Thursday, 3 November 2011

World's shortest stories, and mine

Ernest Hemingway

US author Ernest Hemingway was famously economical in his style. He was once challenged, supposedly for the price of his bar bill, to write a complete story in only six words. Hemingway rose to the challenge brilliantly:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

The science fiction writer Frederic Brown is also credited with writing one of the shortest stories ever, though in truth his 1948 story 'Knock' goes on to develop a plot from the story that is introduced thus:

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...

A complete story in itself. 'Knock' inspired a response by Ron Smith who gave his story a tongue-in-cheek title that was almost as long as the story itself. He called it 'A Horror Story Shorter by One Letter than the Shortest Story Ever Told' and it goes like this:

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a lock on the door...

Augusto Monterroso was a Guatemalan writer who devoted himself almost exclusively to short stories, many of which were very short indeed, but none as terse his 'El Dinosaurio':

Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.

which translates as:

When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.

Margaret Atwood
The Canadian author Margaret Atwood equalled Hemingway for brevity with her forthright six-word story:

Longed for him. Got him. Shit.

This next could be apocryphal, but I read somewhere that a college class was assigned to write a short story in as few words as possible covering the themes of religion, sex and mystery. One story was rated A+:

Good God, I'm pregnant; I wonder who did it.

Some of the world's shortest stories have arisen from a competition called 55 Fiction, started in 1987 by an American editor and publisher Steve Moss. I believe the competition still runs annually in The New Times. The basic premise is that every entry must contain 55 words or less, and must have a setting, one or more characters, some conflict and a resolution. The forerunner, I guess, of the many Flash Fiction competitions you see around today. You might want to check out Steve Moss's original 1995 anthology The World's Shortest Stories.

As a writer, I couldn't help rising to the challenge myself. Unable to match the six-word gems of Hemingway and Atwood, here's my fourteen-word effort which I call 'The Proposal':

He asked her as the lift gave way. She smiled. They fell, in love.

David Williams

I'll be pleased to hear any other examples readers have to offer, whether written by themselves or others.


  1. I hadn't seen any of the others besides Hemingway's - love that horror one.
    Yours is quite exciting too!

  2. Thanks, Deniz. Glad you liked them.

  3. Carol, on a writer's site I subscribe to, made this contribution:

    Would you be interested in Lucy Van Pelt's idea of reading Linus a story?

    "A man was born. He lived and then he died. The End."

    I think Linus remarks, "Profound." LOL!!!!

  4. It seems there are two slightly different versions of the Hemingway story. With thanks to Beth, I have substituted 'worn' for 'used'. I don't know which is the original, but I've gone for the better.

  5. Hi David

    You were on Writers' Dock (I've been exploring these writers' sites, looking for good content for I'd like to reproduce this article there, with your permission. A link back to your site would, of course, be provided.


  6. Thanks, David. Much appreciated.


  7. Loved yours.

    To take an excerpt from Doulas Adams' Hitchhiker's guide:
    "Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was 'Oh no, not again.'"

  8. Thanks for letting me know, Padilla. Nice to have feedback.

  9. Those are great. I'd read Brown's before, but the others were new.

    You might be interested in an ezine of 25-word stories.

  10. i am no professional writer, and the grammar and spelling might be way off, but when i read sad stories like this, i whis that i whould be able to make stories like i hope you will enjoy it.

    in the hospital,
    a man cryies,
    he pulls plug,
    alone he walks,
    alone at home.

  11. All contributions gratefully received Johannes.

  12. The little hand she used to guide now enabled her wrinkled body to stay erect. Life has circled.

  13. Thanks for your contribution, Anonymous.

  14. Just to add mine own entitled: "The Un-Achiever"

    "Nothing will stop me!" he cried. And nothing did. He died.

  15. Thanks for that Iron Blazer. I particularly like the title of your story.