Like all good things, it sounds easier than it is. Writing a six word story is actually a pretty steep challenge. When we came up with the idea for our Six Word Stories fundraising auction, I consulted a writer friend. Would writers, particularly those who normally write thousands of words, find it an unattractive prospect? My friend said, if your young writers can do it, then why wouldn’t you ask professionals?
So we did, and I am delighted that so many writers accepted our challenge.
Some came up with an idea instantly, whilst others thought carefully and slowly for months, a bit like writing a poem. As one would expect, there is incredible variety and individuality in the final collection. Some writers turned out to be quite the illustrator too.
Many writers found six words a perfect form for wit. The end of Meg Rosoff’s story literally falls off the page. Julian Barnes adopts the infamous voice of cricketer Geoff Boycott, selfishly running out his batting partner. Francesca Simon’s story literally explodes with a bang. Jessie Burton turns Goldilocks into a capitalist success. David Nicholls conjures a comic mishap. Joanne Harris plays with a pun, at the same time making a subversive comment about marriage. (“Man marries gaoler. Wedlock for life.”)
Other writers thought rules were there to be broken – as any good writer might. Alan Hollinghurst did stick to the format, but playfully structures his story around an incredulously long and difficult to pronounce place name. (It’s in Finland.) Tom Holland gave us three linked stories for the price of one. And is Ian Rankin’s very clever story six words, or four?
Then there are the masters of ambiguity, creating sinister and suggestive stories with open endings, where the reader has to wonder. Val McDermid, Neil Gaiman, Kate Mosse and Jackie Kay all presented mini ghost stories. David Baddiel tells us a story that could go so many ways. Is Nadifa Mohamed’s ending happy or sad? And what actually happened to Nikita Gill’s protagonist, or to Louise Doughty’s character?
Other writers use the form to make a comment about the state of the nation past and present. Linton Kwesi Johnson’s story speaks of a lifetime of determined struggle, whilst Alex Wheatle speaks out of his own experience in the Brixton uprising in the 1980s. Inua Ellams suggests a desperate moment in an airport, alluding to a major crisis of our times. Max Porter’s six-word poem takes up the same issue.
There is an apocalyptic tone to other stories. Rose Tremain, Diana Evans and Kamila Shamsie ask what has Mankind done, and where do we go from here? Less apocalyptic, but very much of the natural world, Michael Murpurgo’s story describes a bird’s migration, but it is full of emotional portent – whether personified or not. Then we have James Patterson, succinctly summarising all of life in six words.
First Story is rooted in finding your own voice and there are some writers whose stories reflect their own work. Edmund de Waal’s beautiful story/work of art depicts the word as object. Elif Shafak and Tracy Chevalier’s stories allude to their own brilliant, longer works of fiction and could only belong to them.
What an incredible demonstration of creativity – there is something that will amuse and amaze everyone. Please do visit the auction and, if you can, bid generously for your favourite stories. Proceeds will help fund our transformative programmes in 2024, assisting young writers to develop their voices, hone their writing skills, and have their work professionally published.
With huge thanks to all our extraordinary Six Word Stories authors for their support.
Six Word Stories auction runs until 9pm GMT on Thursday 2 November 2023.
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