October 26th, 2006

ozarque figure

Writing fiction; the six-word short story....

The November issue of Wired has a section that says:

"We'll be brief: Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words ('For sale: baby shoes, never worn.') and is said to have called it his best work. So we asked sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers from the realms of books, TV, movies, and games to take a shot themselves." The resulting collection of six-word stories, including some that aren't in the print edition of the magazine, is at http://wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html .

My first thought was that this was going to turn out to be a staple activity for science fiction convention panels -- analogous to the ones where a panel of sf artists do a very fast drawing or cartoon or caricature. I could just imagine all the writers sitting around the table knocking off one six-word short story after another and reading them aloud to the audience.

However, this turns out to be a more difficult genre than you might think -- one that gives a whole new meaning to the Anaphoric Island and all its relations. [As in "She was an orphan, and she missed all eleven of them," which is my favorite sf Anaphoric Island example, collected -- if my memory serves me accurately -- from Haj Ross at a party.] Cutting the whole thing down to just six words and packing them with all the necessary presuppositions is hard.

The Hemingway example is a marvel -- first time I ever agreed with Hemingway about anything, I think. And so are the Eileen Gunn example and the Ursula K. Le Guin example.

Feel free to post your own six-word stories here if you're not afraid to turn them loose.
ozarque figure

More on the Say & Tell question...

First, thank you for all your comments and responses and suggestions; you've been extremely helpful.

What non-native speakers of a language need in a case like this is a simple test that they can apply that will let them decide between two possible forms when they're in a situation where it's not appropriate for them to stop and ponder their choice -- when they're speaking in public, for example, or involved in a language interaction that's not casual, or taking an exam and almost out of time to finish it. Unlike native speakers, they can't rely on "it just doesn't sound right."

Suppose the non-native speakers want to know when to use "him" and when to use "himself," given the fact that both "He shaved him" and "He shaved himself" are acceptable English sentences. There's a simple test in this case. You can tell the non-native speakers: "Ask yourself: Are the person who does the shaving and the person who gets shaved the same person? If so, you use 'himself.' Otherwise, you use 'him.' "

I don't yet have a swift and certain test like that for choosing between "say" and "tell," but thanks to all your comments I'm closer. I know a few things that it would be useful to tell the non-native speaker of English. For example...

1. You can only use "tell" if somebody would be listening to the telling, as neonchameleon pointed out. Even a sentence like "I told a joke" has to mean there was at least one person there to serve as an audience for the joke, whether the speaker/writer makes that explicit in the sentence or not. It's the Understood Somebody, like the Understood You in "Eat your peas!"

2. "Say" doesn't have that restriction. You can use it when there wouldn't be anybody at all there to listen to the saying.

3. The safest thing to do is always just to use a direct quotation. As in...

a. Jane said to John, "Turn off the lights before you leave."
b. Jane told John, "Turn off the lights before you leave."
c. Jane said, "Oh, drat!"

The direct quotation avoids all the problems of "choosing the proper complement" and "choosing the proper case category" and "choosing the proper theta role" and figuring out whether you need a "for" or a "to" or a "that." It bypasses the monumental confusion about the "direct object" and the "indirect object."

That's a good start; thank you much.