How to tell a dramatic story in six words

Hemingway's Iceberg Theory

Master storyteller Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.”

This has become known in writing circles as the Iceberg Theory. It’s the ability to tell a story with limited prose letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks. For marketers in pursuit of storytelling, this is a powerful device.

What makes this even more useful today is the shrinking human attention span of the mobile generation. Marketers must grab reader attention in a five-second window of opportunity, which puts a premium on brevity.

Another storytelling device is the old adage, “show, don’t tell.” Following this rule, here are a few examples—that is, stories told in six words—that really show the power of the Iceberg Theory. (Thanks to Tickld’s article, 20 Six Word Stories That Are Absolutely Heartbreaking.)

  • The smallest coffins are the heaviest.
  • Strangers. Friends. Best friends. Lovers. Strangers.
  • Mom taught me how to shave.
  • I met my soulmate. She didn’t.
  • He hit send, then a tree.
  • What’s your return policy on rings?
  • It’s our fiftieth. Table for one.

Tom Kaneshige is editor of Five2ndWindow. For more than two decades, he has been keeping an eye on the seam between business and technology. You can reach him at

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