Long story short

427px-Ernest_Hemingway_1950_cropChallenged to write a short story in just ten words Ernest Hemingway managed it in six. His story read:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

He later said it was the best thing he’d ever written.

And there is a skill of course in brevity. It’s a lesson you learn in newspaper journalism, where space is at a premium. Writing a good News In Brief is an art in itself, as is a tight story intro. They can become quite poetic in the right hands

The legendary newspaper editor Harold Evans offers up a cracking intro in his book Newsman’s English. His example, from the New York Sun, reads:

Chicago, Oct 31: James Wilson lighted a cigarette while bathing his feet in benzine. He may live.

Though not quite as compact as Hemingway’s shortest story it has the same function of carrying a whole world in a few words – of distilling the tale right down to its bare essentials.

That’s about it for today. A short blog this one – naturally.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

7 thoughts on “Long story short”

  1. There is a lot to be said for writing small; a wonderful discipline to trim any excess words, to find the essential bone of a story. Colm Toibin, writing in this week’s Saturday Guardian (16/6/12) has quoted James Joyce (about his book of short stories ‘Dubliners’) : “I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness…” That’s the style I’ll be aiming for this week.

    1. And often the way I to achieve that, I think, is to start with more words and chip away at them – like a sculptor. I’m sure we all have our own ways of getting there though.

  2. I was sitting here tapping my pen against paper when I saw your tweet, read this blog post and it has given me hope. Sometimes you don’t have to write big, sometimes you just need to sit back and condense everything into 10 words. I will try this.

    1. That’s very true! Sometimes though you need to write a lot more wordds – then reduce them down until you get what you want. As we know though, the main thing is to end up with the right ones in the right place. 🙂

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