Short Story Writing - A Practical Treatise on the Art of The Short Story
by Charles Raymond Barrett
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The climax of a story must be a genuine climax—that is, it must be the culmination of the interest of the story, and it must definitely end and eliminate the element of suspense. The climax, or its immediate consequences, must decide the destinies of all your characters, and the fate of all their schemes. If the heroine is hesitating between her two lovers she must decide in the climax or on account of it; if the hero is in a position of great danger he must be killed or saved. The revelation need not be couched in the bald phrase, "And so John married Kate;" but it may be hinted at or suggested in the most subtle manner; but settled in some way it must be. Stockton did otherwise in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" but he sought for humorous effect, and all things are fair in the funny story. Stories which are meant to be serious, but which leave the reader still puzzling over the possibilities of the plot, are likely to get their author into serious difficulties with the reading public, even if the editors can be persuaded to overlook his idiosyncracies.

The amateur is prone to the conviction, deduced, I fear, from the practice of the cheap melodrama and the cheaper novel, that "climax" and "tragedy" are synonymous terms, and that he is violating sacred traditions unless he ends his tale with a violent death. But it is by no means necessary that the climax of a short story should be or should contain a catastrophe or a tragedy. Its nature depends entirely upon the character of the tale in which it appears, and it may be just as strong and just as thrilling if it consists only of the "Yes" with which the heroine answers the hero's wooing. Indeed, it not infrequently happens that the tragedy or the catastrophe which appears in the climax is only an accessory to the real climax, a cause or a result of it. The climax of "The Ambitious Guest" is a tragedy; but the climax of Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," though certainly a catastrophe, is anything but tragic, if read in the ironic spirit in which it was written:

Another convulsive kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash; he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider passed by like a whirlwind.

While in Poe's "The Black Cat," one tragedy is a preliminary of the climax and another is in a manner the result of it; but the real climax is the discovery of the cat:

... a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. On its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!

Nor does the mere introduction of a tragedy make a climax, for though the following paragraphs contain two tragedies, there is no climactic force:

Joseph, who had been sitting with his head on his knees, and wondering what in the world was going to happen, raised his head, and exclaimed, on seeing his brother, "You have come after me—" At this instant some one struck him on the head with a pistol, which brought him to the floor. But Harry, hearing the familiar voice, and seeing the man also, knew too well who it was. He shouted at the top of his voice, "Stop! Wait! This thing must be investigated!" Telling them who the prisoner was, and pleading with them, he was finally able to disperse the mob, though against their own will.

The next morning, when Mamie was brought to consciousness again, she begged that he should not be punished.

On learning the truth he was immediately released, but the bitter grief, mingled with so much excitement, was more than he could endure. He died that night at ten.

The bitterness occasioned by this catastrophe remained in the bosom of Mamie, and she too died of a broken heart.

The plot of a certain type of story requires subordinate and preliminary climaxes to relieve the tension or advance the action, as already stated.[42] Such periods, when given genuine climactic force, are antagonistic to the spirit of the short story, in that they violate the unity, and a story containing them is usually faulty otherwise; but such stories have been written by good writers and so must be recognized here. The preliminary climaxes must be sufficiently few, sufficiently subordinate and sufficiently distant not to detract from the force of the chief climax. The main point is to see that one of the preliminary climaxes is not really the climax, for inexperienced writers sometimes allow their stories to run on longer than they should; or they confuse what is merely an incident with what should be made the main crisis. In "The Ambitious Guest" there is only one climax; but in Hawthorne's "Mr. Higginbotham's Catastrophe" I find no less than five critical points, which I here subpend with the numbers of the paragraphs in which they occur:


"Old Mr. Higginbotham of Kimballton was murdered in his orchard at eight o'clock last night by an Irishman and a nigger. They strung him up to the branch of a St. Michael's pear tree where nobody would find him till the morning."


"... if squire Higginbotham was murdered night before last I drank a glass of bitters with his ghost this morning. Being a neighbor of mine, he called me into his store as I was riding by, and treated me...."


"No, no! There was no colored man. It was an Irishman that hanged him last night at eight o'clock; I came away at seven."


"I left Kimballton this morning to spend the vacation of commencement-week with a friend about five miles from Parker's Falls. My generous uncle, when he heard me on the stairs, called me to his bedside and gave me two dollars and fifty cents to pay my stage-fare, and another dollar for my extra expenses."


He rushed forward, prostrated a sturdy Irishman with the butt-end of his whip, and found—not, indeed, hanging on the St. Michael's pear tree, but trembling beneath it with a halter round his neck—the old identical Mr. Higginbotham.

These several climaxes form a perfect series, each a little higher than its predecessor, and all logically culminating in the chief climax of the story in 49; and by this progressive and culminative effect they go far to preserve the sense of unity which their presence endangers. Such real if minor climaxes are entirely different from the several stages of the story illustrated in Chapter IX by James' "The Lesson of the Master."

The novice usually has some hazy conception of the importance of a climax, and endeavors according to his lights to attain the desired effect, but he is seldom successful. Most frequently he is handicapped by his plot, which is not designed to produce a successful climax. If he has escaped that danger he is liable to ruin a possible good climax by too abrupt an introduction. His nearest approach to success is what may be called a "false" or "technical" climax, in the use of which he is very skillful—too skillful, indeed, for his own good. This false climax is produced by breaking off the narrative abruptly the moment the suspense of the story is terminated. It is really an abrupt conclusion, and not a climax at all; and it produces the jump in the reader's mind by its suddenness, and not by its concentrated force. It is sometimes made more pointed by the use of italics or capitals. Thus the following final paragraphs, which are typical of the work of the novice, have no hint of a climax as they stand:

... Mrs. Moore sat gazing into the glowing grate.

"Well, truants, where have you been all this time? I—" She stopped suddenly as she saw Nettie's blushes, and the happy look on Guy's face.

"Mother, Nettie has made me the happiest man in existence, by consenting to be my wife. And we have come to ask your blessing."

"It is heartily given, my dear children. Nothing could give me more pleasure than to see you two happily married," said she, kissing them. "By the way, how did you young people happen to make this wonderful discovery?"

"Well, mother, I have had some serious thoughts about the matter ever since I surprised you and Nettie last September, but I never dared to put my thoughts into words till to-day."

"I don't remember that you surprised Nettie. She was out in the orchard, she told me, when you arrived."

"Yes, I believe I remember finding her in the orchard," and he gave a ludicrous description of their first meeting.

"That accounts for Nettie's blushes when I introduced you that day. You won't go west now, will you, Guy?"

"I shall have to, mother; but I'll sell out at the first opportunity. In the meantime I think we had better notify aunt Adams that she is doomed to have a son-in-law."

"I have thought of an excellent plan," said Nettie. "Let's all go east for the holidays. Only, for goodness' sake, don't tell Edith and Maud about my exploits in the apple tree. They would be so shocked at my lack of dignity."

So the following week they started for Nettie's home. Guy soon won Mrs. Adams' consent to her daughter's marriage, which was arranged to take place the following September.

"That is the month in which the old apple tree bears its most delicious fruit," Guy whispered to Nettie.

If, however, the author had stopped with the third paragraph, he would have had at least a false or technical climax. This false climax must not be confused with the coincident real climax and abrupt ending discussed further on.

When the climax has come the story has reached its end and the quicker you terminate it the better your reader will be pleased. With the passing of the climax interest ceases, and you have only to gather up and explain the few unsettled points, and round off your narrative gracefully. Any further interest in your characters is little more than a sense of politeness due to old acquaintances; or, at most, a psychological desire for complete impressions. So when you have told your tale, end it.

For the conclusion, as for the beginning, one paragraph is about the average length. The practice differs, of course, with different writers and different stories, but there is not so much variance as in the beginnings. An effective climax often completes a story in the most satisfactory way. In "The Ambitious Guest" Hawthorne employs three paragraphs ( 42-44), exclusive of the climax itself, to conclude the story. Each of these three paragraphs contains matter necessary to the completion of the tale in Hawthorne's style. It is probable that a modern writer would have condensed them into a single paragraph, because of the modern demand for extreme compression; but with the possible exception of the last two sentences of 44 there is nothing irrelevant in the conclusion. In "The Birthmark," and "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne uses but a single paragraph for his conclusion.

The conclusion and the climax should be as nearly simultaneous as possible. The present tendency is to make them coincide, and so increase the effect of the climax by making it the actual end of the story, as it is the end of the interest. It is not always that the coincidence can be perfect, but many a story could be cut short immediately after the climax, and be much improved thereby. For example, if Hawthorne had written "The Ambitious Guest" to-day it is probable that he would have ended it with 44: "The slide! The slide!" Had he done so he would certainly have given additional force to his climax, strong though it is now; and I believe that any reader would have understood perfectly all that is contained in 42-44. You must be careful, however, in the use of this style of conclusion, lest your supposed climax is merely an abrupt ending—a false climax—which leaves unsettled some things which a further conclusion should make clear. Not every plot allows an abrupt ending, even though it may have a good climax, and you must suit your method to your matter. In any case, the story must convey a complete impression.

But the conclusion must not be padded with irrelevant matter to make it appear rounded, or to please the perverted taste of the writer. The end is allowed scant space and has even less room for sage observations, or pointing of morals, or lamentations over the sins or misfortunes portrayed than have the other parts of the story. In the example already quoted the narrative drags on for some nine paragraphs after the story is really ended, without adding anything of interest or value. Happily such conclusions are infrequent, but the best of writers are occasionally dragged into them through their reluctance to quit forever scenes and people that have grown dear to them through close association. A somewhat similar method of padding out the conclusion to the detriment of the story is to end with a catch word referring to the beginning, as in the following example, where the "blackberry girl" is a reminder of the title:

I hope these few surprises of mine may serve as a lesson to some young man, and help to teach him to prove true to his first love, though she may appear to be only a poor girl—yes, even a "blackberry girl."

Of all poor conclusions the conventional is most to be feared by the novice, for it is surely fatal to the story to which it is attached. If the story is conventional in plot and treatment it is inevitable that its ending should be conventional, so here again we see the necessity of originality of plot. But too often a writer, after having successfully carried his story past the climax, will grow weary or careless and end it with the conventional ideas and phrases which were worn threadbare ages ago.

The inexperienced writer of the gentler sex is peculiarly liable to be guilty of using conventional endings. To her mind, apparently, the chief end of man is marriage, and the proper end of a story is a wedding. It must be acknowledged that this is the only logical conclusion to her stories, for from the moment they appear in the opening paragraphs the reader knows that in the last the hero will marry the heroine, willy nilly, at the behest of the matchmaking "authoress." "To the author, who has suffered with and on account of his characters more intensely than any reader can suffer, there is something amusing in this anxiety to have the old formula, 'And they all lived happy ever afterwards,' repeated at the end of every tale. A tiny bonne bouche of happiness is so inadequate after some stories of sorrow that it seems almost an irony to offer it to the readers; and yet, like children who have taken a bitter medicine, they are very likely to complain that they have had no taste of sweetness, if it is not offered to them.... The common feeling that death is inevitably sad is responsible for much of the stress which is laid upon the endings of books. That, and the belief that people who love each other can have no joy or benefit of life if they must live apart, have set up two formal and arbitrary conditions which a story must fulfil in order to be considered cheerful. The principal characters may go through fire and water if necessary, but they must get rid of their smoke stains and dry their costumes in time to appear alive and smiling in the final chapter; and the hero and the heroine must marry each other, or, if the writer has allowed their affections to wander further afield, they must at least marry the people of their choice. These, of course, are not the standards of the most thoughtful readers, and yet, like all conventionalities, they extend further than an author likes to believe."[43]

The fact is, however, that if real people were constantly thrown at one another's heads so determinedly it would take a stronger power than even the omnipotent literary aspirant to force them into matrimony. Nor are weddings, or descriptions thereof, particularly delectable reading when they desert the society column for the short story. They are usually very much alike—though one original writer did perform her ceremony up a tree—and the bride always wears the same dresses and smiles the same smiles and weeps the same tears. So if you must have a wedding, let the reader off with the classic formula, "And so they were married and lived happily ever after;" but don't inflict on him such cheap sentimentalism as this:

Christmas morning was clear, cold and bright, just such a morning as had marked Fred's first departure from the Blanford's some three years before.

Grace's sisters had come home to take charge of affairs for the day and evening so Grace did not have much to see after but herself. Fred, supposing he would rather be in the way, did not arrive until about an hour before the ceremony was to take place, which was in the evening. A good many guests were invited and as they had already begun to arrive, Grace but barely had time to greet Fred, when she found she must withdraw and don her wedding garment.

If Grace had looked pretty with her gown held up about her a few weeks ago, she now looked handsome indeed as she came into the well crowded room.

Her rich silk gown fell in deep soft folds at her dainty feet. The soft creamy lace fell about her well shaped neck in clusters; the color of the gown made her hair and eyes look black as jet; and the excitement still kept the roses in her cheeks. Fred did not look so handsome, but no one could help admire the manly form as he stood beside Grace answering the questions that were to acknowledge them man and wife.

As soon as the ceremony was over and congratulations had been extended to the bride and groom, they were ushered in to a nicely prepared supper. A merry Christmas evening was spent. Grace's brothers did not lose their housekeeper, as she and Fred made their home with them.

They spent their days not like the hurrying brook, but grasped all the sunshine that was meant for them.

And in general it is much better—better art and better manners—for you to draw the reader politely aside as soon as the heroine has whispered the inevitable "Yes;" for what follows should not be spied upon by any third party.


[Footnote 42: See "preparation for the climax" in Chapter IX.]

[Footnote 43: "The Problem of Endings," by Mary Tracy Earle. The Book Buyer. Aug. '98.]



The method of presentation of the short story is a matter of import. Its very artificiality calls for skilled workmanship; it must be made pleasant and readable by all known devices; its brevity, too, permits and demands a higher finish than is necessary in the novel. And altogether the short story offers a writer who is not exactly a genius a rare chance to show his ability as an artist in words. Hence the question of style is of serious moment.

Style is so much a matter of individuality, and the short story comprises so broad a range of subjects, that it is not easy to lay down general rules concerning the proper style. No two masters would or could treat the same plot in precisely the same way, and yet the method of each would be correct. However, certain generalizations concerning the style of the short story may be made without being arbitrary. As always in literature, the style should be appropriate to the matter. This may seem entirely gratuitous, yet the examination of the work of amateurs will justify the remark. They are apt to treat serious subjects with the most unbecoming levity, and to dress commonplaces in an absurdly ornate style; and at times they so far disregard propriety that they offend against good taste.

The style of the short story should be simple, easy and concise. Usually the matter is not of great moment; it is incidental rather than critical; and it offers little reason for exaggerated expressions, or rotund periods. Above all it should be natural, for the short story, despite its many conventionalities, is very near to nature. The extreme sensationalism affected by many amateurs is most absurd, for nature and things true to nature can never be really sensational—a fact which is unconsciously recognized by the offending writer in his resort to artificial means to make his narrative sensational. I say "extreme sensationalism" because I believe a certain amount of what is commonly designated sensationalism is permissible in the short story to sustain the interest, and to produce that delightful "thrill" which accompanies a clever scene. The best rule for the novice is to stick close to nature—that is, to fact. He may present what startling effects he will so that he can prove them copies of nature, and so that they do not offend against art; but it is not permitted him to harrow the feelings of his readers by unduly dwelling upon exciting topics. Any undue exaggeration of this style, or any attempt to create excitement by sheer force of italics, capitals and exclamation points, is in extremely bad taste. It at once disgusts the intelligent reader, and it will soon so weary even the ignorant that he will yawn drearily over the most startling display of "scare" lines.

The necessity for a simple style must not be made an excuse for commonplaceness; and here the author confronts rather a serious question, for everyday life abounds in commonplaces, which literature will not tolerate. If we make our stories readable we must, in some degree, represent life; if we represent life we cannot wholly avoid commonplaces; if we do not avoid commonplaces we become unliterary. However, the difficulty is more easily solved than at first appears, and the solution lies in the very life which we portray. Life certainly is full of the baldest facts, but they are so subordinated to the relatively few but important events by which our lives are checkered that we shortly forget the commonplaces and remember only the striking occurrences. In like manner we should so preserve the proportion of our stories that the necessary commonplaces, while they properly perform their parts, shall be carefully subjugated to the interesting happenings. This is largely a matter of the handling, for in fiction events seem great or small in accordance with the space and treatment that they receive. The way, then, to dispose of commonplaces is to slight them as much as possible: to crowd them into the least possible space, and to couch them in ordinary language; for thoughts that are rendered unusual by their expression become conspicuous.

By ordinary language I do not mean the stereotyped phrases which the mentally lazy employ in the expression of their thoughts, but the simple, correct and rather colorless speech which is heard among the truly cultured. Indeed, sensationalism is preferable to the deadly monotony of the writer who is wont to clothe his ideas in the ready-made garments of conventional phrases; for sensationalism has at least the merit of vividness. The writer who penned the following could hardly have been more absurdly commonplace and stereotyped in his phraseology if he had been ridiculing some "popular" author of cheap literature, but he wrote in serious earnest; the story throughout is a perfect gold mine of such hackneyed expressions. I have italicized the most offensive, though it is hardly necessary.

Faint rumors of a church scandal permeated the very atmosphere in Frankton, and every one was on the alert to catch the faintest whisper in regard to the matter; as the minister was a social favorite, and it was known by an inside few that he was the one most seriously involved.

For a long time the matter was suppressed, and then first one hint after another leaked out that Mrs. Daniels, the minister's wife, was a most unhappy woman, and that there was another woman in the case.

At first the members of the congregation hooted at the idea; but when item after item of scandal came to their notice they begun to take a little notice, and it was noticeable that a good many enquiries were going the rounds, "just to satisfy themselves as to the ridiculous part of it", so the curiosity seekers explained.

Other writers attempt to make their commonplaces literary by couching them in stilted language, and then we have what is technically termed "fine writing." It is to this tendency that we owe such phrases as, "After the customary salutations he sought the arms of Morpheus," and "Upon rising in the morning he partook of an abundant repast," when the author meant merely to say, "After saying good night he went to bed," and "He breakfasted." This error is due to the mistaken idea that things which are common are necessarily vulgar, and to an absurd squeamish objection to "call a spade, a spade." It is the worst possible way to handle commonplaces, for it attracts particular attention to the very things which it is supposed to hide.

But the writer may purposely subordinate commonplace facts, and yet suffer from a commonplace style, if he fails to give his narrative character. It is then that the young writer resorts to the use of poetry, quoted and original, with which he interlards his stories and the speeches of his characters. The poetry may be good, even if it is original, and it may be very apt, but few people in real life quote poetry in their ordinary speech. You may be well read in poetry and the kindred arts, but it is hardly the part of modesty or discretion for you to force your quotations upon a reader who very likely cares neither for your erudition nor the poets themselves. It is bad technically, too; and usually, as in the case of the following specimen, shows that the author has a wider acquaintance with the poets than with the rhetoricians.

Algernon Long was not a person of unbalanced mind, nor was he superstitious in his interpretations of signs, visions and dreams to which so many attach supernatural importance; he was simply a successful man of the world, full of life and buoyancy, devoted to his occupation, that of a stock-broker, and to his domestic and social relations. And yet he believed with Lord Byron, that

"Our life is twofold; sleep hath its own world, And a wide realm of wild reality, And dreams that in their development have breath, And tears and tortures and the touch of joy; They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts, They take a weight from off our waking toils. They do divide our being, They speak like sibyls of the future."

A number of his most cherished friends had recently passed away into that "undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveller returns." The loss to him was intolerable; the experience the most painful he had ever known. Each case seemed more cruel than its predecessor; to himself personally most suggestive. He was now in mature manhood, and could thoroughly appreciate the poet's lines:

"Life is real, life is earnest, And the grave is not its goal."

So strong is the tendency of the short story toward simplicity that even figures of speech are to be avoided. This does not mean that we are carefully to discard any expression which savors of the figurative: such a thing would be absurd, for literature and everyday speech abound in figurative language which passes current unquestioned. But figures which are introduced simply for literary effect are unnatural, and so are to be avoided. They are really digressions, excrescences—beautiful enough in themselves, perhaps, but assuredly adding no beauty to the narrative. Principal among such figures employed by amateurs are the long complex metaphors and similes in which epic poetry delights; the figure of apostrophe, too, is much affected by tyros, because it affords them opportunity to coin orotund phrases concerning the irony of fate, the haplessness of true lovers, and kindred favorite topics.

Foreign words and phrases form another sad stumbling block in the way of a simple natural style. They have their uses, of course—and one is to betray the novice. He fondly imagines that a sprinkling of French phrases gives his narrative a delightful air of cosmopolitanism; and that as an evidence of "culture" a line from Horace or Homer is equal to a college degree. So he thumbs the back of his dictionary, culls therefrom trite quotations with which to deck his writing, and never uses an English word when he knows a similar French one. The employment of a foreign word or phrase to express an idea which can be equally well couched in English is the cheapest sort of a literary trick, and it is the unmistakable badge of hopeless mediocrity and self-complacency. Expressions from other languages may be judiciously and legitimately used to give local color, and they are, of course, indispensable in the speeches of certain character types; but as a rule there is no better medium for your thoughts than good wholesome English.

You will notice that I specify the sort of English you should use, for many who avoid foreign idioms fall into the equally bad habit of using poor and incorrect English. I am not referring to the speeches of the characters, whose privileges in this respect I have already discussed; but in the necessary introductory and connective phrases you should take exquisite pains to keep your English pure. The use of slang is of course absolutely inexcusable, for it offends against good taste as well as good rhetoric; but the employment of words in a careless or perverted meaning is equally condemnable. It is also a mistake to use too many adjectives, to throw every adjective and adverb into the superlative degree, and in other ways to exaggerate every expression which you use. Much of this misuse of words is due to ignorance, but more to carelessness or laziness; in any case you can detect your faults if you seek for them, and you should take immediate steps to correct them, with the help of a dictionary, or a rhetoric, or both.

The style of the short story should be easy and flowing, so that it shall be pleasant reading. Good ideas may be expressed in good language and still be afflicted with a nervousness or stiffness of style that will make the work difficult of perusal, and so lessen its power to hold the reader. One of the first requisites for this desired ease is a lightness of phrasing which is at once a matter of thought and of rhetorical construction. Try to avoid heaviness and austerity of thought as much as you would similar qualities in writing. Get at the lighter, brighter, perhaps more frivolous side of things; do not take your work too seriously, you are seldom writing tragedies; permit yourself to be humorous, witty, a little ironical; do not plunge too deeply into dark abysses of metaphysics or theology. I do not mean that you should not treat of serious things, or that you should make light of serious subjects; but there are several ways of looking at any matter, and the atmosphere of intense and morbid gloom which Poe casts over so many of his weird tales is not characteristic of the short story in general. At the same time I am far from advocating flippancy or superficiality, for both are deadly sins in literature. I merely wish to impress upon you the absurdity of the solemn tone which some amateurs seem to think a mark of depth of thought or feeling. An apt, simple phrase is the most forceful means of expression known to literature.

Your bright thoughts should be expressed in words and sentences which are in themselves light and easy. There is a good deal of difference between words which may mean the same thing, and it is not altogether a matter of length. Words which are heavy and lumbering, or harsh, or suggestive of unpleasant thoughts, should be used with care, for their thoughtless introduction will often injure the ease of a passage. Tone color in words is of almost as much importance in prose as in verse.

Similarly the sentence structure should be carefully tested for ease. The periodic style should be practically tabooed: it is seldom appropriate to the matter of the short story, and it is always heavy and retarding. The very short sentence, which is so typical of the French, may be used only in moderation, for its excessive employment gives a nervous jerky style which is tiresome and irritating. Among American writers Stephen Crane is an awful example of this "bumpety-bump" method of expression, though his later works show a tendency to greater ease. The exclamatory and interrogative sentences, of which amateurs use so many, under the mistaken impression that they lend vivacity and vividness, should be totally eschewed. They offend against almost every principle of the short story, and they have nothing to recommend them. Usually they are irrelevant and inartistic asides by the author. The proper sentence structure for the bulk of the short story is the simple straightforward declarative sentence, rather loose, of medium length, tending to short at times to avoid monotony and give vividness.

Exclamation points must be used sparingly: a row of three or four of them at the end of a sentence is a sign of amateurism. The mere presence of a point of punctuation will not make a thrilling sentence or produce a climax. Punctuation marks are designed to draw attention to what already exists, and they have no inherent power to create interest. Very few sentences really need or merit a mark of exclamation; and if they are properly constructed the reader will feel the exclamatory force, whether the point is expressed or not. Italics, as a method of emphasis, are seldom necessary in a well-written story. They, too, are signs of what has already been expressed, and not the expression of a new force. A word or a phrase which needs sufficient emphasis to excuse italics should be so placed that the reader will involuntarily give it the proper stress; and an expression thus brought into notice far exceeds in importance one which owes its prominence to a mere change in type. Words in still more staring type—small capitals or capitals—are entirely out of place.

Finally, the style of the short story should be concise. "One of the difficulties of the short story, the short story shares with the actual drama, and that is the indispensableness of compression—the need that every sentence shall tell."[44] It is not sufficient that all irrelevant ideas be carefully pruned away; all unnecessary fullness of expression must likewise be cut, that the phrasing of the story may always be crisp and to the point. This is sometimes a matter of the expunging of a superfluous word or phrase; but it is fully as often a recasting of a sentence so as to avoid redundancy. The object of this conciseness is twofold: to waste as little as possible of the valuable and abridged space of the short story, and to make the movement of the language as quick as the action of the plot.

The fault to be avoided here is commonly called "padding." Briefly speaking the term padding, as applied to a piece of literature, denotes the presence of irrelevant matter. It may consist of the introduction of scenes, persons, episodes, conversations or general observations which have no part in advancing the action; or, more dangerous still, it may consist of the presence of occasional words and phrases which lengthen and perhaps round out the sentences without adding to their value. Irrelevant scenes, persons, episodes, conversations and general observations have already been discussed at length, and need no further treatment here. But I must warn the novice against that most insidious form of padding which is responsible for so many long and dreary sentences, cluttered with repetitious words and phrases which retard the narrative and exasperate the reader. This redundancy is a rhetorical fault, which is best corrected by a return to the old school day methods of testing a sentence for coherence. It must be corrected, and that vigorously and radically, for it is fatal to a good short story style. An instance of how much stress editors lay upon procuring only the "concentrated extract of the story-teller's art" may be found in a letter received by a young writer from the editor of a prominent publication: "We will pay $100 for your story as it is. If you can reduce it a third, we will pay you $150; if a half, $200."

Concise must not be understood to mean exhaustive, for it is bad policy to leave nothing to the imagination of the reader. The average person is fond of reading between the lines, and usually prides himself upon his ability in this respect; accordingly he is easily exasperated with the exhaustive style which leaves no chance for the exercise of his subtle power, while he takes huge delight in expanding the sly hints which the knowing writer throws out for his benefit. Such a reader never stops to consider that he has fallen into a skillfully laid trap; he compliments the author upon his artistic method and turns from the story well pleased with himself and with the writer. There is, however, something more than a pampering of pride in the charm of this suggestive method: it enables the writer to cast a light veil of uncertainty over rather bald facts, and thus to maintain that romantic glamour of unreality which plays so important a part in fiction.

A good style can be acquired by the exercise of knowledge, patience and labor. The first requisite is a practical working knowledge of rhetoric and English composition. It seems absurd to suppose that any one would attempt to write stories without being able to write correct English, but at least two-thirds of the stories submitted to editors contain inexcusable grammatical and rhetorical errors; and many of the faults which I have found it necessary to discuss in the first part of this chapter are matters of rhetoric. If you cannot write correct English now, set about perfecting yourself in that respect before you dare to essay story telling. There are books and correspondence courses galore which will assist you. If you won't do that you had better turn your energies in some other direction, for you have neither the courage nor the spirit necessary for a successful short story writer.

Your next duty is to cultivate your individuality. "Style is the personal impress which a writer inevitably sets upon his production. It is that character in what is written which results from the fact that these thoughts and emotions have been those of the author rather than of any other human being. It is the expression of one man's individuality, as sure and as unique as the sound of his voice, the look from his eye, or the imprint of his thumb."[45] Every person who has any call to write has a strong personality—an original manner of looking at life and of treating its problems. He wishes so to influence the world by this personality that it will consent to see through his eyes, or will at least listen patiently to what he sees. It is this ego, this that is the man himself, that he really desires to show through his writings. His first step, then, is to cultivate this individuality, to train his originality, so to speak, in order that he may see everything in a new and distinctive light. He should also give attention to the expression of his personality. It is not sufficient that he shall see life at a new angle, but he must so train himself that he shall be able to put in an original way the new phases which his individuality has discovered. It is this expression of the individuality which causes so much trouble, for hundreds of stories are written which show originality in conception, but which fall into conventionality in the execution. The best way to express your personality is to be perfectly natural, and say exactly what you think; any labored striving after effects will produce an artificial style which will be fatal to success.

It is a great aid to the attainment of a good style thoroughly to understand your own mind before you put pen to paper. It may seem odd that you should be ignorant of your own ideas on a subject, but often difficulty of expression is due to indecision of mind. Vagueness or confusion of ideas in a writer's mind is always the precursor of a poor style. Too often, struck by a happy thought, he attempts to put it on paper before it has yet sufficient definiteness of form to justify expression, and when he would project it into writing he loses the thought in a mass of the very words in which he seeks to voice it. Again, the writer's mind may contain several jumbled ideas, each one good in itself but totally independent of the others; and if he attempts to express any particular one before it has had time to disentangle itself, it is bound to bring with it portions of other and distinct ideas. Clear thinking is the basis of clear writing; and clear writing prevents the chief errors that threaten your style.

Study the stories of great writers; you know what parts most trouble you—compare your work with that of others and see how they have obtained the effect that you desire to produce. It is not wise to limit your study to any one writer. Your style should possess a certain flexibility, to enable it to adapt itself readily to your varying themes, and you should master the methods of all good writers; if you have sufficient individuality to have any excuse for writing you need have little fear of imitating them too closely. For style alone it is better to confine yourself to the more modern writers. There is always a change in style, if not exactly a progression, from one literary generation to the next, and you should aim at conformity to the canons of your own age. Those early masters of the short story, Irving, Hawthorne and Poe, had a tendency toward a diffuse, almost discursive style, which is not much in vogue now. Their ease and elegance are most commendable, but they lost somewhat more in force and conciseness than is thought correct to-day.


[Footnote 44: "The Short Story," by Frederick Wedmore. Nineteenth Century. Mar., '98.]

[Footnote 45: "Talks on Writing English," by Arlo Bates. Chapter on "Style."]



Because literature is an art and you have a leaning toward it, do not therefore consider yourself a genius and so exempt from work. There is no royal road to success, and no one ever yet won a high place in the world of letters who did not earn it by the sweat of his brow. In these days literature is just as much a trade as boilermaking: it has its tools and its rules; and if one likes his occupation, he will naturally make better stories—or boilers. That is all there is to genius—the matter of aptitude for a certain thing; and even that can be to a great degree cultivated. If a man, with absolutely no knowledge of the tools and methods of the craft, attempt to make a boiler, he will create a deal of noise but no boilers, though he may be well pleased with his own efforts; and so it is with writing.

So even if your literary efforts are praised by friends and published by local editors, don't get the idea into your head that the world at large is sighing for the products of your pen: it is far more likely that your friends' encouragement is prompted rather by regard for you than by any real merit in your work, and that the editor's chief desire is to get cheap copy. You will learn later that the truest estimate of your work comes from those who know you the least, and that usually criticism is valuable in inverse proportion to the regard which the critic has for you. If, however, you feel that, whatever the real worth of your present work, there is that within you which demands utterance, you will modestly accept this early adulation as prophetic of the true fame to come, and will go about your writing in all humility and seriousness, with that careful, plodding application which alone succeeds.

Since as a story writer you purpose handling life in all its varied phases, it is necessary that you should acquire an intimate knowledge of it. This you may do in several ways, as already indicated in Chapter V., but do it you must, and seriously. You must have in your possession and ready for instant use a large and varied assortment of facts, incidents, odd characters, impressions, and all the other miscellaneous details that go to the making of a good story. However you may gain this material it is best not to depend too much on your memory to retain it and to produce it promptly at the proper time. The human memory is apt to be treacherous and unreliable. It will very likely fail to retain the important details of a usable actual occurrence, as well as the bright idea in connection with it which flashed across your mind when first you found it. The only safe way is for you to keep a scrap book and a note book, or perhaps a combination of the two, in which you may preserve crude material, bright ideas, and all sorts of odds and ends which you think may be of use to you at some future day. Much that you carefully preserve will never be of service to you, but you cannot afford to risk losing possible good matter through failure to make note of it. "I would counsel the young writer to keep a note book, and to make, as regards the use of it, nulla dies sine linea his revered motto. It is a great deal better that he should have his notes too copious than too meagre. By filling page after page with jottings of thoughts, fancies, impressions, even doubts and surmises of the vaguest kind—of a kind which he himself can only understand at the time and perhaps may afterward fail to recollect when re-reading them—he will never, in the long run, account himself a loser."[46]

When finally putting your ideas into concrete form do not depend too much on the "moment of inspiration." It is not my intention to ridicule this most valuable incentive to artistic work. I believe in it thoroughly when it is genuine, and I would advise you to take all advantage of it. Dash off your story as swiftly as you will—the swifter the better, for if it runs easily from your pen it stands a better chance of being spontaneous. But we are not all of us gifted with the ability to work in this manner, nor will all themes permit of such treatment. A short story that you can rush through at a sitting should be viewed with skepticism: either it is a perfect work of genius, and you have a Heaven-sent call to write; or, and more probably, it is too trite and trivial to justify the expenditure of serious labor upon it, and your "inspiration" was merely a flush of vanity. "As for trusting to the 'inspired moment,' or waiting for it, or deploring its delay, he (the young author) should take heed how he permits any such folly or superstition to clutch him in its vitiating grasp. 'Inspiration' either means, with a writer, good mental and physical health, or it has no meaning whatever.... Late hours and stimulants are especially fatal to the young writer when both are employed in the sense of literary co-adjutors."[47]

"There is, I believe, no greater fallacy than trusting to inspiration, except that of believing that a certain mood is necessary for writing. Ninety-nine hundredths of the best literary work is done by men who write to live, who know that they must write, and who do write, whether the weather is fine or rainy, whether they like their breakfast or not, whether they are hot or cold, whether they are in love, happily or unhappily, with women or themselves. Of course, a man who has lived by his pen for years, finds out by experience the hours for working which suit him best; but a beginner should be methodical. He should go to his desk as any other workman goes to his work, after breakfast; rest and eat in the middle of the day, and work again in the afternoon. He should never begin by writing at night, unless he is obliged to do so. He will, of course, often sit at the table for an hour or more without writing a word, but if he will only think conscientiously of what he meant to do, he will find the way to do it. The evening is the time to read, and the night is the time to sleep."[48]

This dependence on genius and inspiration is one of the reasons why the world is so full of unliterary writers, and why so many of real talent fail of success. It is very easy, in the flush of composition, to consider yourself gifted above your fellows, and to go on writing reams of bosh that even you would despise, if you could view it with an unprejudiced eye; and it is equally easy to persuade yourself that anything that comes from your pen must be incapable of improvement, and that if your writings sell, you have reached the goal. But either delusion is fatal. In short, "inspiration" and all its attendant follies are but the conventional accompaniments of literary toil, which may be affected by the dilettante for the furthering of his pretense at art, but which have no place in the thoughts or plans of the serious worker.

Such inspiration as you may need to keep your work fresh and artistic will come to you from the zeal and interest with which you approach your task. If you go to it half-heartedly, lazy in body and mind, and ready at the first opportunity to put it all off till the morrow, you will accomplish little, then or ever; but if, on the contrary, you will square yourself to your writing as to a physical labor, and will concentrate all the powers and energies of your mind upon the work in hand, the very force of your will and your desire will create within you an enthusiasm which will be of far more practical value to you than any cheap inspiration drawn from some Parnassian spring. You can, in fact, by this very business-like method of working, create on demand a species of inspiration, or mental vigor, which will enable you, not exactly to dash off a masterpiece with no real effort on your part, but to achieve by actual labor those things which you desire to do. There is much, too, in going to your work regularly, even as a carpenter to his bench; for the mental processes that produce good short stories are capable of cultivation and control; and, like all functions of the brain, they approach the nearest to perfection when they fall into something of a routine of habit. Indeed, they may be so far regulated that at the usual hour for their exercise they will be not only active but urgent, so that you will go to your work with an appetite as hearty as that with which you welcome the dinner hour.

Do not be afraid of the manual labor of authorship—the writing and rewriting, the testing and correcting, the persistent and thorough "licking into shape" which gives the final polish to your work. Never send an editor a penciled, smutched, and disorderly MS., with a note saying, "I just dashed this off last night and send it right on." Such work is foredoomed to failure. But when your story is finished lay it away without even reading it over and let it get "cold;" leave it for a week, or two weeks, or even longer if possible—don't even think of it; then bring it forth and read it over carefully and critically, take your blue pencil, harden your heart, and rework it ruthlessly. In the first draft you are bound to slight certain places or to make certain errors, which you would correct in the course of a careful revision. There will be some half-formed thought which will need elaboration, or some word which was not quite the right one, but which you let pass lest you lose your train of thought; and there is almost sure to be some wordiness which will need cutting away.

"For, if the practice of composition be useful, the laborious work of correcting is no less so: it is indeed absolutely necessary to our reaping any benefit from the habit of composition. What we have written should be laid by for some little time, till the ardor of composition be past, till the fondness for the expressions we have used be worn off, and the expressions themselves be forgotten; and then reviewing our work with a cool and critical eye, as if it were the performance of another, we shall discern many imperfections which at first escaped us. Then is the right season for pruning redundances; for weighing the arrangement of sentences; for attending to the junctures and connecting particles; and bringing style into a regular, correct, and supported form. This 'Limae Labor' must be submitted to by all who communicate their thoughts with proper advantage to others; and some practice in it will soon sharpen their eye to the most necessary objects of attention, and render it a much more easy and practicable work than might at first be imagined."[49]

It is this last careful, minute testing and polishing which will determine whether or no you are serious in your endeavor to break into literature, for here the real labor of authorship begins. All that went before was simply child's play compared to this grubbing, plodding, tinkering, and patching, and pottering; so if you have no stomach for this, you had better learn a trade. "Whatever you do, take pains with it. Try at least to write good English: learn to criticise and correct your work: put your best into every sentence. If you are too lazy and careless to do that, better go into a trade or politics: it is easier to become a Congressman or millionaire than a real author, and we have too many bad story-tellers as it is."[50] If you will pursue this labor of revision courageously you will speedily find an improvement in the quality of your finished work. You will also find that your manuscripts need less after attention, for the lessons learned in these careful re-workings will be unconsciously applied during composition.

"From the alphabetic slovenliness which will not form its letters legibly nor put in its commas, to the lack of self-acquaintance which results in total disability to judge one's own products, it is too constantly in evidence that those who aspire to feed other minds are themselves in need of discipline.... It is within bounds to say that not one accepted manuscript out of ten is fit to go to the printer as it stands."[51] Do not be so lazy or so careless as to slight the little things, the mere mechanical details, which go to make a perfect story and a presentable manuscript. "There are several distinct classes of errors to look for: faults of grammar, such as the mixing of figures of speech. Faults of agreement of verbs and participles in number when collective nouns are referred to. Faults of rhetoric, such as the mixing of moods and tenses, and the taste, such as the use of words with a disagreeable or misleading atmosphere about them, though their strict meaning makes their use correct enough. Faults of repetition of the same word in differing senses in the same sentence or paragraph. Faults of tediousness of phrasing or explanation. Faults of lack of clearness in expressing the exact meaning. Faults of sentimental use of language, that is, falling into fine phrases which have no distinct meaning—the most discordant fault of all. Faults of digression in the structure of the story."[52]

Faults in grammar and rhetoric are too easily corrected to be allowed to stand in the way of your success, and I have already showed you how you may perfect yourself in these essentials. For they are essentials, and so much more important than many young writers think, that I believe I am perfectly safe in saying that no one who makes glaring rhetorical or grammatical errors has ever written a successful short story. In spelling, too, there is absolutely no excuse for errors; you surely know if you are weak in this respect, and the use of even a small dictionary will enable you to avoid mistakes. Every magazine has its own rules for punctuation and paragraphing, in accordance with which an accepted MS. is edited before it is given to the compositor; but that is no good reason why you should neglect to prepare your MS. properly. The general rules are few and easily understood, and they enable you to give your work definite form and arrangement, and make it much more easy to read. An editor who finds a MS. lacking in these lesser essentials will be apt to throw it aside with but a superficial perusal, naturally judging that it will also lack the higher attributes.

Finally, just before sending your story out for editorial consideration, go over it once more with the utmost care and painstakingly test every paragraph, every sentence, every word, to see first if it is necessary, and second if it is right. If at any point you find yourself questioning what you have written, do not call your work complete until you have revised it, not only to your own satisfaction, but so that you honestly feel that the reader, too, will be satisfied. If you cannot at the time arrive at a satisfactory expression of your thought, put the story aside for the time being and try again later when you can come to it afresh. It is this unwearied labor which in the end spells success.


[Footnote 46: "Some Advice to Young Authors," by Edward Fawcett. The Independent. May 14, '96.]

[Footnote 47: "Some Advice to Young Authors," by Edgar Fawcett. The Independent. May 14, '96.]

[Footnote 48: "The Art of Authorship." Edited by George Bainton. Chapter by F. Marion Crawford.]

[Footnote 49: "Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Letters," by Hugh Blair. Lecture XIX.]

[Footnote 50: "Bad Story-Telling," by Frederick M. Bird. Lippincott's. Oct., '97.]

[Footnote 51: Ibid.]

[Footnote 52: "How to Write Fiction." Anonymous. Bellaires & Co., London. Part II. Chapter IV.]



Even when his story is complete the writer has not yet come to the end of his difficulties, for he has still to find a market for his work. Since he is writing for publication, and not for the mere love of composition, this quest of a market is an important matter, for by his success in this respect the writer must judge his chances of ultimate and material success as a short story writer. There is no disputing the fact that good work will find acceptance eventually, but sometimes the delay is so long that the writer almost loses hope. He usually goes about marketing his wares in a haphazard fashion; and a warning word or two at this point may enable him to remedy some of the mistakes which may retard if not prevent the success of really meritorious work.

In the first place, then, consider your story honestly and without prejudice, and make sure that it does deserve publication. Get an unbiased opinion on it from some real critic, if you can, and give some weight to what he says. Never, like many novices I have known, send out a MS. with an accompanying note saying that you know your story is not quite up to standard, and that you could improve it if you had the time, but that you hope the editor will make an exception in your favor in order to encourage you. Editors are not paid to do that sort of thing; and if you yourself have not complete confidence in your story you have no business to inflict it upon an editor. If you enter the profession of story writing in that spirit you will fail, absolutely and deservedly, to gain aught but rebuffs by your labors; and indeed, your labor will be so slight and half hearted that you cannot honestly expect any satisfactory return from it.

Emerson's advice, "Hitch your wagon to a star," is an excellent rule for the young writer. With you literature may be a profession as well as an art, but you should not permit yourself to be too easily satisfied with material success. Do not be content just because you get your work published, or because you are sure you write as well as some of your contemporaries; always try to rise above the crowd and to be one of the few who set the standard for the multitude. If your stories are accepted by one magazine, try to "break into" another that is a little more particular; if you succeed in one style of literature, try to win laurels in a higher class of work. It is this constant striving that brings ultimate success—financial and artistic. If you allow yourself to be easily content with your work and your receipts therefrom, you will speedily fall into a rut, become "old fogy" and dull, and one day will find yourself with a desk full of rejected MSS., and no hope for a brighter future.

At the same time, there are almost as many grades of stories as there are publications using them, and with but few exceptions you may endeavor to satisfy all tastes. A story which is too slight for a high class magazine may be well adapted to the needs of a newspaper syndicate; and though it would be fatal for you to take the newspaper story for your standard, there can be no objection to your making occasional contributions to that class of literature. Indeed, it is probable that at the outset you will be forced to content yourself with writing for syndicates and minor magazines, though you may aim for the pages of the best monthlies: those old established publications are both conservative and overstocked, and though they are ready enough to examine MSS., they are slow to accept the work of a young writer. But even among the few magazines which can be called first class there are wide differences of opinion as to what constitutes a good story, and a MS. which one will reject decidedly another may accept gladly. It is your first business to acquaint yourself with the general style of the magazine to which you desire to contribute; or, if your story is already written, to make sure that its acceptance is not forbidden by the policy of the publication to which you submit it. It is a waste of time and postage to send a story of adventure to a magazine which publishes only tales of love.

The timeliness, or seasonal appropriateness, of a story may have much influence upon its success in the market. Each season of the year has its peculiar literature, and editors in general place so much stress upon timeliness that a glance at the contents of a magazine will often tell you within a month of its date of issue. There are the blizzard stories, which are due about January; and the vacation stories, which begin to appear in July, and the stories of holly and mistletoe and stockings, which come with the Christmas season. Likewise, we have special stories for New Years', St. Valentine's Day, Washington's Birthday, Easter, May Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and a host of minor special occasions. The plot and matter for these stories of occasions are so trite and conventional that it is a wonder that the reading public did not rebel against them long ago; but there is a constant demand for such stories, and the writer who can give the old plots some freshness is sure of a good market. Such stories should always be submitted at least three months before they are to be used, for special editions are compiled far in advance; but a story of this character is always a marketable commodity and may be carried over from year to year without deterioration.

Of a more ephemeral type are the stories whose timeliness depends upon their coinciding with the current fashion in short stories. For there are fashions in literature just as surely as in matters of dress, and short stories are peculiarly subject to such changes. A few years ago dialect was all the cry, and a story was judged and valued according to the amount of unintelligible gibberish that it contained; before that romantic adventure was most in demand; and still earlier it was bald realism; at the time of writing (Spring of 1900) war stories hold first place in popular esteem. The reason for the present style is obvious, but in general these modes are difficult to explain and almost impossible to forecast. Such stories contain no new plot, and for their timeliness depend entirely upon the introduction of the current fashion, whatever it may be; but they afford a grateful variety to the rather monotonous run of light fiction. They also offer the up-to-date writer unusual opportunities to gain editorial favor, for a story observant of the current mode is sure of serious consideration.

You should make it a rule from the start never to give away a story for the mere sake of seeing your name in print. What is worth writing and publishing is worth being paid for. Don't let a publisher persuade you that the appearance of your work in his journal will bring you a fame and a name that will enable you to sell MSS. elsewhere. Every editor knows how such a man gets his matter, and values his contributors accordingly; and every publication which can assist you in your career pays for whatever matter it uses. Besides, by giving away your stories you injure the literary market, both for yourself and for your fellow workers. If all writers resolutely declined to part with their work except for a cash equivalent, those scheming editors would soon be brought to time and forced to pay for matter to fill their columns.

Spare no pains to make your MSS. neat and legible. The fact that you are as yet little known is undoubtedly against you; your mere name has no power to exact a careful perusal of your story, and a judgment in accordance with its merits; so it is your business to gain that favor by making it easy for the editor. The question of legibility sums up the whole tale. The average editor always has his desk piled high with unsolicited MSS. from unknown writers which he must worry through after a fashion, lest something really good should escape him. He is conscientious enough, but he is always overworked, and he has learned by experience to judge a MS. almost at a glance. If he reads beyond the first page of your story, it is good evidence that he found there something of merit, even though he finally reject it. A penciled MS., or one that is written on both sides of the paper, will hardly get a passing glance. Even a neat pen-written MS. will fare little better, for to the editor a typewritten story means not only easy reading but probably some experience on the part of the author. Have your story typewritten, then, by some one who can put it in presentable shape, so that it will look business like. For mailing it is best to fold it as little as possible; the large legal envelope, requiring two folds, is most used. Unless the MS. is bulky or is on unusually small sheets, it is best to fold it at least once, for if sent flat it usually arrives in a crumpled state. Never roll it, under any circumstances, for a MS. once rolled can never be smoothed out, and no editor will bother with it.

Make the letter accompanying your story as short and business like as possible. Don't tell the editor your family history or relate how you came to write the story; don't ask him for criticisms or suggestions; say that you submit such a MS. subject to his approval, and give your name and address. That is all he cares to know about you. Always enclose stamps for return of MS.—or, better yet, a stamped and self-addressed envelope; never be so small or so careless as to underpay the postage.

It is of course your privilege to put a price upon any matter that you may submit for publication; but unless the magazine editorially requests a set price I should advise you to leave that matter to the editor, and to submit your work "at the usual rates." It is a peculiarity of the literary business that usually the buyer rather than the seller makes the terms, and until your name has a value you are hardly in position to run counter to custom. Nor is it likely that you have had sufficient experience to enable you to estimate your work justly. You need have no fear of being cheated, for a reputable publishing house is always willing to pay a fit price for suitable MSS.

It will do you no good to get a letter from some well known author or public person recommending your work to the publisher; and it will often do harm. Matter from novices is accepted on its merits alone, and no amount of praise from a man of letters or an influential friend will make your story one whit better than it was when you gave it the finishing touches. The most such intercession can accomplish is a perusal of your MS., and that you can yourself obtain if you will make it presentable. If you imagine that an editor will be influenced in his judgment by the words of an outsider, you are sadly mistaken—he is far more apt to be prejudiced against you. He is an experienced and competent man, who knows exactly what he wants, and who may naturally be expected to resent any such impertinent interference with his work.

It seems a small thing for you to ask an editor to give you a criticism on your work, and many a young writer has long cherished a grudge against some editor who has totally ignored his urgent and flattering request for a candid opinion. There is no question that even a word from an editor would be of untold value to the novice; but the novice has no idea what his request means. Every magazine is at great expense for the employment of trained "readers" to pass upon the unsolicited MSS. submitted to it, and the according of even a word of criticism to each would at least double that expense. Then, too, three-fourths of the MSS. submitted to any editor are such that he could not honestly say anything good of them, and no editor cares to go out of his way to hurt the feelings of the writer; nor would it be policy for him to do so. Every time you submit a MS. to an editor you are in a manner imposing on him, so be as easy on him as possible. If you feel that you must have an expert opinion on your work, send it to one of the literary bureaus which have been established for just that purpose. They will give you a careful and just criticism for the payment of a nominal fee.

Do not rest your hopes of success upon the fate of one MS. If you never write a new story until its predecessor has been placed you cannot possibly live long enough to win success. You should be constantly turning out new stories, each one better than the last; or reworking an old one whose faults you have just discovered; and you should keep the mails loaded with your work. You can never have too many good stories on the road.

Do not become impatient if you do not receive a check for your story within a week after sending it out. The largest magazines usually require three months and sometimes longer to report on a MS. If you attempt to hurry the editorial decision you will probably receive your MS. by return mail, unread.

It is advisable that you keep a MS. memorandum book of some sort, in which you may record the journeyings of your MSS., so that you may know where they have been and how long they have been away. You do not want to send the same MS. to the same editor twice, nor to continue submitting matter to a magazine which is already overstocked, or which is careless in returning your work. If you trust to your memory, or to some slip shod method, you will regret it in the end, for you will not only lose many MSS., but you will be submitting your work in a hit-or-miss fashion that is little likely to get it into the proper hands. There are several books of this sort on the market, or you can easily make one for yourself from an ordinary blank book. It may take any form you please, but I would suggest that it should include spaces for the number of words in the story and the postage required to carry it, besides the publishers to whom it is submitted and the dates when it is mailed and returned.

The rejection of your MS. by one or two editors should not discourage you: you may try twelve editors and have the thirteenth accept it. It is seldom indeed that it finds place where it is first submitted: it may not just meet the ideals of that editor; or he may already have too much matter on hand. If you believe the story is good, keep it going till it has been the rounds: you may find that the dawn of success comes from the point whence you least expected it.



(From Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Twice-Told Tales.")

I. One September night a family had gathered round their hearth and piled it high with the driftwood of mountain-streams, the dry cones of the pine, and the splintered ruins of great trees that had come crashing down the precipice. Up the chimney roared the fire, and brightened the room with its broad blaze. The faces of the father and mother had a sober gladness; the children laughed. The eldest daughter was the image of Happiness at seventeen, and the aged grandmother, who sat knitting in the warmest place, was the image of Happiness grown old. They had found the "herb heart's-ease" in the bleakest spot of all New England. This family were situated in the Notch of the White Hills, where the wind was sharp throughout the year and pitilessly cold in the winter, giving their cottage all its fresh inclemency before it descended on the valley of the Saco. They dwelt in a cold spot and a dangerous one, for a mountain towered above their heads so steep that the stones would often rumble down its sides and startle them at midnight.

2. The daughter had just uttered some simple jest that filled them all with mirth, when the wind came through the Notch and seemed to pause before their cottage, rattling the door with a sound of wailing and lamentation before it passed into the valley. For a moment it saddened them, though there was nothing unusual in the tones. But the family were glad again when they perceived that the latch was lifted by some traveler whose footsteps had been unheard amid the dreary blast which heralded his approach and waited as he was entering and went moaning away from the door.

3. Though they dwelt in such a solitude, these people held daily converse with the world. The romantic pass of the Notch is a great artery through which the life-blood of internal commerce is continually throbbing between Maine on the one side and the Green Mountains and the shores of the St. Lawrence on the other. The stage-coach always drew up before the door of the cottage. The wayfarer with no companion but his staff paused here to exchange a word, that the sense of loneliness might not utterly overcome him ere he could pass through the cleft of the mountain or reach the first house in the valley. And here the teamster on his way to Portland market would put up for the night, and, if a bachelor, might sit an hour beyond the usual bedtime and steal a kiss from the mountain-maid at parting. It was one of those primitive taverns where the traveler pays only for food and lodging, but meets with a homely kindness beyond all price. When the footsteps were heard, therefore, between the outer door and the inner one, the whole family rose up, grandmother, children and all, as if about to welcome some one who belonged to them, and whose fate was linked with theirs.

4. The door was opened by a young man. His face at first wore the melancholy expression, almost despondency, of one who travels a wild and bleak road at nightfall and alone, but soon brightened up when he saw the kindly warmth of his reception. He felt his heart spring forward to meet them all, from the old woman who wiped a chair with her apron to the little child that held out its arms to him. One glance and smile placed the stranger on a footing of innocent familiarity with the eldest daughter.

5. "Ah! this fire is the right thing," cried he, "especially when there is such a pleasant circle round it. I am quite benumbed, for the Notch is just like the pipe of a great pair of bellows; it has blown a terrible blast in my face all the way from Bartlett."

6. "Then you are going toward Vermont?" said the master of the house as he helped to take a light knapsack off the young man's shoulders.

7. "Yes, to Burlington, and far enough beyond," replied he. "I meant to have been at Ethan Crawford's to-night but a pedestrian lingers along such a road as this. It is no matter; for when I saw this good fire and all your cheerful faces, I felt as if you had kindled it on purpose for me and were waiting my arrival. So I shall sit down among you and make myself at home."

8. The frank-hearted stranger had just drawn his chair up to the fire when something like a heavy footstep was heard without rushing down the steep side of the mountain as with long and rapid strides, and taking such a leap in passing the cottage as to strike the opposite precipice. The family held their breath, because they knew the sound, and their guest held his by instinct.

9. "The old mountain has thrown a stone at us for fear we should forget him," said the landlord, recovering himself. "He sometimes nods his head and threatens to come down, but we are old neighbors, and agree together pretty well, upon the whole. Besides, we have a sure place of refuge hard by if he should be coming in good earnest."

10. Let us now suppose the stranger to have finished his supper of bear's meat, and by his natural felicity of manner to have placed himself on a footing of kindness with the whole family; so that they talked together as freely as if he belonged to their mountain-brood. He was of a proud yet gentle spirit, haughty and reserved among the rich and great, but ever ready to stoop his head to the lowly cottage door and be like a brother or a son at the poor man's fireside. In the household of the Notch he found warmth and simplicity of feeling, the pervading intelligence of New England, and a poetry of native growth which they had gathered when they very little thought of it from the mountain-peaks and chasms, and at the very threshold of their romantic and dangerous abode. He had traveled far and alone; his whole life, indeed, had been a solitary path, for, with the lofty caution of his nature, he had kept himself apart from those who might otherwise have been his companions. The family, too, though so kind and hospitable, had that consciousness of unity among themselves and separation from the world at large which in every domestic circle should still keep a holy place where no stranger may intrude. But this evening a prophetic sympathy impelled the refined and educated youth to pour out his heart before the simple mountaineers, and constrained them to answer him with the same free confidence. And thus it should have been. Is not the kindred of a common fate a closer tie than that of birth?

11. The secret of the young man's character was a high and abstracted ambition. He could have borne to live an undistinguished life, but not to be forgotten in the grave. Yearning desire had been transformed to hope, and hope, long cherished, had become like certainty that, obscurely as he journeyed now, a glory was to beam on all his pathway, though not, perhaps, while he was treading it. But when posterity should gaze back into the gloom of what was now the present, they would trace the brightness of his footsteps, brightening as meaner glories faded, and confess that a gifted one had passed from his cradle to his tomb with none to recognize him.

12. "As yet," cried the stranger, his cheek glowing and his eye flashing with enthusiasm—"as yet I have done nothing. Were I to vanish from the earth to-morrow, none would know so much of me as you—that a nameless youth came up at nightfall from the valley of the Saco, and opened his heart to you in the evening, and passed through the Notch by sunrise, and was seen no more. Not a soul would ask, 'Who was he? Whither did the wanderer go?' But I cannot die till I have achieved my destiny. Then let Death come: I shall have built my monument."

13. There was a continual flow of natural emotion gushing forth amid abstracted reverie which enabled the family to understand this young man's sentiments, though so foreign from their own. With quick sensibility of the ludicrous, he blushed at the ardor into which he had been betrayed.

14. "You laugh at me," said he, taking the eldest daughter's hand and laughing at himself. "You think my ambition as nonsensical as if I were to freeze myself to death on the top of Mount Washington only that people might spy at me from the country roundabout. And truly that would be a noble pedestal for a man's statue."

15. "It is better to sit here by this fire," answered the girl, blushing, "and be comfortable and contented, though nobody thinks about us."

16. "I suppose," said her father, after a fit of musing, "there is something natural in what the young man says; and if my mind had been turned that way, I might have felt just the same.—It is strange, wife, how his talk has set my head running on things that are pretty certain never to come to pass."

17. "Perhaps they may," observed the wife. "Is the man thinking what he will do when he is a widower?"

18. "No, no!" cried he, repelling the idea with reproachful kindness. "When I think of your death, Esther, I think of mine too. But I was wishing we had a good farm in Bartlett or Bethlehem or Littleton, or some other township round the White Mountains, but not where they could tumble on our heads. I should want to stand well with my neighbors and be called squire and sent to General Court for a term or two; for a plain, honest man may do as much good there as a lawyer. And when I should be grown quite an old man, and you an old woman, so as not to be long apart, I might die happy enough in my bed, and leave you all crying around me. A slate gravestone would suit me as well as a marble one, with just my name and age, and a verse of a hymn, and something to let people know that I lived an honest man and died a Christian."

19. "There, now!" exclaimed the stranger; "it is our nature to desire a monument, be it slate or marble, or a pillar of granite, or a glorious memory in the universal heart of man."

20. "We're in a strange way to-night," said the wife, with tears in her eyes. "They say it's a sign of something when folk's minds go a-wandering so. Hark to the children!"

21. They listened accordingly. The younger children had been put to bed in another room, but with an open door between; so that they could be heard talking busily among themselves. One and all seemed to have caught the infection from the fireside circle, and were outvying each other in wild wishes and childish projects of what they would do when they came to be men and women. At length a little boy, instead of addressing his brothers and sisters, called out to his mother.

22. "I'll tell you what I wish, mother," cried he: "I want you and father and grandma'm, and all of us, and the stranger too, to start right away and go and take a drink out of the basin of the Flume."

23. Nobody could help laughing at the child's notion of leaving a warm bed and dragging them from a cheerful fire to visit the basin of the Flume—a brook which tumbles over the precipice deep within the Notch.

24. The boy had hardly spoken, when a wagon rattled along the road and stopped a moment before the door. It appeared to contain two or three men who were cheering their hearts with the rough chorus of a song which resounded in broken notes between the cliffs, while the singers hesitated whether to continue their journey or put up here for the night.

25. "Father," said the girl, "they are calling you by name."

26. But the good man doubted whether they had really called him, and was unwilling to show himself too solicitous of gain by inviting people to patronize his house. He therefore did not hurry to the door, and, the lash being soon applied, the travelers plunged into the Notch, still singing and laughing, though their music and mirth came back drearily from the heart of the mountain.

27. "There, mother!" cried the boy, again; "they'd have given us a ride to the Flume."

28. Again they laughed at the child's pertinacious fancy for a night-ramble. But it happened that a light cloud passed over the daughter's spirit; she looked gravely into the fire and drew a breath that was almost a sigh. It forced its way, in spite of a little struggle to repress it. Then, starting and blushing, she looked quickly around the circle, as if they had caught a glimpse into her bosom. The stranger asked what she had been thinking of.

29. "Nothing," answered she, with a downcast smile; "only I felt lonesome just then."

30. "Oh, I have always had a gift of feeling what is in other people's hearts," said he, half seriously. "Shall I tell the secret of yours? For I know what to think when a young girl shivers by a warm hearth and complains of lonesomeness at her mother's side. Shall I put these feelings into words?"

31. "They would not be a girl's feelings any longer if they could be put into words," replied the mountain-nymph, laughing, but avoiding his eye.

32. All this was said apart. Perhaps a germ of love was springing in their hearts so pure that it might blossom in Paradise, since it could not be matured on earth; for women worship such gentle dignity as his, and the proud, contemplative, yet kindly, soul is oftenest captivated by simplicity like hers. But while they spoke softly, and he was watching the happy sadness, the lightsome shadows, the shy yearnings, of a maiden's nature, the wind through the Notch took a deeper and drearier sound. It seemed, as the fanciful stranger said, like the choral strain of the spirits of the blast who in old Indian times had their dwelling among these mountains and made their heights and recesses a sacred region. There was a wail along the road as if a funeral were passing. To chase away the gloom, the family threw pine-branches on their fire till the dry leaves crackled and the flame arose, discovering once again a scene of peace and humble happiness. The light hovered about them fondly and caressed them all. There were the little faces of the children peeping from their bed apart, and here the father's frame of strength, the mother's subdued and careful mien, the high-browed youth, the budding girl, and the good old grandma, still knitting in the warmest place.

33. The aged woman looked up from her task, and with fingers ever busy was the next to speak.

34. "Old folks have their notions," said she, "as well as young ones. You've been wishing and planning and letting your heads run on one thing and another till you've set my mind a-wandering too. Now, what should an old woman wish for, when she can go but a step or two before she comes to her grave? Children, it will haunt me night and day till I tell you."

35. "What is it, mother?" cried the husband and wife at once.

36. Then the old woman, with an air of mystery which drew the circle closer round the fire, informed them that she had provided her grave-clothes some years before—a nice linen shroud, a cap with a muslin ruff, and everything of a finer sort than she had worn since her wedding day. But this evening an old superstition had strangely recurred to her. It used to be said in her younger days that if anything were amiss with a corpse—if only the ruff were not smooth or the cap did not set right—the corpse, in the coffin and beneath the clods, would strive to put up its cold hands and arrange it. The bare thought made her nervous.

37. "Don't talk so, grandmother," said the girl, shuddering.

38. "Now," continued the old woman, with singular earnestness, yet smiling strangely at her own folly, "I want one of you, my children, when your mother is dressed and in the coffin,—I want one of you to hold a looking-glass over my face. Who knows but I may take a glimpse at myself and see whether all's right?"

39. "Old and young, we dream of graves and monuments," murmured the stranger youth. "I wonder how mariners feel when the ship is sinking and they, unknown and undistinguished, are to be buried together in the ocean, that wide and nameless sepulcher?"

40. For a moment the old woman's ghastly conception so engrossed the minds of her hearers that a sound abroad in the night, rising like the roar of a blast, had grown broad, deep and terrible before the fated group were conscious of it. The house and all within it trembled; the foundations of the earth seemed to be shaken, as if this awful sound were the peal of the last trump. Young and old exchanged one wild glance and remained an instant pale, affrighted, without utterance or power to move. Then the same shriek burst simultaneously from all their lips:

41. "The slide! The slide!"

42. The simplest words must intimate, but not portray, the unutterable horror of the catastrophe. The victims rushed from their cottage and sought refuge in what they deemed a safer spot, where, in contemplation of such an emergency, a sort of barrier had been reared. Alas! they had quitted their security and fled right into the pathway of destruction. Down came the whole side of the mountain in a cataract of ruin. Just before it reached the house the stream broke into two branches, shivered not a window there, but overwhelmed the whole vicinity, blocked up the road and annihilated everything in its dreadful course. Long ere the thunder of that great slide had ceased to roar among the mountains the mortal agony had been endured and the victims were at peace. Their bodies were never found.

43. The next morning the light smoke was seen stealing from the cottage chimney up the mountainside. Within, the fire was yet smouldering on the hearth, and the chairs in a circle round it, as if the inhabitants had but gone forth to view the devastation of the slide and would shortly return to thank Heaven for their miraculous escape. All had left separate tokens by which those who had known the family were made to shed a tear for each. Who has not heard their name? The story has been told far and wide, and will forever be a legend of these mountains. Poets have sung their fate.

44. There were circumstances which led some to suppose that a stranger had been received into the cottage on this awful night, and had shared the catastrophe of all its inmates; others denied that there were sufficient grounds for such a conjecture. Woe for the high-souled youth with his dream of earthly immortality! His name and person utterly unknown, his history, his way of life, his plans, a mystery never to be solved, his death and his existence equally a doubt,—whose was the agony of that death moment?



Action: implied by plot, 45; of characters, 102; advanced by speech, 107; advanced by preliminary climax, 177.

Adjectives, 197.

Adverbs, 198.

Allegory, 29.

"Ambitious Guest, The:" as paradigm, 46; observes unities, 48, 150-152, 154; "elemental" or "true" plot of, 58; "theme" of, 58; "skeleton" or "working plot" of, 59-61; facts in, 90-93; characters in, 97; compression of dialogue in, 115; beginning of, 134, 146; scene of, 144; suspense in, 162; preparation for climax in, 167-169; climax of, 172, 183; conclusion of, 183; text of, 234-249.

Author, intrusion of, 120-122.

Balance, 160.

Beginning: crucial test, 132, 146 148; length of, 132; introduces foundation facts, 132-138; dilatory, 138-140; prefatory, 141; locates scene, 143, 145; best method of, 146.

Best twelve American short stories, 24.

"Bookish" conversation, 109.

Burlesque, 39.

Chapters, 149.

Characters: names of as titles, 72, 76; necessity of, 94; based on fact, 94; composites, 95; descriptions of, 96, 98-102; characteristics of, 97, 102; appearance of, 97; active, 102; few, 103; interest in 104; names of, 105; speech of, 106-116; models, 118.

Character Sketch, 32.

Character Study: defined, 32; Dialect Story related to, 33; plot of, 48.

Classification of Short Stories: use of, 26; Tale, 27; True Story, 27; Imaginative Tale, 27; Moral Story, 28; Fable, 28; Story with a Moral, 29; Allegory, 29; Weird Story, 30; Ghost Story, 30; Fantastic Tale, 31; Study in Horror, 31; Character Study, 32; Character Sketch, 32; Dialect Story, 33; Parable of the Times, 35; Instructive Story, 35; Story of To-day, 36; Story of Ingenuity, 36; Story of Wonder, 37; Detective Story, 37; Humorous Story, 38; Nonsense Story, 38; Burlesque, 39; Dramatic Story, 39-41.

Climax: how estimated, 161; preparation for, 161-170, 177-179; logical and inevitable, 165; anticipated, 166, 169; too obvious, 166; in "Ambitious Guest," 167-169; in stories of premonition, 169; as a test, 171; defined, 171; length of, 172; proper, 172; position of, 173; ends suspense, 174; not tragic, 175-177; preliminary, 177-179; "false" or "technical," 179-182; coincident with conclusion, 183.

Collections of short stories, 41-44.

Commonplaces: in title, 71; not literary, 86; in dialogue, 110, 112-114; in style, 191-195.

Conclusion: defined, 171; length of, 182; coincident with climax, 183; padded, 184; conventional, 185-188.

Conversation: see Dialogue.

Crane, Stephen, style of, 200.

Criticism, 222, 231.

Curiosity, 161.

Denouement: see Climax and Conclusion.

Description of characters, 96, 98-102; of scene 143, 145.

Detective Story: defined, 37; plot of, 48.

Dialect, 117.

Dialect Story: defined, 33; as literature, 116.

Dialogue: advances action, 106; modern use of, 107; natural and interesting, 108; "bookish," 109; commonplace, 110, 112-114; attempted humor in, 111; unimportant, 115; in Dialect Story, 116-118; introduces foundation facts, 134.

Diary, narration by, 125.

Dickens, Charles: search for types, 78; intensified characters, 96; names of characters, 105.

Didacticism: inartistic, 157; veiled, 158.

Double titles: sensational, 72-74; too long, 75.

Drama: tendency toward, 107; influence of, 175.

Dramatic Story: defined, 39; in Form, 40; in Effect, 40.

Editor: method of approaching, 223, 228; needs of, 224, 225-227; letter to, 229, 230; opinion of, 231; rejection by, 232, 233.

Elaboration of facts, 89.

Elemental Plot: defined, 58; in "Ambitious Guest," 59.

Element of Surprise: defined, 162; genuine, 165.

Element of Suspense: defined, 161; relief of, 162-164, 177-179; ended by climax, 174.

End: see Conclusion.

Epistolary form, 125.

Epoch of the Short Story, 12.

Fable, 28.

Facts: source of plots, 50; in fiction, 78; acquisition of, 78, 84; familiar, 80; unfamiliar, 80, 81; about society, 81; historical, 82; utility of, 84; use of, 86, 87; not strange, 86; plausibility of, 89; suppression and elaboration of, 89; in "Ambitious Guest," 90-93; characters based on, 94; introduced in beginning, 132-138.

False Climax, 179-182, 183.

Fantastic Tale, 31.

Fantasy, 19.

Fashions in short stories, 226.

Fiction: founded on fact, 78; verisimilitude in, 87; life in, 88; derivation of characters in, 94; names in, 105; surprise in, 170.

Figures of speech, 195.

"Fine writing," 193.

First person narrative, 122-125.

Foreign words and phrases, 196.

Genius: value of, 209; dependence on, 214.

Ghost Story, 30.

Grammar: disregard of, 204; faults of, 219.

Greek unities: observance of, 47; in "Ambitious Guest," 48.

Happy ending, 185.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel: influence on short story, 11; his didactic stories, 28-30.

Hero: description of, 96, 97, 98-102; importance of, 103; as narrator, 122-125; an animal or a thing, 126-128.

Humor, 20; attempted, 111.

Humorous Story, 38.

Imagination, 51.

Imaginative Tale, 27.

Individuality: influences style, 189; cultivation of, 205.

Inspiration: value of, 212-214; dependence on, 214; creation of, 214-216.

Instructive Story, 35.

Irving, Washington: influence on short story, 11; used narration within narration, 131; used dilatory beginning, 138.

Italics, 191, 201.

Kipling, Rudyard: made hero an animal, 127; used prefatory beginning, 142.

Length: of short story, 17; of title, 75; of beginning, 132, 146; of climax, 172; of conclusion, 182.

Letters: narration by, 125; accompanying MSS., 229; of recommendation, 230.

Local Color, 156.

Love Element, 18.

Mailing MSS., 228.

Material, acquisition of, 84, 210-212.

Methods of Narration, 119-131.

Moral Story, 28.

MSS.: preparation of, 216, 218, 228; submitting, 222-227, 229-233; letter with, 229; record of, 232.

Manuscript record, 232.

Names: of characters, 105; in fiction, 105; of places, 145.

Narration: methods of, 119, 131; natural, 120; impersonal, 120-122; unity in, 122; in first person, 122-125; by letter or diary, 125; by an animal or a thing, 126-128; by multiplicity of narrators, 128; within narration, 129-131.


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