Six-word stories are more than just a buzzword or internet craze. With one of the most popular examples penned by Ernest Hemingway himself, six-word stories are a unique take on memoirs. How do you want to write your life story?
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A six-word story is exactly what it sounds like: six words that say something powerful, express a feeling, or share something intimate about your life. They’re a form of legacy, emphasizing the way that words have power and meaning. You don’t need a long-winded narrative to find meaning in your words (or story).
Whether you’re looking to write a memoir, learn from the master writers, or just practice with a fun writing exercise, six-word stories are a great place to start. In this guide, we’ll share how to write great six-word stories or memoirs as well as some examples for inspiration.
What’s a Six-Word Story or Memoir?
Six-word stories rest on one key concept: brevity is a virtue. Sure, you could wax poetic about your memories and how you want to be remembered, but there’s power in getting to the point.
A six-word story or memoir is just that—a story written in six words or less. Occasionally, you’ll find some “six-word stories” that are longer than six words. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule by any means. The foundation of this writing exercise is to simply say more with less.
William Faulkner, one of the greatest southern writers, put this feeling into words with his infamous quote. He says, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
This doesn’t mean to strip away everything that has meaning to you. On the contrary, this is a way to get to the heart of the matter. When you “kill your darlings,” you’re getting rid of everything unnecessary, all the flowery language that simply obstructs the view of the true core of your message.
In creative writing, you can’t afford to get too attached to the characters, language, or plot lines. Everything is dispensable when it comes to the overall story. Sometimes that means making hard choices, stripping away everything extra, and going back to the basics.
This is true of some of the greatest writing of all time. The best memoirs all rely on this idea of stripping away the unnecessary. It’s impossible to put someone’s entire story into words.
This would take years and wouldn’t even be interesting to read. Instead, writers craft the full narrative into something easier, something meaningful. This is the heart of the six-word story or memoir.
Steps for Writing a Six-Word Story
Anyone can write a six-word story, regardless of experience or skill. Because they’re so short, they’re perfect for artist statements, writing exercises, and even complex jumping-off points for larger retellings.
Here are the steps to follow if you want to write your own six-word story or memoir.
Step 1: Create a clear story
To begin, you’ll need a storyline. Though six-word stories are short, they still follow the same general rules as traditional narratives. This means they have a beginning, middle, and end. More particularly, they have a movement of conflict, action, and resolution.
These are the elements that make a story more than just a statement. There is a real feeling, and it’s easy to get a clear picture of the six-words in your mind.
This is easier said than done, but consider some different conflicts. To make this relevant to your own life like a memoir, what are some obstacles you’ve overcome? Where do they begin and where do they end? Journaling or talking with a friend can help with this process.
Step 2: Start writing
Next, start jotting down ideas. You don’t need to limit yourself to six-words (yet). We’ll get to that later. To start, write your story as you would if you had no restrictions. Use symbols, imagery, and add characters as needed.
Get a feel for the setting and place of your story. Step inside it and see it for what it is. Six-word stories commonly rely on imagery or symbolism to make an impact. Try to identify which symbols or images relate the most to what you’ve written so far.
Remember, symbols come in all shapes and sizes. Small symbols often convey large concepts. The fewer words you need to express these symbols, the better.
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Step 3: Find your punchline
Your punchline is the “a-ha” moment. It’s that “oh, now I get it” realization that all six-word stories have in common. This is when there’s a real turning point in the narrative. You can think of this as a plot twist, moment of emotional realization, or anything that makes sense to you.
How does the punchline appear in your story? What’s your big reveal? It’s common to start with context or place, followed by the punchline. The story might end here, or there might be some form of resolution. It’s not uncommon for these six-word stories or memoirs to be left unresolved. Consider what it is your readers should feel and work to craft that feeling.
Step 4: Kill your darlings
Last but not least, kill your darlings. As Faulkner said, this is an essential part of the writing process. Take what you’ve written thus far and strip it to the bare bones. What do you have left?
What’s the most powerful part of your story? What makes the ready go “a-ha!” with a moment of epiphany, for better or worse. If you can’t bring it down to six words, don’t stress yourself. Let it sit for a while and return later, seeing if there’s anything else that doesn’t need to be there.
Writing is an evolution. There’s no such thing as “perfect,” though there is such a thing as “done.” Sometimes the latter is better than the former, so know when it’s time to walk away and call your work a finished masterpiece.
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Example Six-Word Stories
Six-word stories grapple with a lot of different themes and concepts. They’re often highly personal, and they rely on small and large symbols to make a powerful impact. Some are memoirs included in obituaries, and others are purely fictional.
These stories supposedly began as Ernest Hemingway’s response to a bet that it wasn’t possible to write a story in six words. Though this has since been debunked, it is true that Hemingway proved his point.
Let’s look at some examples so you can understand how six-word stories work in action. As you’ll quickly discover, it is possible to sum up an entire novel of feelings in just a few words.
For more six-word story inspiration, visit Six Word Stories to submit your own and browse categories.
Funny six-word story examples
“I’m beside myself; cloning machine works.”
"I leave. Dog panics. Furniture shopping.”
“Coffee before art? Goodbye straight lines.”
“‘Reading for Dummies,’ somehow, never sold.”
Sad six-word story examples
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
“‘I’ll be back tomorrow.’ Years ago.”
“Selling parachute: never opened, slightly stained.”
“The smallest coffins are the heaviest.”
“Imagined adulthood. Gained adulthood. Lost imagination.”
Love-related six-word story examples
“Left handed woman seeks Mr. Right.”
“Rainy evening, two strangers, one umbrella.”
“They lived happily ever after. Separately.”
“He loves her, they’re ‘just friends.’”
“Best weekend ever. He never called.”
Say More With Less: Six-Word Stories
Storytelling takes many forms, but six-word stories are one of the shortest and most unique. You’ve likely encountered six-word stories or memoirs in your own life, but have you ever written one yourself? Though this is quite the creative writing challenge, it’s also an opportunity to put into words the feelings that are hard to capture.
Whether these six-word stories help you understand feelings of grief, loss, or even joy, they're a unique way to see the world. Words are their own form of art. They’re a legacy we leave of the stories we’ve told. Though six-word stories might be short, they’re worth so much more than the number of characters on the page.
“Six Word Stories.” Six Word Stories. SixWordStories.net.