Stories happen in the listeners’ heads

There’s a story about Ernest Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway is in a bar with a bunch of other writers. They make a little bet with each other.

They say, “How many words do you need to tell a story?”

One of the writers, he says he can tell a story in 10 words. Another writer says, “I can tell a story in 9 words.” Somebody else says, “I can tell a story in 8 words,” Somebody else says, “I can tell a story in 7 words.”

Ernest Hemingway says, “I can tell a story in 6 words,” so there’s silence at the table.

What is that story? He says, “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”

Now take a beat to imagine what that might mean.

Notice that that story did not take shape until it had some time to rattle around in your head. When it first started, it had no action, no movement, no life of its own. It only took shape, it only took life, in your head.

Stories don’t take life when you tell them. They take life in the heads of your listeners.

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