09 Feb Tell Me a Story
Years ago, they say, Ernest Hemingway was sitting at a table at the famed Algonquin Hotel in New York City with a collection of other writers. Eventually the conversation turned to the skill and talent of the assembled scribes and a bet was laid bare.
How few words could you use to tell a complete story?
Six words, the old master with the newspaper pedigree claimed was all it would take to complete the task.
And so the writers each slapped down a sawbuck on the table as Papa backed up the $60 wager.
He took a pen from the pocket of one of his compatriots, so the story goes, jotted his words on a bar napkin, and passed the tale around the table to collectively amazed expressions.
“For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”
Complete and perfect. A simple, evocative story of only six words with a beginning, a middle and an end.
The only trouble is, it may have never happened. At least not that way. According to Snopes, they’ve been able to find no reference to the story specifically this way.
There are side handed references to something like this. There are many references to bets made by Hemingway himself – both won and lost – and drunken afternoons spent at barroom tables. But no documentation of this particular event.
It may have come from a play written by John deGroot in 1996. It may have been someone else. But, on the other hand, it may be true.
The beauty of it, though, is in it’s believability. It is anchored in the truth of Hemingway’s economic prose style. His reputation of confidence in his abilities not to mention the chip on his shoulder. You want it to be true. You almost need it to be true.
It is a balance of audaciousness and authenticity and forces the audience to not really care if it’s not.
It’s too good not to be true. More important, it’s too good not to be shared.
And that is the crux of a good story.
I wish you well in making yours as good as this one.