Short stuff

>> Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My friend Kate Baker tweeted earlier today:

Trying to debunk a myth in my college text book that says "Genre fiction does not work well in short-short stories.


That seems like a bit of rubbish to me: short fiction (and, by extension, short-short, however you might define it) is ideal for genre stories for a lot of reasons. For one, the longer a genre story plays out, the more the conventions of the genre might be stretched to the breaking point (the reader might start to wonder how dwarves procreate or how the murderer knew the victim would order the fish or how long can cowboys ride between bathroom breaks). For another, a fair bit of genre fiction tends to be built around a "gag"--take, for instance, Isaac Asimov's first published short story, "Marooned Off Vesta," which uses paper-thin characters and fairly plain language to tell an interesting story about Newton's Third Law Of Motion: that's the whole story, Newton's Third Law, the end. It's not a bad story (I'm not holding it up for a list of all-time greats, mind you--it's not that good, either), but you certainly couldn't stretch it out to novel length and why would you want to? Gags tend to be easy to spot in SF--some curiosity of physics or neato recent astronomical discovery--but they're not confined to that genre. The gag in a mystery story might be something with time zones or the gag in a western might be some neat bit of frontier trivia, the gag in a horror story might be some sort of what-if nugget like, "What if you were your own ghost."

I had to wonder if Kate's textbook's writers were distinguishing between "literary" and "genre" fiction, but the problem with that is that plenty of "literary" writers have used short forms to dabble in genre fiction; Flannery O'Connor and D.H. Lawrence come readily to mind (for their horror classics "The Lottery" and "The Rocking-Horse Winner," respectively). Depending on whether you count novellas as short fiction or long fiction, the "literary" Henry James' "The Turn Of The Screw" is considered one of the all-time great ghost stories. (Personally, I find Henry James pretty tedious, but I don't think I'm any danger to his literary reputation.)

Anyway, I think I got sidetracked here. Over lunch, trying to answer Kate's pleas for help, I stumbled across an old Wired collection of very short stories--six words, in honor of a story Hemingway allegedly called his best work. ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Hm. Not bad, actually.) Which was a bit inspirational and I thought it would be a fun thing to start up as a little game or meme or whatever (in this case, I like the idea of calling it a game much better). Here are five I came up with earlier:


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Bill tested the autodestruct only once.

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"I think it's dead, try poking--"

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Unstable bookshelf. Many books. Poor librarian....

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So many zombies. So little ammo.

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His long hair memorializes bald Rapunzel.

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Meh--they kinda suck. But now it's time for your own! While I think a discussion of classic shorts and genre stories would be awesome, I'm going to ask everybody to leave it to a different thread and that any commentators on this post simply leave their six-word-shorts here. I know, I know. But c'mon, it'll be fun, kids! So, please, humor me. Let's have nothing but six-word-short-short stories in the comments thread!

Let's see some very, very, very, very, very short stories!


38 comments:

Carol Elaine Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 3:53:00 PM EDT  

A bunch of friends and I did this a few years ago - the best of mine were:

Found the gerbil in the vacuum.

Ooh, sex! Wait, not yet? Damn.

Sacramento holds promise and probable disappointment.


I also had a series of three when I was unemployed and watching CSPAN:

I sit watching C-SPAN. Strangely compelling.

Can I scream at the congressmen?

I swear, will beat on Orin Hatch.

Random Michelle K Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 4:33:00 PM EDT  

Red button? You mean this button?

Do not place children in replicator.

Dragons? I don't think they exist.

No marshmallows in the vacuum tube.

Phaser died? I've got a sword.

Janiece Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 4:34:00 PM EDT  

No writer, her short stories sucked.

Konstantin B. Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 5:02:00 PM EDT  

But Daddy, I wanted this planet!

Why is it called Noisy Cricket?

Rejoice for the coming of Steve!

Put these stories in the airlock.

vince Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 5:48:00 PM EDT  

She wasn't dead, just partially melted.

Don't play with Death. He cheats.

And then the lights went out.

For sale: used planet. Fumigation extra.

mattw Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 6:03:00 PM EDT  

The dragon's fire was indeed hot.

Charlie thought Hobbits weren't that tasty.

Random Michelle K Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 9:41:00 PM EDT  

Once, twice, thrice, six: right out!

(that was a cheat, sorry)

Dr. Phil (Physics) Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 9:56:00 PM EDT  

A review:

Six words. Not enough story. Meh.

Dr. Phil

Leanright,  Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 9:58:00 PM EDT  

After all, I WILL have fries with that.

Shit, I've been hit! Go on.

Your name? Yes, I don't know it.

Just a dab. Ahhhh, much better.

Where did THAT come from? Oh, yeah.

Eric Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 10:25:00 PM EDT  

Loving it! Keep them coming! Thanks!

;-)

Eric Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 10:26:00 PM EDT  

Dungeon raid successful, except for Jimmy.

Random Michelle K Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 10:43:00 PM EDT  

Jimmy didn't deserve to live anyway.

Not after the snow cone incident.

Leanright,  Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 11:27:00 PM EDT  

Don't Move! I'll get a washcloth.

What is that? Don't ask.

Is this where it hurts? Lower.

That itches. Go slower.

Barry lit up another Marlboro, And pondered.

You light up my life. Whore!

That prom dress? On the floor? Certainly.

Leanright,  Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 11:40:00 PM EDT  

He was finally at peace, yet wondered; How do I get out these blood stains?

mattw Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 12:00:00 AM EDT  

Monkeys make lousy plumbers, unfortunately.

Random Michelle K Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 10:19:00 AM EDT  

Monkeys make lousy plumbers, unfortunately.

Matt wins the internet. Yay Matt!

Tom Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 10:30:00 AM EDT  

Most ancient of horrors. Damn fleas!

Internet short-shorts... Fail!

mattw Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 10:39:00 AM EDT  

I win!?! Oh boy! What's my prize?

*Damn, one word too long.*

Eric Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 11:14:00 AM EDT  

The prizewinner received the whole internet.

Leanright,  Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 12:52:00 PM EDT  

She danced slowly, while everyone watched.

I'm out of bullets. Run fast!

Carol Elaine Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 12:58:00 PM EDT  

(This is not a story. But I'll make it quick.)

My favorite six word stories are ones that manage to convey an entire story, which is why Hemingway's is so successful (and really sad). Vince's story, "For sale: used planet. Fumigation extra." falls perfectly into that, as does Eric's "Unstable bookshelf. Many books. Poor librarian...." and several others. I've got to find a way to do that.

WendyB_09 Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 2:40:00 PM EDT  

Brain fried. Replaced. Anticipate full recovery.

Jeri Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 6:33:00 PM EDT  

I did a post on this several months ago - and I thought there was discussion on it but I guess not.

My six word story then was:

Tumbled, torn, frozen, Pearl Harbor died.

Hmm... new ones?

Living well wasn't the best revenge.

Father always regretted giving him matches.

Out of food, she used blood.

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