Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Joys of Brevity

A short story is usually a task of both extraordinary skill as well as extreme precision. Not only does it involve the development of both character and action in a short span of time and narrative space, but it is also required to provide a satisfactory denouement to the plot in order to etch itself in the reader's mind. On top of that, the quality of a short story often hides behind the "twist-in-the-tale" tool to be effective: its real test is, in fact, its brevity- the utilisation and the economy of each word the author uses. In the best short stories, each word adds to the action, the character development, the narrative or the creation of an atmosphere-not a single word, not a single punctuation mark is wasted.

Therefore, when I came across the following story, I agreed with the popular opinion- it is truly, perhaps, the greatest shortest story ever written. I have gone through numerous contests and lists of the 'shortest stories ever', but this one is utterly unparalleled. Written by Ernest Hemingway in a fit of inspiration, the untitled story uses exactly six words, one colon, one comma and a period to create a suffocating world of shattered dreams, pathos and tragedy. This is, undoubtedly, pure genius:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Observe the way the full stop creates the finality here; also consider how hollow the story might have been had Hemingway replaced the last word by "used". Although the meaning remains the same, the focus while using the word "used" goes to the shoes, while in the original, the brilliant choice of words leads to a focus on the deceased baby. Like I said- Genius.

Mr Hemingway, here's saluting you.