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Mike Maggio: Stories Are Rooted In the Oral Tradition


image: Caspar Hübinger via Flickr

The short story is the crystalline form of the novel; that is, it takes the essence of what makes a novel (character, plot, dramatic development) and condenses it into a form that is whole and pleasing. What the novelist accomplishes in two or three hundred pages, the short storiest, if I can coin that term, achieves in, say, twenty or ten or, even, one. Some authors have even written the one sentence short story (e.g. Hemmingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” which consists of just six words!).

Having written both short stories and novels, I can say that there are definitive differences between the two. The novel is like taking a very long walk in a place you’ve never been. Whenever I go to a city I’ve never visited (my first trip to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia comes to mind), I like to spend days exploring both the main streets and the hidden alleys . The novel does the same: as an author, you have the time to meander and discover.

The short story does not afford such luxury, though a skilled writer can create that illusion, taking readers to new places ever so briefly, tantalizing them with just the right word or tone. Discovery, it seems, can be just as satisfying, if not more, in a flash.

The short story, I believe, harks back to the oral tradition, where entertainment consisted of the telling of a tale: in prose form or in ballad. Hence, Homer. Hence, Chaucer. Hence, 1001 Arabian Nights.

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About Mike Maggio

Mike Maggio has published fiction, poetry, travel and reviews in Potomac Review, The Montserrat Review, Pleiades, Apalachee Quarterly, The Northern Virginia Review,  The L.A. WeeklyThe Washington City Paper, Beltway Quarterly, Pig Iron, DC Poets Against the War and others. His books include Your Secret is Safe With Me (Black Bear Publications, 1988), Oranges From Palestine (Mardi Gras Press, 1996), Sifting Through the Madness (Xlibris, 2001) and deMOCKcracy (Plain View Press, 2007). Forthcoming work includes a poetry chapbook, Haunted Garden(Pudding House Publications) and a short story collection, The Keepers (March Street Press). He is an assistant adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College and a graduate of George Mason University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. He lives in Herndon, Virginia with his wife and children. His web site is

2 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. Brian B
    May 2, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    Well put! I’ve thought that same concept as well. Maybe it was because the oral tradition required recitation to the form of perfection in memory, but characters were developed fully yet quickly as storyline unfolded without a hitch. I think the more perfect universe is the one that unfurls in a rapid flow.

  2. Nathan Leslie
    May 4, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    Great points, Mike. Certainly most of the stories we first become familiar with are oral (bedtime tales, jokes). Twain is another great example. His yarns were rooted in campfire stories.