Happy Halloween, everyone! Since I write horror, this is obviously my favorite holiday. To celebrate, I crafted several six-word horror stories to tweet throughout the day. And today, you’re going to practice doing the same thing!
Warning: Six-word stories are addicting.
Six-Word Horror Stories
Supposedly Hemingway invented the six-word short story with, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” I don’t know about you, but every time I read that a chill runs down my spine.
What happened there? Did the baby die? Was there a false pregnancy? Was the family rich and just didn’t need those shoes? Were they never the right size for the baby? Who’s selling the shoes?
Both six-word stories and horror rely on unanswered questions and the unknown, which makes them natural bedfellows. In six words, you don’t have time to build tension, develop monsters (or any other characters), or even set the scene. What you really need to rely on for this exercise is the reader’s imagination.
Here’s one of the six-word horror stories I wrote: “Jake barks furiously; the closet’s empty.”
This isn’t horror gold (or even six-word gold), but see how you have to fill out the rest of the story with your imagination? Just like with Hemingway’s six-worder, there are questions here. I mean, do we even know Jake’s a dog?
A six-word story is a flash of emotion that’s left open for interpretation. There are a million questions and the reader’s emotional impression of the story is up to how they answer those questions. Most people probably feel sorrow over Hemingway’s. With horror, you’ll want to aim for chilling or even gross.
Six-word stories are kind of akin to a joke. There’s a bit of an “Oh I get it!” moment when you’re finished reading. This normally comes in the last two words, which serve as a twist ending or big reveal for the story.
Think about Hemingway’s story again. The words “never worn” are what make the whole thing come together. They bring the emotion and completely change the (normally rather innocuous) meaning of the other four words.
Don’t Stop With Just One!
Remember not to stress over these as you’re writing. They’re meant to be fun, not make you sweat over every word for half a day. Jot something down and move on to another one.
If you’re feeling really inspired by one of your own or someone else’s, go ahead and use it as a writing prompt! For more on how to do that, check out this post by Joe Bunting.
Have you ever written a six-word story before? How do you like them? Let me know in the comments!
Today I want you to write a six-word horror story. You don't have to go with traditionally scary stuff. (Though it is Halloween. Hint, hint.) If you'd rather write about the horror of milk going bad, have at it. See how many you can write in fifteen minutes.
Then share your writing in the comments and give your fellow writers some feedback!
Sarah Gribble is the author of dozens of short stories that explore uncomfortable situations, basic fears, and the general awe and fascination of the unknown. She just released Surviving Death, her first novel, and is currently working on her next book.