Short stories

Short stories

I’m much more likely to read novels than short stories…but I do like both.

They are obviously very different sorts of works, and some authors are only good at one or the other.

What’s the strength of a short story?

To me, it’s often that it is so…direct. In a great short story, there isn’t a lot of wasted time. Not a lot of exposition, or secondary plot lines. You are involved, and you know you are going somewhere.

That’s another thing: short stories often give you less description…more suggestion than exposition. You build the rest of it yourself. They don’t have to tell you hair color, and height, and all of that. If a cop yells, “Drop it!” they don’t take the time to tell you what the officer had for breakfast.

Similarly, you don’t need to build up to a whole situation. In some cases, we are just dropped right into the middle of the action.

With a novel, you usually want it to be logical and organic…think of a novel like a three course meal, and a short story like a candy bar. 😉 They are both good, but the latter can be much more intense.

The USA Kindle store actually has multiple “aisles” devoted to short stories.

Literature & Fiction: Classics: Short Stories (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

for example, has 2,114 at the time of writing…and 122 of those are eligible through

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

That latter option opens up new possibilities. You see, with KU, you could borrow an anthology, read just the short story you wanted, return it, borrow another book, and so on. It wouldn’t surprise me if people start putting together “playlists” of short stories they recommend.

I’m not quite ready for that tonight, though. 😉

I can talk about some of my favorite short stories.

Before I do that, let me mention a little bit about getting into short stories in the Kindle store.

Generally, there are two terms you might hear: anthologies and collections. People don’t always follow these definitions (there are no regulatory bodies in literature), but traditionally, it goes like this:

  • An anthology is a group of short stories by different authors. They are often put together around a theme…for example, I’ve read an anthology about cats in space. Often, the theme is chosen and existing stories are brought together…and maybe a couple of new ones are written just for the book. Another common type of anthology is “Best Stories of 2014”, or things along those lines. Again, different authors, and the theme being the year in which they are released
  • A collection, on the other hand, is usually all the work of one author. There might be a collection of short stories by Mark Twain or Edgar Allan Poe

The third thing, and one really enabled by the electronic format, is that the Kindle store title might have just one short story in it. I often see complaints from people that they think they’ve overpaid in that case…they paid ninety-nine cents for ten “pages” of story.

You’ll find all three types in the USA Kindle store.

In the case of anthologies, one of the best things to do is get familiar with who the editors are. The editors choose the stories, and that’s often the most important thing. Groff Conklin and Gardner Dozois come to mind for me as two I like.

Anthologies and collections both often draw on magazine work. In the heyday of the pulps, some authors were highly prolific. They were paid by the word, and they wrote in multiple genres (often under multiple names), making a living. That doesn’t mean it was “hack” work: there was some  tremendously  imaginative work done under those circumstances. I think working under a deadline is often beneficial…even if it can cause problems in other circumstances.

Next let me make some specific recommendations:

  • The Country of the Blind by H.G. Wells is one of my absolute favorites
  • The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
  • The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain
  • A Scandal in Bohemia by Arthur Conan Doyle (and picked by Doyle as one of the author’s favorite Sherlock Holmes stories…it features Irene Adler)
  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
  • The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
  • The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe (I’ll be running that as my annual Halloween read-aloud)
  • Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Oracle of the Dog by G.K. Chesterton (a Father Brown mystery)

Those are just ten…there are many, many more. I’d be happy to hear your suggestions…and yes, I’ve already read The Platypus of Doom by Arthur Byron Cover. 😉 That was is arguably a novellette, but I’m willing to be flexible with length definitions. I’m fine with using the Nebula Award definitions:

  1.  Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
  2.  Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
  3.  Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
  4.  Novel: 40,000 words or more.

and including anything significantly under a novel. 🙂

What do you think? Do you read short stories? Do you ever just read one at a time? What are your favorites? Do you have a favorite anthology (I’d have to put Apeman, Spaceman edited by Harry Harrison and and Leon E. Stover up there for me)? What really makes a short story work for you? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.



2 Responses to “Short stories”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    When I think of great short stories, I think of the classics and writers like O’Henry, Thurber, Poe, Welty O’Conner. I fear that it is becoming a dying literary format. The magazines and periodicals that once published short stories have mostly gone out of business or stopped publishing the genre.Think of all the characters who have become archetypes, like Walter Mitty from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by Thurber or “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut. Or the situations that we can all relate to, like “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O’Henry. I recently told a friend who is a realtor that my house is like the kid in The Ransom of Red Chief, that I would probably have to pay somebody to take it off my hands!.

    My all time favorite short story is “By The Waters of Babylon” by Stephen Vincent Benet. It was written before the atomic bomb was a reality, but it’s descriptions are eerily similar to the descriptions of the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

    “The Cask of Amontillado,” is my favorite Poe short story. It was interesting that it was used as part of the plot of a recent “Criminal Minds” episode.

    “Pigs is Pigs” by Ellis Parker Butler is probably lesser known, but it is a great example of blind bureaucracy.

    “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes started out as a short story that was expanded into a novel, but I still think the short story worked best.

    Honorable mentions:

    “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant

    “To Build a Fire” by Jack London

    “The Verger” by Somerset Maugham

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I’m glad you mentioned Walter Mitty! I meant to mention that one…it’s arguably one of the best short stories.

      I also agree with you on Flowers for Algernon and To Build a Fire.

      It’s funny, I just recommended The Cask of Amontillado to someone at work the other day. They had a lot of boxes piled up in front of their cubicle…that’s what made me think of it. 🙂

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