How Fish Came To Be Wrapped In Newspaper
by Brian G. Smith
I once wrapped a fish in a road map, and the next morning it was gone.
(taken from Monkeybicycle)
It must’ve been almost four years ago that I’ve read this wonderful one-sentence story. Just imagine a fish on a road trip. Did he take the map with him, or did he memorize the map and leave it? Or did he not go on an actual road trip at all but rather vanish into the map itself and can now be seen skipping and flapping across it, leaving a trail of dots or an intermittent line, as it is so famously done in Hollywood’s road movies to visualize the protagonist(s)’s journey across the country? Of course the title, which is almost as long as the story itself, puts another twist on the whole issue. What do fish do now that they are wrapped in newspaper? I would love to know.
Over the years, this ultra short story popped back into my head every once in a while and this time I finally remembered to post it here. The entire genre of “micro fiction,” or “flash fiction,” as it is apparently called, fascinates the hell out of me. Famously, Ernest Hemingway wrote an early example,
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Whoa! It is mind-boggling how six words (only seven syllables) can have such a strong effect. All of the stories from this genre have one thing in common: that which is not said is more important. That’s where the real story lies; in the questions which the presence of the few words evoke. The beauty of it is that every reader has different questions, i.e. each story is infinitely manifold. It is also striking how important the punctuation is. For a text of such brevity, the right usage can be very effective and convey even more meaning; or raise more questions.
The online and print literary journal Monkeybicycle has a nice collection of such one-sentence stories as the one about the fish and the map. Some are relatively long, some very short. All of them, I think, are by unknown writers, for most of whom this was probably the first publication. Have at it…
Back in early 2007, The Guardian asked a number of well-established writers to pull off a Hemingway stunt to write equally short stories of their own. Read them here. One of my favorites is Jeffrey Eugenides’s (who is an overall great writer, by the way): “Defenestrated baby, methamphetamine, prison, rehab, relapse.” Simon Armitage also did the “baby” thing: “Megan’s baby: John’s surname, Jim’s eyes.”
Wired also asked contemporary writers for their own micro stories a few months earlier. See here.
There’s even a blog dedicated to the six-word story, aptly titled Six Word Stories. Most likely, it’s not the only one.
You don’t need to be an internet whiz to find a bulk of examples.
Have fun with this stuff and feel free to report back with some interesting findings.