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Read 2 Short Stories Per Day -- Batch 2
Oct 9-Oct 16
To do a good job at creating something, you have to be quite knowledgeable about that type of thing — this is true whether we are talking about stories, games, or any other work of art. Thus, as part of a study of short stories, I am reading two of them a day (life willing — see below).
The idea is to learn at least one thing from each, and I have collected some notes below about what I have read since the previous post in this series.
Several stories stood out quite a lot to me and I wanted to take extra notes on these. Where I did so, I have mostly posted links to those notes. For example, The Thing in the Cellar.
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A Small Note
We said goodbye to our dog after an extremely painful two weeks. During that time, I fell far behind on my reading and writing, so this list shorter than usual, and I will include some other short form content to fill in the gap…
Love Letters: Part One, by M.B. Evangelista
My World of Fiction
A glimpse into a setting and a character.
I think I’ve read enough of this style of story that I am now categorizing them, but I haven’t given them a name yet. Let’s call them, “evocative snapshots” for now: they are stories that are not really stories in a traditional sense, but are rather meant to be evocative and thought-provoking. They feel like the seeds of a larger story, but leave the story itself up to the reader’s imagination. Many feel like the first chapter in a novel or novella or like a plot hook for a tabletop adventure game.
The Mouth of Hell, by Cody Goodfellow
Howls From Hell
A squire enters hell to save his master. What I found memorable was the depiction of a poetic hell fleshed out in reasonably vivid detail. The creative development here is noteworthy, and reminds me that creative world building pays off even in stories that are not novel-length.
The Thing in the Cellar, by David H. Keller
Read from Weird Fiction Review
This was a rather good story, another recommended by Sandy Petersen, and I wrote an entire article on it, linked below:
The Lady of Leer Castle, by Christopher O’ Halloran
Howls From the Dark Ages
The brother of the local lord has rallied defenders, protected the impoverished kingdom, and now the celebration commences.
I find this story notable because it begins so late into the action, yet is easy to follow. Great example of beginning as close to the end as possible.
There is also a short romantic section that I found believable precisely because of one character’s reluctance in the matter. In general, it seems like you get a lot of believability in stories by having resistant characters.
Finally, there was a character who felt particularly malevolent due to how alien and mysterious they seemed – the minimalism of description really pays off here, much like Lovecraft’s approach.
The story itself felt like the crux between the end of one larger story, and the start of another. Very nice.
Look Up There! by H. Russell Wakefield
Read via The Sanguine Woods
I enjoyed this story so much that I wrote a full article about it:
The Case of Lady Sannox, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Classic Horror Tales
The story of a surgeon and his romantic pursuits.
What Doyle does is, first, to establish that this is the mundane world that we all live within; then to establish this surgeon as an interesting man in this world, a man of expertise and passions; and then we are set to be horrified by what ensues.
Ie, he makes wonderful use of contrast.
As usual, Doyle’s prose is top notch and worthy of study, just like it was with The White Company.
The Book of Blood, by Clive Barker
Books of Blood Vol 1
What is memorable here is the depiction of the afterlife. He presents a series of endless highways where suffering corpses and ghosts have to trod along in misery. Rather upsetting.
Ie, Clive Barker doing what he does best: imaginative horror that succeeds because of how strong the concepts are. Yet another reminder to put serious stock into conceptualization while writing.
The Horror on the Links, by Seabury Quinn
Weird Tales, October 1925
The story of a shape-shifting gorilla or something. I didn’t like it much, I think because the author ignored suspension of disbelief entirely, and did so before I had bought into the world. I have enjoyed his other stories much more than this one.
For those unaware, Seabury Quinn has cloned Sherlock Holmes and Watson, except that they investigate the supernatural and The Weird.
The Tenants of Broussac, by Seabury Quinn
Weird Tales, December 1925
Unlike Quinn’s previous story this year, I rather enjoyed this one. The reluctance of the narrator to participate in medicine struck out to me, and his willingness to fight in the bar at the start turned him into a real person to me.
The detective is clearly a Sherlock Holmes ripoff, but he’s a fun guy, and does not have to be realistic: he can simply be a force of nature, so to speak, that the narrator gets caught up in and must therefore contend with, and seems to even enjoy doing so.
You may say: films are not short stories. We came here for short stories!
I think these are actually all legitimate inclusions for my purpose here. The goal of this project is to explore the world of short stories and learn about storytelling and writing technique. While short films do not let us analyze wordplay, but they still have a lot to say about story structure, medium-scale rhythm, theme, character, etc.
For one, like printed short stories, they are completely different than longer films — even 45-60 minute standalone tv show episodes feel quite different than these.
Note: the average reader spends about 1 minute on a 250 word page, so a 20-minute film is somewhat similar in length to a 20-page story.
(Yes, this is why making a 90-minute film out of a 400-page book so often goes badly)
Etheria (on Shudder)
Angels vs vampires. Didn’t stick with me that much. The way it ends on a “my journey is just beginning” note is interesting, and opens the door to a series of stories in that world with those characters. I liked that idea.
You, Me & Her
Etheria (on Shudder)
The multiverse, where if you act out of character, you might end the world – and so, you are doomed to suffer, knowing what you could have been but can never be.
Great example of world building and conceptualization paying off strongly.
Etheria (on Shudder)
Two friends cruise around after a crime in a way that reminds you of From Dusk Till Dawn, except without Mexican vampires.
I like buddy stories, I would watch more. Character is everything!
An alcoholic dad keeps asking his kid for more, and the poor kid feels like he has to give it to him. I found the opening to this story to be rather compelling: a hurricane is passing through, and some locals, including police, are holding up in a store to deter looters and maintain order while playing cards. The characters felt believable and likeable. It was quite a strong opening due to this setup.
Approx. 20 mins
The House of the Head
A story about a dollhouse… I would rather not describe this one because it was one of my favourite short stories of all time. I have never lived in such suspense about what would happen in a dollhouse in my life.
I don’t think I can learn as much from this, but because of an unexpected reason: it would have been impossible to create outside the film medium. The camera work is integral to the storytelling, and without that visual dimension, it would not be the same story.
Go out and watch this tonight.
Approx. 20 mins
Bad Wolf Down
A werewolf story that takes place in World War 2, behind enemy lines. It is certainly not a deep story, but it has a joyful ending and was fun. The lesson here is that a simple, even sloppy, story can still be a great as long as it’s fun enough. Seabury Quinn’s stories are like this sometimes — in many ways, they are sometimes terrible stories, but despite this they are fun.
Approx. 20 mins
A fun story about a narrator who talks to the camera, journal like, while adapting to life with a new pet. It was endearing, and that style of narration really worked well — film seldomly attempts this mode, but it’s common in short stories. Very conversational. Another fun one.
Approx. 20 mins
Some Closing Thoughts
I think that 2 stories a day is quite a large goal, considering the length of many of them (often 40+ pages). Also, when my time is short, I find myself conflicted about whether to spend my spare hour reading or whether to spend it writing.
I may adapt this project slightly next week to take this into account so that I’m not tempted to read only the shortest stories I can find.
Also, I may temporarily begin releasing issues of this newsletter twice a week, in order to get more posts in before Halloween, which is the most important time of the year for horror fans.
Have a good day!
I have been writing for 20 years and I still have a lot to learn. If you are also studying writing, why not join me? Issues come out once per week, and I love discussing these topics with people!