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Ten Things I Learned About The Short Story Genre

abstract:The popularity of the short story genre has waxed and waned but it seems to be on a comeback. I had my suspicions about why this might be true but decided to read up on the matter while preparing for a public discussion of Alice Munro's new short story collection, "Too Much Happiness." It emerges that more novelists are turning to the short story to express themselves. There's even a new business venture coming out of NYC called Electric Literature that has people like Michael Cunningham, author of "The Hours" at the helm promoting short stories through eco-friendly electronic transmission modes. Learn about the roots of short story, how it evolved to the present form, exactly what that is, and which prominent authors use it with an example by each that you can click to purchase. Why is it popular now you ask? From the writer's perspective a novel that consists of between 100,000-250,000 words can take between 3-5 years of your life to complete. Now consider the modern reader's short attention span: (I am forever hearing from JQ Public about the lack of time to read.) We get our news in sound bites, do our social networking in 140 character tweets or through terse Facebook posts, and even text our voice messages via cell phone in preference to direct P2P conversations. The short story's time has come! We can download them onto our iphones and entertain ourselves with a complete one-sitting story during the nanosecond of free time left to us day or night. (photo credit: LA Times Blog)


November 01, 2009

10 Quick Things About the Short Story

(With a little help from Wikipedia)

1. The short story derived from oral traditions that could be enjoyed at one sitting.

2. Through the centuries the rhymed verse of Homeric-type epics evolved to Canterbury Tales, Aesop fables evolved to Grimm's Fairy Tales, and parables evolved to anecdotes, which finally trended to realism and the modern short story.

3. Every short story uses 5 elements: Plot, Character, Conflict, Theme, Setting.

4. Writers have introduced styles within the short story genre: Philip Roth evokes Jewish writing and others continue the trend of cultural identity. Feminism and other socio-political themes explore all corners of the human condition. The 90s saw a period of magic realism. Alice Munro sits firmly in the "Minimalist Camp" along with noted short story writers: John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver, and Hemingway (among others).

5. Minimalism is characterized by a single plot line, few characters, one theme, precise writing where the protagonist is not exceptional and their attributes are revealed to the reader through context. (Alice Munro to a T)

6. A short story ranges from 1,000 words to 20,000 words but averages 7,500 words.

7. It is considered the most demanding oeuvre because the length is inversely proportional to its impact.

8. I did a quick review of all the noted short story writers and luxuriated in those I've read that still resonate:

Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter (Penguin Classics)
Herman Melville Bartleby, the Scrivener (Dodo Press)
Edgar Allan Poe The Black Cat in "The Portable Edgar Allan Poe" (Penguin Classics)
Nikolai Gogol The Overcoat in "The Diary of a Madman, The Government Inspector, and Selected Stories? (Penguin Classics)
Guy de Maupassant The Necklace in "A Parisian Affair and Other Stories"
Anton Chekhov. Love and Other Stories - Anton Checkhov
Jorge Luis Borges The Garden of Forking Paths in "Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings" (New Directions Paperbook)
Kurt Vonnegut Canary in a Cat House, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald (who paid all his bills with short stories.)
Canadian specialists like: Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Jane Urquart, and Mordecai Richler. I'm sure you have your own favourites.

9. How do we know these writers? It is because of all the dedicated publications that print a short story per edition, which puts bread on writers' tables and enables them to compile books of short stories, and also publishers to print short story anthologies. We love: The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Saturday Evening Post, Scribner’s, and then there is all the esteemed literary journals: The Paris Review, Granta, Quill & Quire, etc.

10. —Hmmm. I think that is enough. Why not tell me what you like about short stories and we'll post responses and give you credit? paula s @

Websites Dedicated To The Short Story posts a new short story in 5 segments each week. their mission is to use new media and innovative distribution to return the short story to a place of prominence in popular culture.



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