Short stories are an odd beast. When done well they can stick with you, almost in their entirety, in a way novels can’t quite match. There’s a beautiful, immediacy and directness to short stories, the best of them. Short, paired to the bone prose, no filler, no padding, just what is needed… to tell the tale.
The best short stories are timeless, in a way I think novels, have a hard time competing with. Short Stories because of their brevity, waste less time on the scene setting, the minutiae of place, and fashion, and political woes, all of which becomes archaic in time, whereas the short story, distilled as it is, concentrates on the interaction between people. Concentrates on those simple, essential and essentially repeated questions of the human condition, those questions of love and loss, of eros and thanos.
To elaborate on the strength of the short story, let’s discuss a bit on Poe.
One of the greatest short stories of all time, Edgar Allen Poe’s TELL TALE HEART, was written in 1842. (There are some quarters that assert Poe wrote TELL TALE HEART after having a heart attack, but I can find no corroborating evidence. Or indeed any evidence that Poe had ever been diagnosed with any Heart issues. I think the heart attack myth, is people trying to give impetus for such a great story, beyond Poe just being a great writer. People without imagination looking for the impetus of such imagination. Like the question people still task writers with today… “Where do you get your ideas from?” ).
It was submitted that same year to BOSTON MISCELLANY, but was rejected for publication on the grounds of essentially being too macabre. It would not see publication till January of 1843, when a friend of Poe, would buy the story from the destitute writer for $10.
$10 would be all the proceeds Poe would see from a story, that has since generated, guessing loosely, billions of dollars in revenue from records, to books, to films, to comics, to plays. Only $10.
Not much money today, and not much money in 1843 (the dollar in 1840s being 9 times today’s dollar, still only translates into Poe receiving $90, not enough to pay bills, or keep his house in food).
Poe’s $10 payment for THE TELL TALE HEART would be a far cry from the $2000 Poe is reported to have lost gambling in the course of 8 months, or the $100 he won for publication of his story ‘THE GOLDBUG’, or the roughly million dollars that Charles Dickens was making around the same time for CHRISTMAS CAROL.
-To be continued-
For those interested in more on Poe, I direct them to this comprehensive (while being condensed) and quite elegantly written bio on Poe:
I agree with you on short stories: they do possess a quality that novels often can’t match. I think this owes, also, to the malleability of a short story. Since the essence of the thing exists in such a (relatively) small amount of words, it allows other arts, screen and play, let’s say – use them and stretch them out into another piece of art with the same feeling but with a different form.
To be glib about it: Short stories are like the concentrated Kool-Aid mix of the writing word.
That’s a great point about short stories being more attractive to other mediums because of their malleability. The way comics are the easy goto today, for other mediums.
Both deliver a powerful concept in a concentrated format, that others can elaborate on in their own medium.