Read O. Henry Lately?

Using myself as an example, all writers are influenced by previous, or even current writers. You don’t write without at least a silent comparison to what you have read and admired. And your tastes change over time, like moving from a preference for reds to magenta. Like everything else, increased knowledge leads to sophistication, even snobbery, a haughty disdain, if you let it.

But if you are experiencing that attitude, I strongly suggest a dose of O. Henry. Read several of his magnificent short stories and that will set you straight. Not only are they funny, timely, surprising and on occasion bound to provoke tears, they are literate and give a glimpse of the times in which they were written. Succinct, in a word, yet all of them manage to paint a mental portrait of memorable people, even places, created in O. Henry’s different worlds.

O. Henry is humbling to read, if you are writing and feeling cocky about your ability. Remember that he was able to turn out a polished, perfect little short story in a week…every week. It was a job at the time, and I’m sure that O. Henry did not envision being eventually elevated to the lofty position of one of the best writers of any era.

If you haven’t read O. Henry, or if you have only read the more popular selections, such as Gift of the Magi, then do yourself a favor and read some more. To convince you of what you are missing, let me provide a paragraph which describes a young woman:

“You shall have no description of Alice v. d. R. Just call up in your mind the picture of your own Maggie or Vera or Beatrice, straighten her nose, soften her voice, tone her down and then tone her up, make her beautiful and unattainable—and you have a faint dry-point etching of Alice.”

Excerpt From: O. Henry. Roads of Destiny.
Alexander Francis

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