Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tell me a story in just six words

Can you tell me about your life in six words? How about just a piece of it? I know, even that sounds daunting. But writers everywhere are giving it a try through an addicting storytelling platform known as six-word memoirs.

These six-word stories were actually started years ago by Ernest Hemingway, who created one, allegedly on a bet (For sale: baby shoes, never worn). They were brought back to life in 2006 by online storytelling magazine Smith Magazine, which still welcomes them at its site, (

They were brought to my attention by my former colleague Steve Koehler, who decided to use them on the first night of a writing course he teaches as a way to get to know his students.

I thought that was a great idea. Six-word memoirs, besides being absolutely addicting once you've tried writing them, offer an intriguing snapshot into a person's life - often hilarious, sometimes tragic, occasionally mysterious.

Take these disparate examples that stick in my memory from Smith's current online collection: "No more flushing tampons. Homeowner now." And "I hardly ever lied to you." Or "Screw this novel. Start another one."

Six-word memoirs run the gamut - that's why they're such an excellent writing tool, says Beth Carter, whose six-word memoirs are featured in the newly published book, "It All Changed In An Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs By Writers Famous & Obscure," available through Amazon as well as at Borders and Barnes & Noble for about $10.

I recently asked her about the inspiration and thoughts behind those quick hits she crafts:

"I definitely feel that six-word memoirs help with my writing," she said. "Writers always have to edit excess words from their manuscripts or short stories. With six-word memoirs, you're forced to only use relevant words so I believe I write more concisely in other genres.

"Sometimes I want to convey a powerful message, like my memoir on page 186: "He left. Sparked my personal D-Day." That's a true story about the time my ex left me. He just packed his bags and walked out. I stood there with our toddler daughter watching my world fall apart."

And if you're lacking for ideas, six-word memoirs might provide that tiny jolt of inspiration you need, she adds.

"They're great writers' prompts. I always tell writers to pick up the book, open a page, and write a short story based on one of the six-word memoirs. And it's fun to think of a timely topic, like Father's Day or summer, for example, and come up with creative, brief thoughts."

I've been putting them together in my head during my long commute home, and I have to say she's right. Learn more about Beth at her blog,

Give it a try. You might find you're a master.


  1. Diane, I'm thrilled you blogged about six-word memoirs. As you know, I'm a huge fan. Albeit brief, they offer much to writers and readers.

    Interesting that Steve Koehler is using them in his class.) I'll have to mention them to Kathleen O'Dell. I worked closely with her when I was in marketing at Doctors Hospital.

    Thanks for the plug, too. I hope you and your readers will give six-word memoirs a try. Once you do, it's all over. You'll be hooked. As you've already discovered...

  2. I"m so glad I brought them up to you. If anyone would know how to put them to good use and make them a great learning tool, it would be you Diane.

    Shared an idea; look at you!

  3. Papa and mema is Steve Koehler, by the way..

  4. Thanks, Steve!! I'm delighted you brought them to my attention - please feel free to keep me up to date on any other literary trends I'm missing!!!