue, drama, resolution… Breathe. Rotate neck. Put kettle on.
Yet there is something consoling about Hemingway’s six words. It’s often the simplest sentences that are the most evoking. It’s about making every word count and scratching the redundant ones. Part of writing well is the gift of arranging words to evoke image and emotion, so long as the writing contributes to the progression of the story. When we become too lost in word play we need to ask ourselves whom we’re writing for – ourselves or our readers?
I revisited a few chapters of my novel the other day. I try not to do this too often – I have to fight my restless fingers itching to edit and push myself forward (for me, editing is like sorting out my wardrobe. Kill the clutter. I feel cleansed and liberated). I scrubbed two thousand words of pure descriptive genius that had absolutely nothing to do with the story. I set them aside, in a file named ‘homeless’.
Stephen King once famously said, Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it break’s your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.
Elmore Leonard, I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
But then this one,
Toni Morrison, You rely on a sentence to say more than the denotation and the connotation; you revel in the smoke that the words send up.
Reminder to self – Create fire, make earth move and people weep, but make every word count.
Here’s my attempt at a six-word story –
‘Congratulations it’s a boy. Not human.’