To make a long story short… and shorter still. Let’s learn from those who had done it so brilliantly.
The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…
Just about everyone heard the super-short story that, in so few words, covers it all: royalty, secret, religion and sex:
“Oh, my God!” cried the Queen. “I am pregnant and don’t know by whom!”
This nearly mythical brief story has a long history, going as far back as 1935, when it was first recorded, or so it claimed. Its variations are numerous, and just as brief.
Jean Paul Sartre, allegedly, responded to a challenge of having sex, religion and drama in a briefest of stories with this:
“Mon Dieu!” cried the Duchess. “Let go of my leg!”
And another version of the above, as reported by Charles Morton of the Atlantic Monthly:
“My God!” the Duchess said to a King, “Take your hand off my leg”
Ernest Hemingway’s pen produced this quintessentially brief story in 6 words:
“For sale: baby shoes, never used.”
It was meant to be a sad, very sad story indeed. And deep, too, or so deep, implying, ever so subtly, that the baby has died, perhaps, never even lived or, at any rate, never got to wear those tiny shoes. Nowadays, though, we might think of a less morbid scenario. The baby could simply have had way too many shoes and grew up fast, as babies often do. Maybe it was Christmas baby, or baby with gazillions of shoes-bearing relatives…
O. Henry has written an undersized but perfectly structured story, the story that is suspenseful, complete and tragic. I couldn’t find it to produce an exact quote, unfortunately, thus I’m recalling it from memory. It goes something like this:
Chauffeur lit a cigarette and bent over the gas tank to see if there was enough gas in there. The deceased was twenty-three.
Short on verbiage, long on meaning.
Spartans were terse folks, extremely reserved as far as words were concern. Their reply to the threatening letter from Macedonian King Philip II was a classic example of this admirable character trait.
“I demand your immediate surrender,” King Philip II wrote. “If my army invades Sparta, I’ll burn your orchards, enslave your people and devastate your homes.”
Spartans replied, “If.”
The authorship of the shortest and the cutest “bio” belongs to an unnamed French woman. She wrote:
“When I was young, my face was smooth, whereas my skirt was wrinkled. Nowadays, it’s vice versa.”
With his submission of Les Misérables to the editor, Victor Hugo enclosed a letter. It didn’t say much at all but begged for an answer:
The editor answered in kind,
I‘ve chosen a few very short jokes for the Smile page. Smile briefly and keep that smile… for a long, long time.