I wanted to share some tips on the guidelines I follow when I’m writing Six Word Stories, Six Word Jokes, Six Word Poems, Six Word Advice and Six Word Memoirs. Essentially, anything in the Six Word Format.
1. Use only Six Words
Six words is the basic rule of the form! Much of the joy of writing a six word story is trying to fit it into the six word straight-jacket.
But it’s surprising how difficult it can be to stick to the rules.
I encourage contraction, like saying ‘They’re’ rather than ‘They are’. This gets you a free word.
Two words with a hyphen between them would normally be counted as two words. In the line, ‘To Dave, it’s a no-brainer.” The words ‘No’ and ‘Brainer’ count as two separate words. Usually, you can check in with Google to see if it’s one word or two.
Top Tip: Always re-count your words after you’ve finished your story. An extra word or too few words are more common that you think.
2. Use punctation wisely
Whilst there can only be six words, you can use as much useful punctation as you like. So get out those colons, ellipses, exclamation marks, new lines, and get them working for your story.
As in the example,
…mind. I think I’m losing my…
This technique is a fun way of looping a story. Without the punctation, it wouldn’t make sense, but the ellipses tells you there is more going on and takes you back to the start. Not capitalising mind also helps.
3. Aim for a beginning, middle and end
We all know that a good stories start, carry on until the end, then stops.
In the six word form, you have only a few words. This makes it all the more of a challenge. How can you give enough information that the reader feels satisfied that they have gone on a journey. Give enough information to allow readers to complete the story.
4. Try having a twist
Many of the best six word stories have a twist in the final word or two to change the understanding of what has gone before. You can achieve this by setting expectations at the beginning and then subverting them.
Poured out two drinks… then remembered.
This story relies on a gut wrenching twist for the reader. Pouring out two drinks means to most readers that you are preparing to share a drink with a friend or a loved one. But the character in the story then remembers. What do they remember? Presumably, that they do not need to pour out two drinks. Why not? Because their friend or loved one is no longer with them. Maybe they left. Maybe they died.
5. Just start writing, then redraft.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your head with possible ideas for a story. When you’re painting, you’re often advised to paint over the canvas to kill the white background before continuing. Similarly, just write some words first. Then re-read. Is it telling a story? What story? Does it fit the six word form? Does it mean something?
Don’t settle for that first draft. Rewrite. Play. Have a go. Particularly, play with the grammar. Can you make the story more clear or hit harder?
6. Share your stories
One of the greatest things about a six word wonder is they are quick and easy to share. You can use social media, like Twitter or Instagram. You could start your own blog. You could share your journal with a friend.
Sharing your stories makes you take greater care over their quality, invites feedback and criticism, and may spark new ideas.
7. Spark an emotion, beauty, suspense or surprise
What grips readers? Emotion, suspense, beauty, or surprise. As you write your story, ask yourself which category it falls in to. And if the answer is none, consider why this is a story.
8. Include strong verbs and interesting nouns
Readers love to see powerful language. Why say tree when you can say Sycamore? Why set pick up something when you can say grab it?
Strong verbs are those doing words that get your pulses racing. They are the words that bite. They are the words that throttle. If you search online, many people have written lists of their favourite strong verbs.
Interesting nouns will make your writing soar. Always consider whether a more specific noun is available for your story. Is a Rottweiler more evocative than a dog? Is a waitress more interesting than a worker? Through specificity you create drama and understanding.
9. Titles are included in the word count
Often in fiction, titles are excluded in the word count. But in the six word wonder, any title you include must be part of the word count. The reason is simple. Using a title let’s you cheat on one of the most important constraint and changes the meaning of the story.
Consider this story,
‘Unlocking the cage, she stepped out.’
This story is full of drama, surprise and intrigue. Who is she? Why was she in a cage? What’s going to happen next. Now, let’s see what happens if I add a title.
The Last Panda
Unlocking the cage, she stepped out.
As you can see, by giving a title to this story, it significantly changes your understanding of what has happened here. Is it a bad story? No. Is it a Six Word Wonder. Hell, no!
10. Have fun writing your Six Word Wonder
Rules are, of course, made to be broken. Above all be creative. Be interesting. If you’ve written the best story of your life, but its seven words, no worries. Enjoy yourself!