Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ernest Hemingway and the art of the short story

Urban legend has it that Ernest Hemingway once won a bet that he couldn't write a short story in under 10 words. His rebuttal: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

I don't love Hemingway (his brevity is a little too brief for my taste and his characters all seem stiff and unfeeling to me). I'm not even a particularly avid reader of the short story. But I do believe that if you can't tell a story in a few words, hundreds more isn't going to make it better.

I've been saying for a million years that I want to write, and I spend a lot of time thinking about writing, reading about writing, and reading in general. I'm sure these are all good preparatory things to do, but writers WRITE.

There are all sorts of exercises that writers can do, like finishing sentences, writing stories around specific topics and the like. I've never read an author say in an interview that any of those exercises were useful (or that they even used them). But I thought it would be interesting to try to write a short story and then methodically make it longer.

So here is my 10 word short story: She lay in darkness waiting. And then she saw him.

Let me know what you think! And be on the lookout for it's transformation into a slightly longer story!

Revision #1: She lay in darkness waiting. And then she heard him.

As one thoughtful reader pointed out, she wouldn't be able to see him in the dark. Since I had debated that a lot already, and then it was further reiterated (can something be further reiterated?) I decided the adjustment was appropriate. 


  1. Tantalizing! But how did she see him in the dark? Or is that the point? :P

    1. In my mind's eye, he opens a door, and he's silhouetted in the light. But you're right. I actually thought a lot about the word "saw" I wasn't sure if "heard" would be better. She'd hear the door open before she saw him.