The best writing lesson from a six word story

Ernest Hemmingway is know for many memorable novels. I prefer Fitzgerald for Jazz Age writers, but like food, it is a matter of taste. I like cheese, my brother doesn’t. And he claims to be Scandinavian. But Hemmingway’s six word story is food for a writer to digest. It is the best example of flash fiction I can think of.

In my previous blog I wrote about the simplicity of Bukowski’s opening to his novel “Post Office.” Simplicity was the theme in that post and so is this one. Hemmingway wrote, “Baby clothes for sale, never worn.”

My first thought is the story is a tragedy. The baby died. Since the clothes were never worn, did the mother lose the baby, perhaps it was stillborn. But maybe the clothes were blue and the baby was a girl and the parents want pink. I don’t know.

But what writers can learn is that they need not always be descriptive. If a writer goes into the description of the clothes, the type, the color, the why, it could be the writer is clogging the readers mind with unnecessary information. There are things to tell and things not to tell, because the details are not important.

As I said in my Bukowski blog a writer can get in the way of his story. Elmore Leonard is said to have had a rule of never writing about the weather. If true his tongue may have been in his cheek. In my novel in progress that takes place in western Washington during November of 1927, I mention that it is raining in a couple of scenes. I note that it is the thick misty type of rain that so often inundates the area. But I do no belabor the point, not going into great detail, not over doing it. And it is important to place and atmosphere of the story. But the point is, I kept it simple.

When a writer goes over what he wrote he should not fall in love with his words. He should look at how to cut, what to cut. In doing so, in making it simple, in making it clear, the story is front and center, not the vainglorious wordsmith. 

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