The short story is a staple of literature, and it is international. Chekov—Russian. Alice Munro—Canadian. William Trevor—English. Guy de Maupassant—French. Fitzgerald and Hemingway—US, to name a very, very few. There was a time they were very widely published in the United States, not just in specialized magazines, but in mass circulation publications like The Saturday Evening Post. I read recently that in the 20’s Fitzgerald was paid as much as $4,000 for a short story, which, in today’s world, would be close to $50,000. Today one would be lucky to get that $4,000.
Read most standard literary histories and Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) is credited with being the “inventor” of the short story as we think of it today. He even postulated rules for the genre. Among them were:
- Able to read in one sitting.
- A unity of effect (think of his horror stories).
- A key, opening sentence, one which sets the tone for all that follows.
- Nothing digressive. A unity of subject.
Needless to say, such rules are not required to play the game, but they are a good starting point to think about the genre.
Some years ago when I was selecting short stories for an anthology of stories (Best Shorts) it was staggering to consider just how many good ones have been written. Also, I discovered how many a short story was lurking in the guise of a good number of picture books.
It has often puzzled me why short stories are not a staple of the classroom in some kind of read aloud story-a-day curriculum. For the most part I write novels and am eager to have them in young people’s hands and read in schools. But consider Poe’s rules above; consider how much easier to teach writing if the goal is a short story and not a novel.
Need help in locating stories? Read Me A Story, Ink is a terrific source.
In other words, instead of short changing your students, give them short stories.