Today is Short Story Day.
Here’s the thing about short stories: They’re harder to write than novels. You have to do everything in a short story that you’d do in a novel, you just have 5% of the real estate to do it in. It’s like dancing on the head of a pin: you can do it, but you have to be very careful and constantly aware of the edges. I don’t think I’ve written more than fifteen or twenty short stories (some of them went immediately into the trash, so I can’t do a head count now) because it’s an impossible length for me. On the other hand, my creative writing mentor, Lee K Abbott, was born to write short stories so that even novella length was tough for him. It’s like the writing fairies give you a gift at birth–“This is going to be your natural length, kid”–and that’s where you’ll be in your writing life, sprinter or marathoner, already decided. Which may be why I think writing short stories is so hard, I just wasn’t born to do that. No, it’s because they’re short. You screw up in a novel, there are a lot more words to succeed with; you screw up with a short story, you’re done.
On the other hand, reading short stories is not only easier than reading a novel, it can be more pleasurable and infinitely more impactful (is that a word?) because they hit you like a bullet, hard and fast. My favorite short stories may not be the best stories ever written (although they’re damn good) but they’re the ones that stayed with me. Including but not limited to and in no particular order:
“Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Leguin
“The Waltz” by Dorothy Parker. (See also, “Just a Little One,” the best melding of comedy and tragedy in a short story)
“The Bedquilt” by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
“The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
“Hips” by Sandra Cisneros (Really, any story from The House on Mango Street)
I have so many more, but enough about me. What are your fave short stories? (And go here for a list of possibilities.)