Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Wednesday Writing Workout: Six Brilliant Words

Today I'm happy to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from Illinois author Melanie Weiss that's perfect for National Poetry Month, which begins today.

Melanie and I connected last fall after attending an SCBWI-IL Food for Thought meeting. Melanie is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and worked as a journalist for newspapers and magazines for 20 years. She began writing her debut novel, Spoken, shortly after she became an “empty nester.”

Spoken received the Bronze Medal for Young Adult-Social Issues in the 2019 Readers' Favorite International Book Award Contest. Here's a one-sentence summary of the novel:
When high school freshman Roman Santi discovers the Spoken Word Club, it leads him on a journey of new friendships and finding the dad he never knew.
You can read more about Melanie at her website and follow her on Facebook.

Today, Melanie shares a Wednesday Writing Workout on using six-word stories/poems in the classroom, but the exercise is appropriate for writers of all ages.

Wednesday Writing Workout:
Six Brilliant Words

By Melanie Weiss

Flash fiction is a genre of fiction that involves telling a story using between 5 and 1,500 words. Today, we are going to focus on the smaller side of that scale, the six-word story:

Flat tire.
New job.
No job?

This example is just six short words but it says everything you need to know. Writing a six-word story can be fun for every age and makes an excellent creative writing assignment that encourages students to use precise, concise language. It's wonderful, isn't it, how six little words can be strung together to say something so much BIGGER?

Six-word stories are a great way to help students (and adult writers) get more comfortable with writing short stories and poems. Since April is National Poetry Month, this is the perfect time to work on six-word stories. They can be a starting point before moving into haikus and other forms of free verse poetry, such as spoken word poetry. Prompts for six-word stories are endless. You can find countless sources online, including these at Page Flutter and these art-themed prompts.

In the classroom, adding the six-word story to your curriculum offers students an interactive exercise in thinking creatively as they share these stories with their classmates. The stories are often goofy, usually fun, sometimes serious or head-scratching, but always entertaining.

I knew I had to work the six-word story into my young-adult novel, Spoken, because the novel takes place partly at a fictionalized version of Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois. Not only does the school have a robust Spoken Word Club, it's the high school Ernest Hemingway attended and graduated from in 1917. Hemingway has been credited with writing the first six-word story, though this is one of those myths that continues to live despite being debunked.

The weight of connecting six well-thought-out words cannot be denied. We ALL have it within us to unleash that power and create our own six-word masterpieces.

I thought it may be easiest to borrow from Spoken and allow the novel's Spoken Word Club Teacher Patrick Collins to explain:
     Mr. Collins walks in the room and strides up to the white board at the front of the classroom. He turns to us and bows slightly. “Today we will be writing flash fiction. Does anybody know what that means?”
     Mr. Collins points to a student in one of the front rows who has her hand straight up in the air.
     “It’s telling a story but with not a lot of words.”
     “Yes, that’s pretty much it, Gina,” says Mr. Collins.
     He turns to the whiteboard and writes:

     For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.
     “This has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway. One of the greatest writers of the 20th century. It’s an extreme example of a story packed into just six words.
     “Your mission today is to write just six brilliant words that tell a story. Think about the message you want to convey and what imagery you want to represent.”
. . .

     “Now let’s spend about ten minutes and I want each of you to write your own six-word story,” he says. “Make each of your six words shimmer, like a brilliant piece of art.”
     “No pressure, right Mr. Collins?” jokes Jordan.
     We bend over our desks, pens in hand, diving down into our thoughts. The room is pure silence except for the scribbling, the scratching out of phrases, a few toes taping.
     After the ten minutes, students start sharing their stories with Mr. Collins as he captures the musings on the whiteboard.
There are ways to stretch this assignment further. Students could illustrate their short stories. A student could pass the story to another classmate and that classmate could draw what the story is telling them. Take a look back on Carmela Martino's popular TeachingAuthors' post Getting to Know Me--Six-Word Memoirs, which offers students the opportunity to find a concise way to share who they are with their teacher and classmates.

The beauty of the six-word story is simple: One classroom, countless stories, students soar.

Thank you, Melanie, for today's Wednesday Writing Workout. Readers, I hope you'll try this exercise on your own or with your students. If you do, please let us know how it works for you.

Posted by Carmela


Linda said...

It's amazing how much six little words can say! I'm going to try writing a few six word poems and see what happens. Thank you!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Linda. Let us know how it goes!

April Halprin Wayland said...

These are deceptively difficult! They're taxing brain wreckers! And yet the successful ones are so satisfying to read. Thanks for this inspiring post?

April Halprin Wayland said...

Oops...that was supposed to be an exclamation point at the end!