Short Story Study For Writers

In the 1880s Brander Matthews said that short stories should be spelt with a hyphen to distinguish between two different forms, which reminds me of the picture book vs picturebook debate.

A short story is a story that is short. A short-story proper derives from the Romantic tradition and has its beginnings in myths and legends. The reader is required to put the extensional world out of mind and deal in and with a kind of underworld, a world of inexplicable strange loops, a mystical world of paradox and ambiguity, of shadows and shifting perspectives governed not by rational order but by intuition and dream logic.

MARY ROHRBERGER, The Art of Brevity, edited by Per Winther

If a novel is a multi-roomed mansion, a short story is more like a car or Winnebago. The short story conveys us swiftly, whereas the novel is something we inhabit for days or weeks. Both forms suborn their contents to the organizing principle of theme.

Peter Selgin, Brooklyn Rail

Ways of Categorising Short Stories

In 1952 Ray B. West used the words “realistic” and “symbolic” to divide short stories into two types. The problem with these labels is that the surface of some highly symbolic short stories is highly realistic.

Other scholars distinguish between “simple narrative”, “mimetic” and “lyric”, “anecdotal”, “epiphanic”, “linear”, “spatial” etc.

Whatever we call them, both types of short stories are equally legitimate. I call them ‘genre’ and ‘lyrical’ short stories. Stephen King’s short stories are genre; Katherine Mansfield’s are lyrical. In order to get the most out of a lyrical short story we need to take a long, hard look at the symbol web.

Raison d’etre of the Short Story

Short story writers question the world of appearances and in that questioning cast doubt on the immediately apparent and, at the same time, signify the timeless universals beyond the extensional world.

In the short story, questioning is embodied in technique, what is questioned is embodied in structure, and answers to the questions are inherent in total meaning.

The structure of a story creates metaphors that move to symbolic levels and embody meaning by means of analogies.

The very shortness of the short story, as well as the necessary artistic devices demanded by this shortness, force it to focus not on the whole of experience (whatever that is) in all its perceptual and conceptual categorisation, but rather on a single experience lifted out of the everyday flow of human actuality and active striving, an experience that is lifted out precisely because it is not a slice of that reality, but rather a moment in which “reality” itself is challenged.

Charles May, The Art of Brevity, edited by Per Winther

May explains that novels, in contrast, are expected to resolve their own crises. This explains why the endings of lyrical short stories tend to be a bit different from genre stories. Otherwise short stories tend to conform to universal story structure.

The short story can yield us some single bizarre occurrence of epiphany of terror whose impact would merely be blunted by lengthy realist elaboration.

Terry Eagleton

Short Stories And Detail

In the short story, detail is transformed into metaphorical significance. In a novel, on the other hand, the particular can remain merely the particular. It exists to make the reader feel he/she knows the experience — to create verisimilitude.

Charles E. May, The Art of Brevity, edited by Per Winther

It is possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things — a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring — with immense, even startling power.

Raymond Carver, On Writing

Tips For Writing The Short Story

The short story, if you really are intense and you have an exciting idea, writes itself in a few hours. I try to encourage my student friends and my writer friends to write a short story in one day so it has a skin around it, its own intensity, its own life, its own reason for being. There’s a reason why the idea occurred to you at that hour anyway, so go with that and investigate it, get it down. Two or three thousand words in a few hours is not that hard. Don’t let people interfere with you. Boot ’em out, turn off the phone, hide away, get it done. If you carry a short story over to the next day you may overnight intellectualize something about it and try to make it too fancy, try to please someone.

Ray Bradbury

The types of detail found in a short story tend to be more ‘telling’ and related to ‘symbol web’ than those found in a novel.

American Short Stories

John Cheever

  • Goodbye, My Brother — two brothers, one optimist, one pessimist, argue while at the family holiday home in the Massachussetts Islands.
  • Reunion — Very sad story about a boy who suddenly understands what an asshole his father is. The classic epiphanic moment.
  • The Common Day
  • The Enormous Radio — a new radio broadcasts what’s happening inside nearby apartments.
  • O, City Of Broken Dreams — a country couple relocate to New York with the empty promise of making it big with a partially completed script for a play. They are taken for mugs by a variety of characters.
  • The Sutton Place Story — A little girl gets lost through the carelessness of her nurse who leaves the child with a friend of the family’s while she goes to church.
  • Just One More Time — A story about privilege and how the rich rarely if ever fall to into the depths of poverty that others are born into. This is one of Cheever’s shorter short stories, and has an interesting example of sideshadowing in the final scene.
  • The Swimmer — one of Cheever’s surrealist stories
  • Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor — An elevator operator complains of how lonely he is to all the people he gives rides to.
  • Clancy In The Tower Of Babel — An Irish immigrant to New York has an accident at his labouring job and eventually finds a job as an elevator operator at a nearby apartment block which, despite its geographic proximity, is completely foreign to Clancy, and his simple life which is in many ways humble.
  • The Housebreaker of Shady Hill — A good example of a short story in which the protagonist has a small ‘scope of change’ (ie. doesn’t really have a true epiphany, though he may seem to.)
  • The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
  • All Summer In A Day by Ray Bradbury

Annie Proulx

Heart Songs (1994)

Most of the stories in the 1994 collection had previously been published as Heart Songs and Other Stories in 1988.

  1. On The Antler — a good case study in linking character to setting. Once the rural setting is compromised, this means the end of life as rural folk know it. But like the novel King Rat, some residents actually start to thrive once the environment changes, even if that change is generally for the worse.
  2. Stone City
  3. Bedrock
  4. A Run Of Bad Luck
  5. Heart Songs
  6. The Unclouded Day — another Proulx story about the conflict between real rural people and try-hard newcomers. This is a literary take on the typical story found in a Hunting and Fishing magazine, starring a trickster rural main character and a naive townie.
  7. In The Pit — a man goes to his childhood camp (I’d call it a ‘bach’) to  tidy it up and put it on the market, perhaps. There’s a false accusation and though he realises his mistake, there’s no genuine epiphany regarding his own psychology.
  8. The Wer-Trout
  9. Electric Arrows
  10. A Country Killing
  11. Negatives
Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999)

The stories are set in the desolate landscape of rural Wyoming and detail the often grim lives of the main characters.

  1. The Half-Skinned Steer” — a parody of the home-away-home story structure, inspired by an Icelandic folk tale.
  2. The Mud Below” — a critique of toxic masculinity, with the setting and characters of an American rodeo circuit.
  3. Job History” — a portrait of a Trump voter, but written in the late 1990s. I’m sure Proulx saw President Trump coming a mile off.
  4. The Blood Bay” — if “Brokeback Mountain” makes you cry, here’s one from the same author that may well make you chuckle.
  5. People In Hell Just Want A Drink Of Water” — an unusually heartwarming message: Extend just a little kindness and that’ll go a long way.
  6. Bunchgrass End Of The World” — a retelling of The Frog Prince
  7. Pair A Spurs” — magical realism
  8. A Lonely Coast” — starts off in second person then switches to first. Unusual narration from this author.
  9. The Governors of Wyoming” — more like a novella, divided into parts
  10. 55 Miles To The Gas Pump — a retelling of Bluebeard but in rural America
  11. Brokeback Mountain” — one of the few short stories to make me cry. Normally, short stories don’t give you time to feel such emotion.
Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 (2004)

Five of the eleven stories are set in the fictional Wyoming town of “Elk Tooth”. Critics didn’t like this collection so much as the last Wyoming Stories.

  1. The Hellhole
  2. The Indian Wars Refought
  3. The Trickle Down Effect
  4. What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick — The misfortunes of an old farmer whose sons don’t want to follow him into the farming business… and no wonder.
  5. The Old Badger Game
  6. Man Crawling Out Of Trees — a husband and wife relocate to Wyoming but the husband likes it a lot better than the wife does. A seemingly small event ends their marriage.
  7. The Contest — in a small town in Wyoming, with an unrealistic number of bars for its minuscule population, the men decide to hold a beard growing contest. This is an example of Annie Proulx’s dark, dry humour.
  8. The Wamsutter Wolf — Nothing to do with actual wolves — a disturbing story about domestic violence, similar to Katherine Mansfield’s “The Woman At The Store” in plot, but nothing alike in setting or tone.
  9. Summer Of The Hot Tubs
  10. Dump Junk — Kind of like Bridges of Madison County if that were a magical realist fairy tale without the romantic plot and Annie Proulx wrote it.
  11. Florida Rental
Fine Just the Way It Is (2008) 
  1. Family Man
  2. I’ve Always Loved This Place
  3. Them Old Cowboy Songs — set in the American Wild West though without the glamour.
  4. The Sagebrush Kid
  5. Deep-Blood-Greasy-Bowl
  6. Swamp Mischief
  7. Testimony of the Donkey
  8. Tits-Up in a Ditch

Richard Yates

  • Fun With a Stranger by Richard Yates — a portrait of a sad, lonely old school teacher who has lost all sense of fun. Her idea of an end of year celebration is to buy the class each an eraser.
  • A Glutton For Punishment by Richard Yates — A man is fired from his job and considers keeping this from his wife until he finds another one. But she knows him well, and when he gets home she is able to guess for herself.
  • Doctor Jack-o’-Lantern by Richard Yates — A wonderful character study of a boy new to a school. He tries hard to fit in. His inexperienced teacher tries hard to help him fit in. Does not end well.

CARSON  MCCULLERS

  • Court In The West Eighties — set in New York in the 1930s, point of view character is a student who observes her neighbours. Similar to Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
  • Sucker — a confessional story of cruelty between an older boy and a younger boy in the same family. Compare and contrast with “The Scarlet Ibis”.
  • Jockey

ROBIN BLACK

  • A Country Where You Once Lived — a man returns to England where he lived for a while with his American family. He has since moved on, and now he revisits not only his erstwhile country but his erstwhile family, realising he is no longer a significant part of their lives.
  • Pine — a vaguely Bluebeard-ish tale of a woman who struggles to get past the death of her husband.

LORRIE MOORE

You’re Ugly, Too

SELF HELP (1985)
  1. How to Be an Other Woman
  2. What is Seized
  3. The Kid’s Guide to Divorce
  4. How
  5. Go Like This
  6. How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)”
  7. Amahl and the Night Visitors: A Guide to the Tenor of Love
  8. How to Become a Writer
  9. To Fill
BIRDS OF AMERICA (1998)
  1. Willing
  2. Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People
  3. Dance In America
  4. Community Life
  5. Agnes of Iowa
  6. Charades
  7. Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens
  8. Beautiful Grade
  9. What You Want to Do Fine
  10. Real Estate
  11. People Like That Are The Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk
  12. Terrific Mother
2014 (BARK)
  1. Debarking
  2. The Juniper Tree
  3. Paper Losses
  4. Foes
  5. Wings
  6. Referential
  7. Subject To Search
  8. Thank You for Having Me

DOROTHY PARKER

VARIOUS

  • The People Across The Canyon” by Margaret Millar — Who are the new people who have moved into the house across the canyon? Why is our little girl so interested in spending time with these glamorous and mysterious people?
  • Louisa, Please Come Home” by Shirley Jackson — a chilling tale about a young woman who just leaves home one day and disappear without a trace.
  • I Am Waiting” by Christopher Isherwood — set between the world wars, with perhaps some SF elements, or is this a story about mental illness?
  • The Great Chain Of Being” by Kim Edwards. Well-known for her later novel The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards has also written numerous short stories, no doubt inspired by time spent living in various Asian countries. This one is a feminist tale about a woman who eventually manages to break free of the gender restrictions placed upon her in her youth.
  • Cat Skin” by Kelly Link is a modern story with a fairytale feel. It’s what I call batshit. If you would like to go AWOL, read this for reassurance. Or maybe you understand the story better than I do.
  • A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner — A story of an aged, woman-in-the-attic recluse written in Gothic style.
  • Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather — a young fantasist growing up in Pittsburg does a Psycho (steals money from his job) then relocates to New York City to start a new life and completely reinvent his backstory. Doesn’t end well for him.
  • The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane — A midwestern snow storm throws strangers together overnight. One of them is unhinged. This story is an example of naturalism (the literary movement).
  • The Damned Thing” by Ambrose Bierce — the sort of work that is parodied by Welcome To Night Vale
  • Old Man Minick” by Edna Ferber — A widower learns how to live contentedly after his wife dies unexpectedly before he does. Set in Chicago.
  • Champion” by Ring Lardner — Pair with one of my favourite films, The Wrestler.
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber — the short story which led to ‘Walter Mitty’ used to describe a man who is full of big ideas, none of which come to fruition.
  • I’m A Fool” by Sherwood Anderson — when you big yourself up too much you end up ruining a chance at romance.
  • The Leader of the People” by John Steinbeck — The title doesn’t draw me in,  but I loved this short story a lot.
  • The Pearl” by John Steinbeck has folkloric overtones, patriarchal violence and the Female Maturity Formula.
  • The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway — seems nothing special to me now, but remember this was groundbreaking stuff that paved the way for The Godfather and The Sopranos. Gangsters walk among us, the ordinary people.
  • The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry — a rare example of a twist ending which isn’t basically saying something terrible about humankind.
  • Flowering Judas” by Anne Porter — This short story reminds me of “A Dill Pickle” by Katherine Mansfield. Both stories are clearly about the way in which women are socially acculturated into providing emotional labour for men, but written in a time before such language existed to described the phenomenon.
  • A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’Connor — a family encounters some escaped criminals while on a road trip. Told from the grandmother’s point of view. Does not end happily.
  • The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst — a confessional story of an older brother’s cruelty towards his disabled younger brother. Strong in symbolism, notably colour symbolism.
  • Coming Soon” by Steven Millhauser
  • The Years Of My Birth” by Louise Erdrich

 Canadian Short Stories

There’s a lot to get through here. I’m starting with the more recent.

Alice Munro

Dance of the Happy Shades (1968)
  1. Walker Brothers Cowboy
  2. “The Shining Houses” — about a new neighborhood of many houses which has been built next to an old house. The owner of the older house, Mrs. Fullerton, does not take care of her property to the extent that the owners of the new houses want.
  3. Images
  4. Thanks for the Ride
  5. The Office
  6. An Ounce of Cure
  7. The Time of Death
  8. Day of the Butterfly
  9. Boys and Girls
  10. Postcard
  11. Red Dress—1946
  12. Sunday Afternoon
  13. A Trip to the Coast
  14. The Peace of Utrecht
  15. Dance of the Happy Shades
Lives of Girls and Women (1971)

Margaret Atwood has said that this is a novel mistaken for a short story collection.

  1. The Flats Road
  2. Heirs of the Living Body
  3. Princess Ida
  4. Age of Faith
  5. Changes and Ceremonies
  6. Lives of Girls and Women
  7. Baptizing
  8. Epilogue: The Photographer
Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1974)
  1. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You
  2. Material
  3. How I Met My Husband
  4. Walking on Water
  5. Forgiveness in Families
  6. Tell Me Yes or No
  7. The Found Boat
  8. Executioners
  9. Marrakesh
  10. The Spanish Lady
  11. Winter Wind
  12. Memorial
  13. The Ottawa Valley
Who Do You Think You Are? (1978) also published as The Beggar Maid
  1. Royal Beatings
  2. Privilege
  3. Half a Grapefruit
  4. Wild Swans
  5. The Beggar Maid
  6. Mischief
  7. Providence
  8. Simon’s Luck
  9. Spelling
  10. Who Do You Think You Are?
The Moons of Jupiter (1982)
  1. Chaddeleys and Flemings I: The Connection
  2. Chaddeleys and Flemings II: The Stone in the Field
  3. Dulse
  4. The Turkey Season
  5. Accident
  6. Bardon Bus
  7. Prue
  8. Labor Day Dinner
  9. Mrs. Cross and Mrs. Kidd
  10. Hard-Luck Stories
  11. Visitors
  12. The Moons of Jupiter
The Progress of Love (1986)
  1. The Progress of Love
  2. Lichen
  3. Monsieur les Deux Chapeaux
  4. Miles City, Montana
  5. Fits
  6. The Moon in the Orange Street Skating Rink
  7. Jesse and Meribeth
  8. Eskimo
  9. Queer Streak
  10. Circle of Prayer
  11. White Dump
Friend of My Youth (1990)
  1. Friend of My Youth
  2. Five Points
  3. Meneseteung
  4. Hold Me Fast, Don’t Let Me Pass
  5. Oranges and Apples
  6. Pictures of the Ice
  7. Goodness and Mercy
  8. Oh, What Avails
  9. Differently
  10. Wigtime
SELECTED STORIES (1996)
  1. Walker Brothers Cowboy
  2. Dance of the Happy Shades
  3. Postcard
  4. Images
  5. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You
  6. The Ottawa Valley
  7. Material
  8. Royal Beatings
  9. Wild Swans
  10. The Beggar Maid
  11. Simon’s Luck
  12. Chaddeleys and Flemings I: The Connection
  13. Chaddeleys and Flemings II: The Stone in the Field
  14. Dulse
  15. The Turkey Season
  16. Labor Day Dinner
  17. The Moons of Jupiter
  18. The Progress of Love
  19. Lichen
  20. Miles City, Montana
  21. White Dump
  22. Fits
  23. Friend of My Youth
  24. Meneseteung
  25. Differently
  26. Carried Away
  27. The Albanian Virgin
  28. A Wilderness Station
  29. Vandals
Open Secrets (1994)
  1. Carried Away
  2. A Real Life
  3. The Albanian Virgin
  4. Open Secrets
  5. The Jack Randa Hotel
  6. A Wilderness Station
  7. Spaceships Have Landed
  8. Vandals
The Love of a Good Woman (1998)
  1. The Love Of A Good Woman” — a story revolving around a crime but not a crime story. Reminiscent of Stand By Me.
  2. Jakarta” — not actually set in Jakarta. A story of an old woman whose husband went missing, and also about the so-called ‘free love’ of the 1960s, which afforded far more freedom to men.
  3. Cortes Island” — a symbolic island standing in for the psychology of newly wed isolation.
  4. Save The Reaper” — a re-visioning of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”
  5. The Children Stay” — What did divorce look and feel like when divorce was brand new?
  6. Rich As Stink” — Focuses on an adolescent girl. Some commentators call her ‘precocious’ but I think she is a typical 11-year-old.
  7. Before the Change
  8. My Mother’s Dream” — Critics don’t love this one, but I do. I read this short story as a commentary on how it takes a village to raise a child, and when any given mother doesn’t measure up as parent, other women can step in. Together, caregivers can band together to create a ‘whole’, and bring up a perfectly rounded and cared-for child, but alone? No. And we shouldn’t expect mothers to be perfect.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001) (republished as Away From Her)
  1. “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage”
  2. “Floating Bridge”
  3. “Family Furnishings”
  4. “Comfort”
  5. “Nettles”
  6. “Post and Beam”
  7. What Is Remembered — an elderly woman looks back on a couple of days — days which furnished her fantasy life ever after.
  8. Queenie— a short story about what is now called coercive control.
  9. The Bear Came Over The Mountain — has since been adapted for film by Sarah Polly — look for Away From Her (the film’s title).
NO LOVE LOST (2003)
  1. Bardon Bus
  2. Carried Away
  3. Mischief
  4. The Love of a Good Woman
  5. Simon’s Luck
  6. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
  7. The Bear Came Over the Mountain
  8. The Albanian Virgin
  9. Meneseteung
  10. The Children Stay
VINTAGE MUNRO (2004)
  1. The Moons of Jupiter
  2. The Progress of Love
  3. Differently
  4. Carried Away
  5. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
Runaway (2004)
  • Runaway” — an excellent example of comparing a human character to an animal character in a non-supernatural way.
  • Chance” – Juliet takes a train trip which leads to an affair.
  • Soon” – Juliet visits her parents with her child Penelope.
  • Silence” — This focuses on the marriage and fairly lonely old age of the main character. Juliet hopes to hear from her estranged daughter Penelope.
  • Passion” – A lonely small town girl flees a passionless relationship with an outsider.
  • Trespasses” — An adolescent girl is the main character of this one. She moves to a new house with her parents, who have a violent relationship. They are followed by a woman who thinks this girl is her adopted daughter.
  • Tricks” — A young woman meets a man who she thinks she could marry, but one moment of misunderstanding changes the course of her fate forever.
  • Powers” — A woman wrestles with her own duties of care towards others, notably her obligations towards a school friend who has been committed permanently to a psychiatric institution.
The View from Castle Rock (2006)
  • Part One / No Advantages
    1. No Advantages
    2. The View from Castle Rock
    3. Illinois
    4. The Wilds of Morris Township
    5. Working for a Living
  • Part Two / Home
    • Fathers
    • Lying Under the Apple Tree
    • Hired Girl
    • The Ticket
    • Home
    • What Do You Want to Know For?
  • Epilogue
    • Messenger
Too Much Happiness (2009)
  1. Dimensions
  2. Fiction
  3. Wenlock Edge
  4. Deep Holes
  5. Free Radicals
  6. Face
  7. Some Women
  8. Child’s Play
  9. Wood
  10. Too Much Happiness
Dear Life (2012)

Most of the stories collected in Dear Life had previously been published elsewhere, notably in The New Yorker.

  1. To reach Japan
  2. Amundsen
  3. Leaving Maverley
  4. Gravel
  5. Haven
  6. Pride
  7. Corrie
  8. Train
  9. In sight of the lake
  10. Dolly
  11. The eye
  12. Night
  13. Voices
  14. Dear life

Mavis Gallant

(It’s been ages since I read these. I didn’t engage with them, and I’m not sure I stand by what I wrote.)

  • Madeline’s Birthday” by Mavis Gallant
  • Thieves and Rascals” by Mavis Gallant
  • A Day Like Any Other” by Mavis Gallant – This story is interesting to me because of the year it was written. As a modern parent, I hear a lot about how ‘parents these days’ are overprotective of our children, interfering too much in their lives, stunting their emotional development. Yet this is a story of one such mother, and it dates from 1952.
  • The Picnic” by Mavis Gallant — This story is darkly comic, a ‘comedy of manners’, starring an eccentric old French aristocratic woman. The reader is afforded a close-up view into her life via an American family, the Marshalls, Major Marshall being stationed in France after the war.
  • The Cost Of Living” by Mavis Gallant — One character confronts another for some wrong-doing, and in one fell swoop the wrongdoer manages to sully the waters with ease, simply because she’s had so much practice.
  • The Burgundy Weekend” by Mavis Gallant — Lucie and Jerome Girard are due to meet an elderly woman for lunch in Burgundy.

VARIOUS

Purple Blooms by Carol Shields

 New Zealand Short Stories

I studied Mansfield at high school in New Zealand and again at university. Then I taught these stories at high school myself. Whenever I read the “Prelude” trilogy I feel homesick for a Wellington of the past. The worst kind of fernweh!

KATHERINE MANSFIELD

How To Write Like Katherine Mansfield

IN A GERMAN PENSION

I’m coming back to these later because Katherine Mansfield herself said she didn’t like them. I figure the main interest is seeing how she developed as a writer.

  1. Germans at Meat” (The New Age, 3 March 1910)
  2. The Baron” (The New Age, 10 March 1910)
  3. The Sister of the Baroness” (The New Age, 4 August 1910)
  4. Frau Fischer” (The New Age, 18 August 1910)
  5. Frau Brechenmacher Attends a Wedding” (The New Age, 21 July 1910)
  6. The Modern Soul” (The New Age, 22 June 1911)
  7. At “Lehmann’s”” (The New Age, 7 July 1910)
  8. The Luft Bad” (The New Age, 24 March 1911) (spelt Luftbad in German)
  9. A Birthday” (The New Age, 18 May 1911) (probably written about her father; but names changed to German names for the collection)
  10. The Child-Who-Was-Tired” (The New Age, 24 February 1910; her first appearance)
  11. The Advanced Lady
  12. The Swing of the Pendulum
  13. A Blaze” — I read this story and think of the Japanese dynamic known widely in Japan as ‘amae’.
Bliss
  1. Prelude” (1918) — The Burnell family move from central Wellington out to the nearby country. This story spans the first week in their new house, focusing on each of the different members of the household, their reactions to their new environment and their deeper longings and fears.
  2. Je ne parle pas français” (1917) (censored for collection)
  3. Bliss” (1918) — Bertha spends the afternoon eating mushrooms at Mt Vic with her queer bff, okay so that’s a big maybe, then is shocked to learn at a Bohemian dinner party later that night that her husband is having an affair with her own woman crush.
  4. The Wind Blows” (1920) — A hormonal teenage girl endures an emotionally up-and-down day. Later, that evening, she goes down to the water with her brother, sees a ship in the distance and says goodbye to her childhood.
  5. Psychology” (1920) — What do you do when you’re a young unmarried woman, horny and there’s no reliable birth control to speak of? Plus, you don’t want to ruin your reputation. In “Psychology” Mansfield paints a portrait of a woman who has found one way of dealing with all that.
  6. Pictures” (1917)— The story of an old theatre woman, Ada Moss, about to be thrown out of her apartment in London.
  7. The Man Without a Temperament” (1920)
  8. Mr Reginald Peacock’s Day” (1920) — I’ve included plenty of peacock art in this post. We forget how fashionable peacock feathers were once. The peacock is, of course, coded as vanity itself. Poor old peacocks. This short story is a character study.
  9. Sun and Moon” (1920)
  10. Feuille d’Album” (1917)— In high society, a young man appears to have no personality. This sets the young ladies talking. One of them makes up a story about him, turning him into a comical figure.
  11. A Dill Pickle” (1917) — A single woman meets up with her old boyfriend in a London cafe. She hasn’t seen him in quite some time. Privileged white boy is doing very well for himself. She considers starting something up with him again, but the conversation reveals he’s still a total arse and privilege has only made him worse. So she walks out of the cafe, doomed to be forever alone. He gets over her quickly, which is the exact reason she can’t stand him.
  12. The Little Governess by Katherine Mansfield (1915) — over 100 years later came the MeToo movement. But women have always felt unsafe travelling alone at night, and for good reason.
  13. Revelations” (1920)
  14. The Escape” (1920) by Katherine Mansfield — a married man and woman take a cart to the train station. They occupy completely different emotional spaces. By the end of the story the husband has learned to disassociate fully from his wife by delving into his fantasy world.
SOMETHING CHILDISH
  1. The Tiredness of Rosabel” (1908) — Mansfield’s earliest widely published story, about a young woman who works in a hat shop in London. These days she wouldn’t afford her own room — she’d do as I did in London, and be sleeping in a room with three other people!
  2. How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped” (1912) — Playing into benevolent stereotypes of Maori at the turn of the 20th century, this is the story of a preschool white girl who gets taken out for the day by Maori women.
  3. “The Journey to Bruges” (1911)
  4. “A Truthful Adventure” (1911)
  5. New Dresses” (1912) — is considered an early version of the Burnell family who we see later in the Prelude trilogy. Some have said this story feels contrived. I take a close look at why that might be.
  6. The Woman at the Store” (1912) — Not a successful story, in my opinion. Others have done much better with the same plot.
  7. Ole Underwood” (1913)
  8. The Little Girl” (1912)
  9. Millie” (1913)
  10. Pension Séguin” (1913)
  11. Violet” (1913)
  12. Bains Turcs” (1913)
  13. Something Childish But Very Natural” (1914) — A young man and woman fall in love on a train. They go on this mythic journey through the limerant stages of first love together. Mansfield writes this magnificently — she even seems to morph the landscape, playing with scale.
  14. An Indiscreet Journey” (1920)
  15. Spring Pictures” (1915)
  16. Late at Night” (1917)
  17. Two Tuppenny Ones, Please” (1917)
  18. The Black Cap” (1917)
  19. A Suburban Fairy Tale” (1919)
  20. Carnation” (1918) — Set entirely in a classroom on a stifling hot day, a teenage girl is bored by her French teacher, so stares out the window. She has a vaguely sexual experience which bleeds into another erotic moment when another student gives her a flower.
  21. See Saw” (1917) — The story structure itself functions like a see-saw, in which two young children and two elderly people enjoy a nice day in a park.
  22. This Flower” (1920)
  23. The Wrong House” (1919)
  24. Sixpence” (1921)
  25. Poison” (1920) — A besotted young man has a partial epiphany; his lover isn’t as perfect as he had imagined.
THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
  1. At The Bay” — The Burnell family are still living in their bungalow near the bay in Wellington, in a house which must be a little too small for all of them. Each character is aligned with another character to juxtapose and compare their various responses to very similar situations. None of the characters learns anything about themselves, but they have each developed strategies for getting on with their day-to-day lives.
  2. The Garden Party” — A rich girl who lives at the top of a hill spends the entire day preparing for a fancy party. But she leaves her walled garden utopia to deliver leftovers to a bereft wife at the bottom of the hill, who has lost her husband to an accident. Rich girl has an epiphany. She’s not sure what it is, and neither are we.
  3. The Daughters of the Late Colonel” — Two middle-aged spinster sisters have lived their entire lives under the control of their overbearing father. Now he is dead. It’s time to look up and see the light. More generally, this story is about the invisibility of women in middle age.
  4. Mr and Mrs Dove
  5. The Young Girl
  6. Life of Ma Parker
  7. Marriage à la Mode” — William works in London while his wife Isabel is a wife and mother to their two young boys in the surrounding country. But Isabel has surrounded herself with a circle of queer poets, and William isn’t happy about it. This is a classic example of a Mansfield story that won’t make full sense unless viewed through a queer lens.
  8. The Voyage — Young Fenella takes the Picton Boat from Wellington to live with her grandparents after the death of her mother.
  9. Miss Brill” — A visit to the park leads to some sad feelings. Pays not to listen in on other people’s conversations.
  10. Her First Ball” — Would you have reacted as Leila did?
  11. The Singing Lesson
  12. The Stranger
  13. Bank Holiday
  14. An Ideal Family
  15. The Lady’s Maid
THE DOVE’S NEST AND OTHER STORIES
  1. The Doll’s House“(1922) is the third story about the Burnell family. This focuses on the children and their interactions in the playground. They mimic the social elitism of their parents in a story about the untouchable class.
  2. Honeymoon” (1923)
  3. A Cup of Tea” (1922)
  4. Taking The Veil” (1923) — An 18-year-old woman engaged to be married to her childhood sweetheart takes a stroll, ends up at the church and all the while contemplates what her life would be like if she were to become a nun instead of getting married.
  5. The Fly” (1922) — one of the last written before her own death, this is the tale of two old men, each dealing with his mortality in a different way.
  6. The Canary” (1923)
  7. A Married Man’s Story” (1923)
  8. The Doves’ Nest
  9. Six Years After” (set in New Zealand)
  10. Daphne
  11. Father and the Girls
  12. All Serene
  13. A Bad Idea
  14. A Man and his Dog
  15. Such a Sweet Old Lady
  16. Honesty
  17. Susannah
  18. Second Violin” (set in London)
  19. Mr. and Mrs. Williams
  20. Weak Heart” (set in New Zealand)
  21. Widowed” (set in London)

VARIOUS

  • An Affair Of The Heart” by Frank Sargeson is about love, and how it can transcend age. I find it creepy.
  • King Bait” by Keri Hulme is a magical realist tale in the tall story tradition, set on the West Coast of New Zealand. It’s about the deadly sin of greed.

British Short Stories

SAKI

  • Tobermory” — a humorous story about a talking cat and a gossip network.
  • The She-Wolf” — a trickster story in which a man and a woman play a trick on a man who insists he knows magic and is able to transmogrify.
  • The Lumber Room” — it’s about the gay experience. I’m convinced now. This makes “The Lumber Room” one of Saki’s deeper works.
  • The Toys Of Peace

HELEN SIMPSON

  • Diary of an Interesting Year” — A comically dark apocalyptic tale, which skewers the idea that we can prepare for such things.
  • Up At A Villa” — Two pairs of teenagers gate crash a fancy villa in France, where they have been staying at cheaper digs and then run out of money. They get an unwelcome glimpse into their own futures and are quite cruel about it.
  • In-flight Entertainment” — A climate change story, eerily familiar to anyone who’s had a conversation with a climate crisis denier.

VARIOUS

  • The Three Strangers” by Thomas Hardy — a trickster tale with a rainy, pastoral, English setting. Read on April Fool’s Eve.
  • Rain” by Somerset Maugham — a fish-out-of-water story, in which characters wholly unsuited to their environment become marooned somewhere due to external circumstances.
  • The Happy Hypocrite” by Max Beerbohm — a misogynistic tale, so try to read it as a fairy tale, not as feminism. Which it isn’t.
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe — the first procedural detective story. That part of it is very boring to read, imo. The ending is bizarre. But as a historical document, interesting.
  • Man-sized in Marble” by Edith Nesbit — You may know her better because of her stories for children, but Nesbit also wrote horror.
  • The Haunted Dolls’ House” by M.R. James — A classic ghost story, making use of one of those miniature houses rich people used to order. They were never for playing with. Creates a nice mise en abyme effect. The pacing is a bit slow by today’s standards.

Angela Carter

  • The Tiger’s Bride” by Angela Carter — for genuinely feminist revisionings of fairytales, see The Bloody Chamber collection, written in the 1970s. This is from that.
  • In The Company Of Wolves” by Angela Carter — arguably the best feminist revisioning of Little Red Riding Hood
  • Peter and the Wolf” by Angela Carter — a great example of mise en abyme in storytelling
  • Lizzie’s Tiger” by Angela Carter — a fictional re-visioning of Lizzie Borden’s early childhood.
  • The Company of Wolvesby Angela Carter — a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood
  • The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter — a retelling of Bluebeard, in which the young bride is rescued not by her brothers but by her mother.
  • Goethe and Angela Carter’s Erl-king” — Not much in common with the poem, but I compare the two side by side.

Irish Short Stories

Kevin Barry

  • Beer Trip To Llandudno” — a group of men from Merseyside go for a daytrip to North Wales. On this mythic journey they realise they are edging closer to death.
  • Who’s-Dead McCarthy” — a darkly humorous character sketch of a man who is fascinated by death. This describes us all?
  • Ernestine and Kit” — I loved this story about two middle-aged women who drive around Ireland with ill-intent.

William Trevor

William Trevor was English and Irish.

Latin American Short Stories

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is another story about cruelty, and the archetypal example of magical realism.

Australian Short Stories

  • Blackberries” by Thomas Kenneally — a middle-aged man falls for a student of his. A contemporary take on a Lolita that never plays out.
  • Singing My Sister Down” by Margo Lanagan — the creepiest horror story Australia has produced.
  • A View of Mount Warning” by Robert Drewe — another story of a middle-aged man who falls for a younger woman — unfortunately the wife of his best friend.
  • The Lap Poolby Robert Drewe — a man has become caught doing fraudulent things with money. Now he is alone and destitute on his run-down farm.
  • The Home Girls” by Olga Masters

Japanese Short Stories

U.F.O. in Kushiro by Haruki Murakami

HELP FOR WRITING SHORT STORIES

It’s surprisingly difficult to find much information on the topic of short story structure, partly because literary scholars haven’t touched it. Anything you find will probably be brief and written by short story practitioners themselves.

Exceptions include the following:

  • T. O. Beachcroft (1968), The modest art: a survey of the short story in English
  • Ian Reid (1977), in the Critical Idiom series.
  • Todorov (1977) in Poetique de la Prose
  • Valerie Shaw (1983) The Short Story: A Critical Introduction (1983)
  • Clare Hanson (1985) Short stories and Short Fictions 1880-1980

But a number of those commentators restrict themselves to the folktale, which has little in common with contemporary short fiction.

The rules seem to be these: if you have written a successful novel, everyone invites you to write short stories. If you have written some good short stories, everyone wants you to write a novel. But nobody wants anything until you have already proved yourself by being published somewhere else.

James Michener

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