Leave heavy lifting to the reader


Whatever the length of a story, each word has a load to carry, and it’s a writer’s job to make sure each pulls its weight. Where a key rule is ‘show, don’t tell,’ words often have to carry passengers, in meanings, parallels, and analogies. Writing a story of six words is good exercise for the longhand pen while away from the typewriter, where I’ve been with a notebook.

German times tables

Like many writers, around 90% of what I write is never published: it’s all notes and thoughts in journals. From some of those (less than 10%) something more might emerge, and one of my favourite writer sandpits to play in is the six-word story. Even within such a tight word limit, a story can have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but I try to use the minimalism of the format for more than one effect, even if it looks like I can’t be arsed.

I try to make my fiction evocative, invoking memories and questions: ‘What if…(…he’d finished the job; I just end this…)?’ The six-word story lends itself to that (leaving the heavy-lifting to the reader). Those stories then languish in my notepad, and some become more. Others remain just thoughts, but ideas shared might find another writer looking for an idea or a starting point. There are a finite number of plots and writers to write them, but infinite ways of telling the stories.

Being anonymous John, Malkovich (Malkovich, Malkovich…)


Watching TV tonight, I jotted a few things down in my journal. I ended up with seven six-word stories, some final drafts, and others the seeds for my own longer stories or those of other writers. To a reader carrying their weight (of interpretation), seven stories of six words could be seven chapters in a story of 42 words.

Together, we can write books which have many more pages in the mind than they do in reality. ‘Leave heavy lifting to the reader’ is a story in itself…

Lonely dog seeks new homeless human

Innocence, learning, losing; life’s only path

Butterfly lands, human blinks, humanity sleeps

To their utter astonishment, it flew

A benevolent armada, above the clouds

I asked if they had music

In the beginning was the end

There are many more of the briefest tales at the online repository of such things, SixWordStories.net. My longer works are available from Amazon (other bookshops are available, and all of my titles can be requested from most (and at public lending libraries)).

In the beginning, this was new

I go everywhere, you go anywhere

I ask why, you tell me

At the end, we leave together