Feb. 20, 2007

The Six-Word Challenge

We’re discussing the encounter of history and fiction this week in Public History. The Six-Word Challenge is inspired by Hemingway’s “best work,” but the concept is easily adapted to fit this week’s topic.

The purpose of the Six-Word Challenge is to write a story that is fictional but refers to a historical event, movement, or figure. Obviously, the story must be six words long… although a Seven-, Eight-, or Eleven-Word Challenge might be more appropriate, depending on the group.

The leader should choose a theme for the group to focus on, and then participants have five minutes to write their own definitive work on the subject. Afterwards, participants can share their historical fictions with the rest of the group.

After playing Encore: History last week, Alan MacEachern suggested that we deconstruct the results of the game and types of films that came up in the course of playing. This was not only a swell way to transition from focusing activity to the day’s discussion, it also made us more aware of where historical film was heavy or light. In a similar fashion, Six-Word Challenge participants might try identifying patterns in the stories in order to understand what literary techniques or elements of history are used frequently or should be employed more often.

Hopefully this activity highlights for historians the challenge that authors face when producing a fictional account of a historical narrative. It will likely also help to identify where individuals sit on the spectrum of how much fiction and fact should be included in the novel based on historical events, which should make subsequent discussion exciting!