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what short stories taught me

I didn't expect to have homework to do over Christmas break. Usually it's a beautiful time when I can take a deep breath and have a break from the crazy, stressful, paralyzing schoolwork that eats away at my life.
When my composition teacher announced that we would indeed have homework to do an audible groan went through the whole classroom.
"Nothing too hard," she assured us as she wrote out our assignment on the board.
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We were to read two short stories and write our reaction and thoughts on them. It seemed easy enough... but I still procrastinated.

I was sitting in my room a couple days before my analysis's were due. I stared down at the list of short stories my teacher had given, trying to decide which ones I should go for.
They all had obscure titles, and I had not one inkling as to what any were about, so I just picked some at random.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson caught my eye. I was told of one teacher who made her students read it in class so that she could witness their reaction to the ending in person. It intrigued me, so I looked it up and quickly read it.
I honestly had no idea what to think of it. I still don't. It was definitely not what I was expecting. I had to read it twice to really let it soak through.

The Last Leaf by O Henry was the next one I decided to read, and was much more light-hearted than the previous story.
The ending made me weep, though, and the message really struck a chord with me somehow.

I hadn't ever read a short story before this. I like big, thick, scary books. I like challenges. I've always told all my writer friends that I am unable to write short stories since all my ideas are far too big to fit in just a few pages.
I realized, though, as I was reading through the titles on my list, that there is a whole lot of magic in a story that is short.
It's hard to get a message through, even when you have a whole book to tell it. When authors are able to be brief and short, but can still pull on our heart-strings and make us think, that is a rare gift.

I have a new appreciation for short stories. And I have found that the saying is true: Sometimes a little is a lot.

21 comments

  1. I love the idea of short stories, because like you said, it's pretty amazing when an author can make you feel and think in a very limited number of pages. I haven't actually read many, though! I do have a couple of books of short stories (including O. Henry), so I need to try some soon. :)

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    1. Oooh! I highly recommend O. Henry! I hope you do read short stories, they are awesome! :)

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  2. I have always loved short stories. You are right, sometimes less is more. Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and O. Henry were all masters of packing truck loads of thought and emotion into little packages.

    Also, I highly recommend Leo Tolstoy's short stories "Family Happiness" and "The Death of Ivan Ilyich". If you don't like your books to be too short, you are still in good shape. Tolstoy is Tolstoy, so his short stories are really closer to novellas in length : )

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    1. Oh yes, I haven't ever read Tolstoy, but it seems to me that he was physically unable to write something short, even a "short story." But I will definitelytry to read it sometime :)

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  3. Hi! I just found your blog.

    Now I have to read "The Last Leaf", and I'm sure anything is lighter than "The Lottery". I had to read it more than two times because I couldn't believe what happened in the end. One short story that I love is "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton.

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    1. Welcome! Thank you so much for following, it means the world! :)

      The Last Leaf is fantastic, and, yes, I agree, ANYTHNG is lighter than The Lottery! Like that ending... what!!!???
      The Lady or the Tiger sounds interesting... I'll put it on my list of must reads.

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  4. I don't read very many short stories but O. Henry is a favorite! He does a wonderful job of packing a large punch into a small story!

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    1. Yes, he does! O. Henry is great, I'm learning :)
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. This is great. I agree wholeheartedly - sometimes short stories can be so surprisingly meaningful. If you haven't already, you should check out 'The Gift of the Magi' by O. Henry. A great story to read at Christmas-time.

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    1. The Gift of the Magi was another story on my list (since it was Christmas break) and I did actually read it. It was lovely and seemed very familiar to me somehow. (I also predicted the ending)

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  6. I totally agree about how a little is a lot; your insight is beautifully written. Sometimes, authors can fit an entire character's life in a short story, which I find amazing!

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  7. This is so...inspiring? Ahhh. I love short stories to the moon and back <3

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  8. "The Lottery" is chilling. "The Last Leaf" --- oh, I love O Henry's stories... They're so poignant and charming and yet so deep. ♥

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    1. Yes they are! O. Henry is quickly becoming one of my favorites. :)

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  9. I need to read some short stories because I always say that too about writing them...just that my ideas are too big. >_< But then, I don't really think I can write short stories if I haven't read any, right?!!

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    1. Exactly, that's how I felt! Once you actually read a short story, though, they don't seem too difficult to write.

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  10. I'd never thought about it like that. I guess there is sort of this misconception that short stories are childish or inferior so I sort of feel obliged to read lengthy novels to mature or something. It might be nice to start reading short stories. There is this really good collection of short stories called The Island that we had to read in High School and I found them really good if you want a suggestion :)

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  11. This is a great post! I love short stories--they can pack quite a punch! I liked The Lottery, and even though I haven't read The Last Leaf, I've read lost of other stories by O. Henry; my favorite is probably The Ransom of Red Chief.

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  12. I love short stories. It's a genre that I have begun exploring more and more of late. I really like how it stirs the creative juices.

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