Is a Sentence a Story?
By Cynthia Ray
It is said that Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) and called it his best work.
There are contests and websites dedicated to the one sentence “story”. Is one sentence a story? A haiku perhaps, an engaging thought or intriguing question, but is it a bona-fide story?
There are anthologies of 55 word stories, and books of 500-word fiction. They are interesting, artistic and sometimes haunting and beautiful, but when I settle in on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a good book, I turn to longer, in depth, even rambling books, trilogies and Russian novels.
Is the one sentence story a sign that our attention span as readers has shortened, or have we simply added and expanded to the craft, playing with words in new and fun ways?
In my writing group, I got feedback on the length of my stories, and it reminded me of the fable of the three bears. Some were toooo long, some were tooooo short, and a few were just right, and it made me ask, “Is there a perfect length for a story?”
Some short stories were perfect in their 500-word essence. Others required 10,000 words just to get started. It made me think of the creative process; when I start a story, I don’t know how long it will be. I’ve started out to write a novel and ended up with a 3000-word short story, and I’ve started with a short story that turned into a much longer project.
In the end, word count is just another aspect of story telling, to be considered along with tone, theme, conflict, plot, characters and everything else. It is not that important to focus on, except when we don’t get it right. A story that is too long or short can leave your reader feeling bored, or unsatisfied, without knowing why.
As Neil Gaman said: