Advice On Story Telling…

Using Hemingway's Six-Word Novel

The advice “tell a story” is often given to writers to help them make facts and figures sound more interesting to readers. But what does “tell a story” really mean?

I don’t think this advice is helpful. Writers can not easily switch from one writing about facts and figures to writing a short story. But I don’t think that’s what this advice means–it just needs to be said more clearly. Instead of telling writers to “tell a story”, tell them, instead, to “humanize” their subject. Think about how your facts and figures connect to subjects that people care about–subjects that are important to them everyday–subjects that make life more meaningful and memorable–such as love, marriage, children, friends, holiday celebrations, and so on. Think about your most memorable life moments. These are the subjects that most likely to stir feelings and emotions for many people.

All great story tellers understand what subjects stir human emotions. Years ago, Ernest Hemingway made a bet with his fellow writers that he could write a six-word novel. In other words, he claimed he could create a structure in the mind worthy of a full-length novel–in only six words. They took his bet and here’s what he wrote:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn

He won his bet and you can see why. Experience the humanizing power of these words. Your mind races to fill in the whole story. You can imagine this happening to you. You hunger to learn more. You’re totally involved.

If someone suggests you “tell a story”, start looking for the subjects in your facts or figures that are most likely to involve your readers. Maybe you can go a little further and imagine how a the facts and figures impact those subjects. In other words, how you can “humanize” your data to make it much more involving to your readers.