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The Developments of Short Stories

Short stories have made remarkable progress through the decades. They are power houses of fiction and a favorite genre of many famous writers: Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Langston Hughes, Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, and Sandra Cisneros. All of whom used the short story to educate and chastise the social concerns of their day.

Fables, parables, and fairy tales are all predecessors to the short story genre. It’s entirely plausible that the short story genre developed by recording the fairy tales and fables of the agricultural cultures from antiquity and the Middle Ages. Writers of the past patiently sat among community members who memorized cultural information during seasonal gatherings. The retellings of each generation were teaching tools for the young and memorials for the aged, and added to the drama of events birthing myths and legends.

Short stores have the same structural needs as a novel. They have characters, plot, voice, humor, metaphor and point of view, and that is just to name a few. One exception is the genre has been severed into subcategories based on their word count. A novel is a novel. It can be at times considered “epic” due to its length, but that is somewhat rare. A short story is now classified as; a standard with no more than 7,500 words, a novelette has less than 20,000 words, a novella up to 40,000 words and the recent flash fiction of precisely 55 words.

In many respects, short stories have fallen by the literary wayside. They are not as well marketed as novels and other lengthy works. The publishing companies seem very uncomfortable publishing collections of short stories unlike the publishers of the past who used it as an effective marketing tool that gave a writer their big break and/or a boost in their career. Short stories are considered unable to produce sufficient income for the writer and publishing executives. They are considered difficult to fit in genre classes.

Magazines and academic periodicals are currently the buyers of short stories. The educational circuit makes good use of the genre because its length doesn’t burden students too much. Short stories are generally reserved for children with a straight forward style and simplistic language.

That seems strange since some of the most memorable stories are in this genre. “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens was written under sixty-five pages. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by R.L. Stevenson is under sixty pages. Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” is less than twenty pages. “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacob, about ten pages, along with Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Tall Tell Heart”, and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”.

The publishing companies should reconsider their marketing tactics to embrace the talents of a writer’s diversity by loosening their laws of genre coding. Literary works are crossing genre styles more frequently. Writers enjoy variety and would invite their readers to join them in multiple assortments. For a fiction writer, that’s entertainment.

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