Learn to tell good stories with a legendary bet involving Hernest Hemingway and the birth of Flash Fiction.
Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was in a bar with other writers when he proposed a bet: everyone at the table would pay $10 if he could write a story with only 6 words .
The other authors ran into the moment. Hemingway was already a writer acclaimed for his minimalist style, but even he could not achieve such a feat.
With the guaranteed bet, Hemingway took a sip of his beer, took out a napkin, and wrote down his six words:
For sale: baby shoes, never used.
Each of the authors read those words, gave a small smile and paid $ 10 dollars to Hemingway. For the American writer, it was just another day and just one more bet.
Little did he know that he was creating the prime example of Flash Fiction , an incredible way to understand and apply storytelling on a daily basis!
Want to know more? Then come with me!
What is Flash Fiction?
The above story was reported by Arthur C. Clarke in 1992, but is currently questioned by historians. Apparently, the bet did not happen.
But that does not matter. After all, as we have learned in American Gods, ” stories are truer than truth .”
The important thing is that this legend about Hemingway teaches us the basic concept of Flash Fiction: telling stories with as few words as possible .
The human being has practiced Flash Fiction since prehistory. This concept is, in fact, the root of the emergence of fables, legends and parables (which, in turn, have developed in complex histories).
It is easy to understand why this is when we try to practice Flash Fiction.
When we are limited to a small number of words, history is reduced to its central motor : conflict.
Here, I would like to open a parenthesis. Usually, when we talk about conflict in storytelling, we soon imagine a hero against a villain in a fight in the last act of a movie.
Not really .
Conflict may be the clash of two forces, but it is primarily the agent of change in narrative . Telling a story is portraying a metamorphosis.
For this, we use the basic elements that you have learned before: character, environment, conflict and message.
But coming back.
What Flash Fiction does is so helpful is to force you, the writer, to focus on the conflict in your story and build the other elements to promote change in very few words.
This is so instinctive of the human being that we are all capable of doing. You already know how.
To prove it, I created a topic in the Rock Content Freelancers Community on Facebook and challenged the talents from there to tell stories with just 6 words.
I’ve separated some great examples of Flash Fiction that they created there:
“Freelancer I became, a trip will do.” – Martins Orchid
“I was in Paris yesterday. I woke up sweating. “- Rosana Olvera Sanches
“I thought it was ice cream. It was beans! “- Márcio Conde
“When I reached the bus, the driver accelerated.” – Bruna Moreira
“I went to cure my head, and I married.” – Amanda Gusmão
“He thought he was late. Even so, it was. “- Vinicius Macedo Silva
I just picked up some of the great examples that were posted on the topic. People sent too much Flash Fiction!
Now, let’s see how Hemingway did it?
Analyzing Hemingway’s Story
To recall, these are the six words of Ernest Hemingway:
For sale: shoes for babies, never used.
Notice how the conflict of the story is highlighted. It is the first word: it is sold.
Yes, selling is a conflict (in the sense of driving the change). That’s why Storytelling is such a powerful tool for Marketing.
After establishing the conflict, Hemingway uses his remaining 5 words to paint a scene that evokes the characters, environment and a powerful emotional message.
Before you talk about it, let me ask you one thing: what did you understand about this story? What scenario comes to mind when you read those 6 words?
If I were Hemingway, I would bet $ 10 dollars that your answer is that the baby died (before, during or after childbirth) and parents are selling their shoes.
(If I did, you can tell me in the comments.) If I did, save the information for you, okay?
This scenario, evoked by the words of Hemingway, paint all the storytelling for us.
We have the characters (the parents), the conflict (selling baby shoes) and the environment (in a newspaper or Internet ad).
The genius of the story is that it uses the last two words to create a very powerful emotional connection with the reader .
The “never used” is strong because it messes with the chronology of the story, in addition to explaining who the characters are.
If the story were just “Sell yourself: baby shoes,” we would imagine a store that markets such clothing.
As it has the “never used”, one understands that the shoes are not of a store, but of a “common” person. This insight tells who the character of the story is.
More than that: the “never used” suggests that the shoes should have been worn at some point. So there was the expectation of a baby for those people.
If they are selling the shoes, it is because something has happened to the baby. Hence the emotional punch in the stomach.
Hemingway uses the contrast between the past, the present, and the expectation of the future to create a very strong emotional bond with the story.
And all this was possible in just 6 words.
How to apply Flash Fiction in your texts
You’ve seen above how powerful Flash Fiction can be. For those who work with guidelines with limits of words, it is important to know this tool to apply storytelling in texts of 500 or 1000 words.
But how? Here are some tips we can take from Hemingway’s story:
Focus on your conflict
Before beginning to write, read the description of the agenda well and ask yourself what the conflict in that text is. What engine will drive change for the person? This is where you should focus on writing time.
The persona is your character.
Storytelling is to show the change of a character, in an environment, via some conflict. In Content Marketing, the persona is that character, of course.
It is she who will go through a change in reading that content that you wrote so dearly. So put it at the center of your story.
Think about the past and the future
The emotional connection of storytelling comes from the fluctuation of the character between the past, present and what will come in the future. So think about your persona and the content she will read.
Will that help you avoid repeating a bad past? Or will it provide a happier future?
Who has gone through a change now was you, who learned a new tool for your texts. How about you start practicing Flash Fiction to improve your writing skills?
You can start by analyzing the stories created by freelancers in the same way we did with Hemingway’s. Where is the conflict? And the emotional connection?