For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn. : Literary Kicks (2024)

  • ByJamelah Earle
  • September 21, 2006
For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn. : Literary Kicks (1)

The title of this post:

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn

is a short story allegedly by Ernest Hemingway, perhaps written to settle a bar bet or perhaps written as a challenge, but either way, it’s a complete work of fiction. It’s a piece of writing I think about a lot, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s evocative, powerful and clocking in at six words, it proves that it’s not necessary to blather on endlessly to tell a good story.

The Hemingway story is an extreme example of one of my favorite types of writing — flash fiction. Flash, also known as micro, sudden, short-short, postcard, minute, quick, furious, and skinny, is a type of story that has a limited number of words (definitely under 1,000, but in many cases, under 500). Typically, it has a traditional beginning-middle-end story arc, though of course it happens in an ultra-condensed form.

In my experience as someone who very rarely went beyond 500 words with pieces of fiction, I found that I’d often run into people (usually other writers) with the opinion that short-short fiction is okay, but it’s not the real thing, and I think that is an unfair way of looking at flash. Though I definitely make no claims of genius, I absolutely believe that when done by a master, it’s an incredibly fast read that lingers indefinitely. Like quick-moving shadows thrown on a late-night wall by cars passing on the street outside, it often takes a lot of thinking to understand what you think you saw, and with each analysis, its shape shifts and you find something different. Take the story “Little Things” by Raymond Carver (text here), which, at 498 words, is a brilliant example of flash fiction.

Even before I did 70% of all of my reading on a computer screen, I had no patience for unnecessarily long works of fiction. I suppose this is why I became (and remain) a fan of the ultra-short flash fiction. (And probably also why I can’t be bothered to finish Anna Karenina.) Flash is perfectly suited for online reading, and there are quite a few places that deal entirely (or almost entirely) in flash fiction. Flashquake, Smokelong Quarterly, Vestal Review, and Pindeldyboz are just a few places online where you can get your flash fix.

In honor of the subject at hand, I feel that I should keep this post short, so I’ll close by mentioning that Litkicks’s Action Poetry is a great place to make every word count by trying some flash fiction.

11 Responses

  1. Recent convert to flash
    Recent convert to flash fiction

    When I started writing, I was a bit of a snob, going the well-worn route of 3-5K word stories and generally ignoring flash fiction. But recently I’ve been converted to flash fiction. I’m really drawn to its brevity and blunt to-the-pointedness, and I like the fact that I can write a finished story in a few days, as opposed to the several weeks required for a longer story. I’ve come to realize that I really like fiction that says what it has to say, shuts up and moves on (in fact, I prefer people who are that way too). Thanks for exposing me to flashquake–I just sent them a story a few minutes ago.

  2. well, now…This proves I
    well, now…

    This proves I should follow my instincts. I’ve written a lot of short stories. I like reading short stories. I finally decided to write a novel because people always said, “You should write a novel.” Now, here comes Jamelah talking about flash fiction! But that’s ok. I’m having fun writing my novel. In fact, each chapter is kind of like a piece of flash fiction, but they all fit together. So it’s all good.

  3. E. A. Poe writes FlashI am in
    E. A. Poe writes Flash

    I am in the process of re-reading Edgar Allan Poe. Poe can be a bit verbose at times, but I just finished “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Call it what you want, flash, short-short, the bottom line is this: He grabs your attention with the first paragraph, and then drives the story on to it’s inevitable conclusion. It is brilliant story-telling, in my opinion.

  4. Ectric – I just wanted to say
    Ectric – I just wanted to say that I plunked down cold hard cash for your book “Time Adjusters and Other Stories”. I especially liked “Fear Flight”, “Cut Up (The Stolen Scroll)”, “Miss Glenly’s Dreadful Room”, and the title story. Also – “The House and the Baboon” – it was kind of like “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” on controlled substances that were not available in Mr. Poe’s day.

  5. Poe is great. Have you read
    Poe is great. Have you read the short stories of Maupassant? I like him, too. Fun to read.

  6. You have certainly made my
    You have certainly made my day, dr. p! A hearty thanks to you.

  7. WeirdFor years and years,

    For years and years, since the very first time I’d heard of the Hemmingway thing, I’ve always remembered it as being, “For sale: baby’s shoes, never USED.”

    Because I thought that Hemmingway was going for sound-alike, kind-of rhyme that SHOES and USED gave. Making it almost poem-like, a mini-haiku.

    Here’s another one, in the same style I guess:

    What the hell do I know? 🙂

  8. Take the Litkicks ChallengeI
    Take the Litkicks Challenge

    I don’t know if this:
    “Action Poetry is a great place to make every word count by trying some flash fiction,”
    is the same as the Pepsi Challenge but I took up the guantlet and submitted.

  9. flashI do the most flash

    I do the most flash fiction out of anyone here — just wanted to toot my own horn…

  10. Hi. Yeah, I’ve actually seen
    Hi. Yeah, I’ve actually seen it both ways, but I’ve seen “never worn” more often, so I went with that version.

    This is the problem with things that are legends.

  11. Can I subscribe to your site?
    Can I subscribe to your site? If so, please sign me up!


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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn. : Literary Kicks (2)

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For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn. : Literary Kicks (2024)


For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn. : Literary Kicks? ›

is a short story allegedly by Ernest Hemingway, perhaps written to settle a bar bet or perhaps written as a challenge, but either way, it's a complete work of fiction.

Did Hemingway really write for sale baby shoes never worn? ›

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn." is a six-word story, popularly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although the link to him is unlikely. Versions of the story date back to the early 1900s, and it was being reproduced and expanded upon within a few years of its initial publication.

How is this an example of compression for sale baby shoes never worn? ›

The passage "For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn" is an example of compression because it implies characters and plot in very few words.

What is the most famous example of a six-word story and is attributed to Ernest Hemingway? ›

The most famous example of a six-word story is frequently credited to Ernest Hemingway (though there's little evidence that he actually wrote it): “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” In six simple words, a heartbreaking narrative is told—from the few words but also from what is left out.

Is baby shoes a flash fiction? ›

For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn is one of the well-known flash fiction stories. Although generally attributed to Ernest Hemingway, the link to him is unsubstantiated. We can analyze this six-word story into every two words of each sentence: the meaning of “For Sale”, “Baby Shoes”, and “Never Worn”.

What was Hemingway's six-word sequel? ›

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing the six-word story “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Hoping to cash in on that story's success, Hemingway wrote some six-word sequels. For sale: baby shoes. Really big.

What does for sale baby shoes never worn by Ernest Hemingway mean? ›

“Never worn” can invoke many possible meanings, but perhaps most common is the tragedy of child loss. Those baby shoes were never worn, because the baby wasn't there to wear them.

What is the shortest story ever written? ›

It was said that Ernest Hemingway once made a bet that he could write the world's shortest story. It would be a tearjerker of a tale only six words long. His six-word story was, “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” Hemingway won the bet.

What is the meaning of baby shoes? ›

Definitions of baby shoe. a shoe designed to be worn by infants. type of: shoe. footwear shaped to fit the foot (below the ankle) with a flexible upper of leather or plastic and a sole and heel of heavier material.

What is a 6 word story examples? ›

Hemingway wrote a six-word story: “For Sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Yes please I've heard!

Did Hemingway write a 6 word story? ›

that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to create an entire short story in six words. Hemingway wrote, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Thus creating a new genre of short storytelling - the six-word story. This may be just an urban legend. However, Hemingway was known for his clean, restrained writing style.

What are the most notable works of Ernest Hemingway? ›

Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), which were full of the existential disillusionment of the Lost Generation expatriates; For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), about the Spanish Civil War; and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Old Man and the Sea (1952).

What is Ernest Hemingway most famous for? ›

The Old Man and the Sea became a book-of-the-month selection, made Hemingway an international celebrity, and won the Pulitzer Prize in May 1953, a month before he left for his second trip to Africa.

What is the conflict in the story baby shoes? ›

Conflict: The fact that the baby shoes were never used indicates that the baby died either before or during birth — quite a conflict for a young mother-to-be. Theme: The theme of this story is dealing with loss — specifically the loss of a child.

What is six-word flash fiction? ›

A six-word story is an entire story told in six words. It is a short narrative that can have all of the emotional themes of longer stories—from funny to dramatic, sad to scary. It can be poetic or straightforward.

What are the six flash fiction? ›

Identified varieties, many of them defined by word count, include the six-word story; the 280-character story (also known as "twitterature"); the "dribble" (also known as the "minisaga", 50 words); the "drabble" (also known as "microfiction", 100 words); "sudden fiction" (750 words); "flash fiction" (1,000 words); and ...

How much did Hemingway's typewriter sell for? ›

Steve Soboroff's remarkable collection of typewriters realized a total of $282,825 at the Heritage Auctions sale led by Ernest Hemingway's 1926 Underwood Standard, the machine he used to write his letters from Finca Vigía, his estate near Havana.

Did Hemingway write fiction or nonfiction? ›

He published seven novels, six short-story collections, and two nonfiction works. Three of his novels, four short-story collections, and three nonfiction works were published posthumously.

Did Hemingway's mother make him wear dresses? ›

Some people think Ernest Hemingway's mother “messed up his head” by putting him in dresses as a child. She wanted twins, they say, so when she had a daughter and then Ernest, she pretended they were twins and put them in matching dresses.


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