For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn is a piece of flash fiction (allegedly) written on a napkin by Ernest Hemingway as part of a wager between him and fellow writers. It’s technically a novel.
For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn is a piece of flash fiction (allegedly) written on a napkin by Ernest Hemingway as part of a wager between him and fellow writers. It’s technically a novel. It’s also an excellent writing lesson.
As I type this I should actually be typing my dissertation on screenwriting (I’m having a break… go away), part of my thesis involves actually writing a screenplay, so throughout the process I’ve read countless books, articles and quotes in an attempt to make the whole infuriating process easier.
The best way to build the craft of writing
Here’s the thing, it really doesn’t do much. It makes procrastination a lot more interesting and you do pick up some hints and tips and the odd inspirational quote that makes you furiously type for 10 minutes before all that motivation falls out of your head and you go back to watching Storage Hunters.
The fact of the matter is the act of writing takes practice, it likes a muscle; the only way it can grow it is through exercising it (my writing skills need a personal trainer as you can tell). You need to write and write masses or really terrible articles, poems, Tweets, and Christmas cards before you get anything that’s even legible. But, sometimes all it takes is a quote, or in this case a piece of flash fiction to make things a little clearer.
A story in six words
For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn tells a tragedy, a sad solemn story of loss, and it tells it using six words. Why is this a good lesson? Out of everything I’ve read one consistent piece of advice is to be concise, don’t overwrite and always be willing to cut out sections for the sake of the overall piece. The flash fiction shows how quickly a story can be told, looking through your work you can always, at the very least, cut words. You’ll be amazed how better something reads easier after cutting ten words.
What else? I’m glad you ask; what a wonderfully inquisitive individual you are. Leave the people wanting more. I read that story and I think ‘What happened?’ ‘Did the baby die?’ ‘How much for the shoes?’ It’s always nice to leave certain aspects open ended so that the reader can interpret things themselves. Reading is an intensely personal experience you don’t need to explain everything because people build an image themselves whether you like it or not. That’s why whenever an actor gets cast in a filmed book adaptation a certain percentage of the fans are going to be annoyed because the actor doesn’t match the image in their head. I could explain more but I want to leave it open ended for dramatic effect.
I’m using this flash fiction as practice, you should do the same, go on I’ll wait…… any good? No me neither, best I could do was ‘The house was empty, they thought’ I don’t know if it’s any good but at least I’m being slightly productive.
So, it might help, it might not. If I can leave you with anything it’s this.
Watch storage hunters, surprisingly expensive tat.
What do you think? What are your examples of flash fiction? Tell us in the comments section below.
Image: US National Archives and Records Administration