One of the values of using stories is how much information they can pack into a few words. The IBM Knowledge Socialization Project has an example:
“My sister-in-law went shopping at Nordstrom’s
at Christmas time. Later, they discovered that their
packages had been lost or stolen….”
Look at how much information is packed into this short story fragment. Their web site has a list of facts that are either explicit, or implicit.
- Some are simple, like the basics of the plot: shopping, Nordstrom’s, December.
- Others look at the implications of the facts in the story: she was not held up at gunpoint (because they discovered the loss later).
- Still others are cultural implications: She is shopping for Christmas presents (and celebrates Christmas). She is relatively well off (Nordstrom’s is a high-end department store).
- Or communicate relationships: I am married, and communicate with my sister-in-law.
I re-created this exercise in my chapter on “Narrative and Storytelling” in John Pruitt and Tamara Adlin’s The Personas Lifecycle. I used this 53 word story fragment based on the book’s running case study:
Tanner was deep into a Skatepunkz game-all the way up to level 12– when he got a buddy message from his friend Steve with a question about his homework. He looked up with a start. Almost bedtime and his homework was still not done. Mom or Dad would be in any minute….
If you deconstruct this story, a lot of the cues are based on implicit cultural messages about the structure of families and the use of technology.
- He’s a kid (he has a bedtime)
- He’d good at games (level 12)
- He has regular access to a computer and to the internet (budy message)
- He has some privacy (Mom or Dad would be in any minute)
- But he also has rules (bedtime, homework)
For even shorter stories, there are several sites (and books) with 6-word stories.
There are compressed plots like these two from sixwordstories.net: “Fat. Drugs. Skinny. Rehab. …Fat again.” – Rustan Crane or “Coma. 20 years. Awake! Divorced…Suicide” Ben Ng (On sixwordstories.net)
Some are juxtapositions that suggest the events that led up to them. The most famous is from Ernest Hemingway: “For sale, baby shoes. Never used.” Other examples of this sub-genre are: “Indian engineer in America; drives taxis,” “She left for another. Incentives mattered,” or “Seeking ride to New York, one way.” (All on Marginal Revolution)
There are now several books of 6-word memoirs. You can see a collection of them from famous and obscure writers in the video on Smith Magazine – scroll down to the bottom of the right column.
Some try to tell a whole story, not just hint at one:
“How does lunch sound?”
There are a lot of sites with collections of these stories. As you read, it’s hard not to think about how much information is packed into each of them.
How about a collection of 6-word stories on user experience?
“Click. Back. Click. Back. Next site.”
“Great suggestions. Just what I want.”
Add yours in the comments.
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