Literature / Hemingway's Six Word Story

"For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn."

A piece of Flash Fiction allegedly written by Ernest Hemingway. It probably isn't: The idea of an ad that indirectly hints at the death of a baby is at least as old as a human interest story in a 1910 newspaper, and has been tossed around as an anecdote or story idea long before it was connected to Hemingway.

The oldest source that attributes the story with the quoted wording to Hemingway (who supposedly scribbled it on a napkin to win a bet) is found in the 1991 self-help book Get Published! Get Produced! A Literary Agent's Tips on How to Sell Your Writing by Peter Miller, who claimed he heard the story from a "well-established newspaper syndicator" in 1974. This origin tale was further popularized by the 1996 biographic play Papa.

Snopes has more information on it.

These words are an example of:

  • Ambiguous Situation: The story does not make it clear about the context of who wore the shoes or if the shoes were ever worn in the first place. However, It's frequently assumed to have a tragic context (i.e. a baby died before it could get a chance to wear the new shoes).
  • Beige Prose: The entire story is only six words long. That's probably about as concise as a story can get while still having content.
  • Minimalism: The point of the story is to show that even with the barest minimum of words, you can still come up with a story that hooks people into it.