Six Word Stories

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.


  1. Mark Patterson 17 years ago

    Funny you should have a post on six word stories—I found the article last week forwarded the link to several family and friends. I found the concept very interesting, even to the point of putting together some of my own:

    Human food is hard to digest.

    Space ship down! Prime Directive bedamned!

    This Parallel Universe looks like Kansas.

    I did not see the designers’ work on the stories until just now, after reading your note—interesting. I agree that the graphics took/takes away from the words, and should not. I would be interested in seeing what you would do with some of them! I am a word-guy, not a graphics guy—I have been accused of being the guy with the “black and white slides” in my presentations.

    One thing I will say—it is amazing what you can capture in six words! Once I started, I had a hard time stopping. It looks like a good tool to maybe break the writer’s block some people get.


  2. Dave Seah 17 years ago

    Mark: Great stories! It’s interesting too how many KINDS of story forms come out of just 6 words. Some are situation setups, some are moments of transition caught with a snippet of dialog.

    As an exercise, is it possible to make a six word sentence that DOESN’T IMPLY a story, once you are told it is one? I wonder how much of the setup is part of the charm of it. Consider:

    My stepmother drives a Honda Insight

    If I’m told this is part of a story, I would look at that and derive some associations I have with stepmothers and Honda Insight owners, and the relationship of the writer and the stepmom. However, it doesn’t have situation and dramatic conflict tied in with the exposition, so it can’t stand alone…hmm.

    I am feeling that there’s a very useful tie-in to design here somewhere.