“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.”
I found this book, One Thousand Beautiful Things at a library sale, its cover torn but intact, its pages clean but brittle. Published in 1947, it is a compilation of prose and poetry from the world’s best literature. Two years after WWII ended, I imagine it was a popular book in many American families bookcases. Patriotism, as it is today, is a familiar subject throughout the 400 pages.
More than one hundred years after Longfellow wrote the passage Indian Summer I read the words and I am there. That is the power of language. Great language makes the sense of place leap from the pages and I am lost in the chapters. A good short story like a good poem is hard to forget.
Short stories are my favorite genre. Authors including Raymond Chandler, Lorrie Moore, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro, and Dorothy Parker have inspired me to write in the genre. When I am done reading a good short, I am left with a simplicity and thoroughness that many full-length novels seem to miss. Classic shorts such as Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Guy de Maupassant The Necklace seem timeless in their choice of theme.
To study the genre I recommend classic short stories like Ernest Hemingway’s In Another Country or Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People. Many of the classics can be found online. Poe, Joyce, Hawthorne, Twain and many other early writers all wrote in the short story genre to develop characters, hone their writing, and enchant their fans. They also had a market that supported their craft.
For modern shorts, I like The Best American Short Stories collections that is published every year by Houghton Mifflin Company. These stories are nominated to be in the collection. They are chosen from award winning literary magazines and popular magazines such as The New Yorker, Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly.
Does your writing have all the elements of a good short story? Conflict, plot, language, insight, character, theme and setting are necessary elements. Will your readers get lost in the pages? Are your characters original and thought out?
I’m putting One Thousand Beautiful Things on my writing reference shelf next to my Writer’s Market, my thesaurus, and my dictionary. I hope that it will inspire me to write passages that will transport my readers to another place.
The Writing Nag