A Story in Four Words

In a writing group a few months ago someone made a flash fiction challenge: Write a story in four words. That's a hard challenge, but I think I came up with a good one. I reveal it to you now.

There is a unique skill and a unique talent involved in this unique challenge. It's called closure. Scott McCloud talks about it in his excellent book Understanding Comics. It's about the space in between. In the case of comics it's about the space in between the panels, in between the drawings, where we imagine what's needed to connect them. In prose and poetry there is also closure, it's about what happens in between what you say (not to mention before and after).

In such a short piece of flash fiction there has to be a lot of closure. The writer must rely on the reader to fill in a lot of the space. Are you ready for my four word story? Here it is.

- - - - - - -

She sighed, walked away.

- - - - - - -

You can see what I mean. What happened right before this? What was she thinking? What happened as she started walking away? After she walked away? Was she talking to someone? Was she looking at someone? Where did she go? The reader must fill in all of this information for themselves, and it's amazing how it just springs into your mind. Your mind is made to fill in these narrative gaps, and it does it very well.

It's like abstract painting really. I convey more of an emotion than specific events. I like it, it's interesting and feels like an exploration of something new. I think a cool project would be to do something with a photographer where we use this flash fiction story and then have a book with 20 or 50 photos of different women walking away from something or someone, different angles too, in different environments. It could make a good coffee table book. It would really highlight this unique ability of the human mind. I could include an essay explaining what the mind is doing and some theory on how it is doing it. That sounds like a fun project. (Maybe the comma should be a semicolon. It's debatable.)

We need another example to compare I think. There is an urban legend about a six word short story by Ernest Hemingway. Here it is.

- - - - - - -

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

- - - - - - -

Hawooh! That's an intense one for me. I'm not sure about you, but I think about dead kids and miscarriages when I read that one.

Anyway, as you can see, the human mind is unique in its creations and its interpretations. There is an unlimited depth to explore.


I've written three fictional pieces that I like so far.

"The City of Peace" - A future history science fiction utopia/dystopia action adventure in a framed story of a father telling his son a story about the child's grandfather. That was a crazy sentence.


"The Birth of Hanniba'al" - A dark, somewhat alternative, historical origin story for the Carthage General Hannibal.


"Matt's Eyes" - Don't read this if you don't like horror stories.


Here are three of my most popular posts.

"The Making of a Great First Line in Fiction"


"A Letter to My Niece in 2034"


"The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 4 of 4"


You can find more of what I'm doing here: http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

You can support this page at https://www.patreon.com/JeffreyAlexanderMartin


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