The Brief History of the Writing Short Story

Ah! The short story! It’s like chocolate syrup on profiteroles… Everyone seems to love short fiction; we read it, we write it, we buy compilations, we participate in contests and we want everyone to get on the train of the short story scene. And it is that, if you think about it, it is a real pass: Writing a Short Story a tenth of the length of a novel, but with all the drama, action, romance or fear condensed.

If someone has the courage to tell you that short stories are the little sister of literature, you can tell them, without fear of sounding silly, that they have no idea what they are talking about. The short story is pure literature, condensed into a brilliant and hypnotic little gem. It is very easy to create tension in 2000 pages, but would you be able to do it in 100 words?

The biggest problem facing those of us who love the short story is (for a change) publishing houses. The industrial machinery that publishers represent have decided on their own that readers do not want to read short stories, so you will find few quality compilations in bookstores.

For me, the short story has nothing to envy the novel. And I am very saddened by this apparent decline that short fiction suffers. That is why I wanted to pay my tribute to the short stories, with a review of their history.

First It Was The Grimms

Although we could trace the short story to the dawn of humanity, in those bonfires that lit the night of the first men, where the oldest told stories to the youngest. To start talking about the short story, you have to start with the Grimms.

The short story has its roots in short stories, both those of the Grimms and popular culture. The Grimms are the first to collect these stories and put them in ghost writing, you can also count on Andersen, Perrault, or Washington Irving, considered the first author of short stories in the English language.

After Irving, whose stories are still read by thousands of English and American children, came Hawthorne, with works like Twice-Told Tales (Tales twice told). And then the universal Edgar Alan Poe would arrive, who also invented the black genre.

At this point (mid-1800) and on this side of the Atlantic, in the British Isles, a veritable outbreak of short story fever was emerging, with Charles Dickens as the main head of that revival. Dickens wrote stories for periodicals that got people excited.

And Then Poe Came

The term short story / short story was not officially coined until the middle of the last century (although Poe already called his works that in 1840), the genre has also been changing and evolving over time. From Poe’s early detective stories, which drew all their strength on plot and investigation, to the quiet and slow stories of Joyce in Dubliners, a kind of game in which Joyce introduced the idea of ​​an epiphany into each story.

Joyce’s stories did not end in complex climaxes, unlike Poe, each story ended with a soft and reflective moment of revelation, which makes the reader completely rethink the text read, highlighting moments that seem mundane during reading.

At this moment, and thanks to the Irishman, the short story began to become more diffuse, more esoteric, and difficult to digest. Suddenly, this formula invented to entertain was transformed into a way of moralizing. The short story becomes complex, deep, and much richer.

Raymond Carver, The King Of The Short Story

People keep trying to copy Joyce, but as the 20th century progressed, writers kept experimenting with new concepts, new themes, and new ways of writing. Postmodernism arose to oppose Joyce’s modernism. Authors like Coover or Barthelme created a complex and, above all, hilarious literary artifacts.

Then Raymond Carver came along and moved steadily towards realism and minimalism (dirty realism). In the 1950s a new form of the short story was born at the hands of Carver and Hemingway, spreading over each creative writing seminar. His stories, like Catedral, are a fixture in Gotham Writer’s Workshop writing classes.

At that time, the short story was a way of life, many students ended up in one of these academies and learned the secrets of the trade. Big magazines like The New Yorker, The Atlantic or Playboy, paid well for this type of story.

Thus began to write, for example, Stephen King.

21st Century and a New Millennium

With the arrival of the 21st century, absolutely everything changes. The entry into the new millennium could not be better: the greatest attack in history, absurd wars, crisis, economic depression … Everything changes at that moment, the values, the reading patterns, the paper press seems ready to let itself be killed and In fact, it is still dying, with the exception of some Yankee publications that remain strong, such as the New Yorker.

The reader no longer finds short stories in publications, in bookstores compilations, fanzines and literary magazines are dying, most have died in complete silence, without putting up much resistance. Readers do not ask questions about it, because most have not even known this type of publication.

A New Hope?

I’ve painted a pretty black picture for you, right? I’m sure many of you don’t believe me, and you’re right. Publishers may not want to publish short stories, but writers continue to produce huge quantities of these pearls.

Luckily for us children of electronics, we have a great publishing tool: the Internet.

Besides, small publishing houses have emerged from the sludge left by the industry, hungry for this almost forgotten literature. These small publishers encourage the writer to publish their stories in small compilations.

And how is the picture presented? Well, Alice Munro, the best short story writer alive, took home the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013. Lydia Davis won the Man Booker in the same year for her career based essentially on micro fiction (flash fiction).

The short story is part of literature, as much as the great novels. Writing short fiction should not make you feel inferior, forget what you’ve heard, those are crap ever invented the publishing sector. 

The short story is alive, and every day it is more so thanks to all those who enjoy writing and reading.

I am among them.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think about short stories? Do you think that short literature is doomed to disappear or, on the contrary, is it experiencing a second youth? Tell me what you think about the short story in the comments.