Six Word Stories

This month’s Wired Magazine has a number of very concise six word stories. It’s amazing what drama a few carefully-chosen words can bring to the stage of our imagination. Some of my favorites:

Computer, did we bring batteries? Computer? — Eileen Gunn Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time — Alan Moore It cost too much, staying human. — Bruce Sterling I’m your future, child. Don’t cry. — Stephen Baxter

The printed edition of the magazine spread shows all the stories as interpreted by five great graphic designers. This is quite a design challenge in itself; how to visually portray the words and the craft of concise storytelling.

When Words Collide

One problem I had was that the layouts themselves were visually interesting to the point that the words were diminished. My attention, normally quite attuned to words, had to fight the attraction of interesting colors, shapes, textures, and lines of graphic energy meticulously set into each well-composed page. The experience reminded me of the problem I have with hearing lyrics in popular music: I tend to hear the words as sounds within an arrangement, because I’m swept away by the sound. As a result, I have no idea what the song is about most of the time. In musicals, however, I don’t seem to have the same problem. Perhaps musicals are arranged to put the words more squarely on the stage as part of the story, as a collaboration between writer and composer.

There is something very graphic about these six word stories. Any graphic designer would do well to study each one and relate it to his/her own work. Meaning, sequence, and association—the elements of storytelling—trump trendy shapes and color every time.