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EDGAR ALLAN POE’S ADVICE TO FICTION WRITERS

Nevermore Edgar Allan Poe (18??-18??)

Nevermore: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Poe’s Ideas On Creating A Single Effect

American horror master Edgar Allan Poe agreed with his older contemporary, British author Sir Walter Scott, that it was the the short story—then a relatively new literary form—rather than the novel that provided the ideal framework for a supernatural tale. In fact, Poe refined Scott’s idea further with his declaration that a short story should always be short enough for reading in a single sitting. His reasoning was based on his belief that a successful story produced a “single effect” in a reader—one powerful mood or feeling that grew as the story progressed and remained with the reader even after he or she had finished reading. Poe thought this single effect was so overwhelmingly important that the entire story should be crafted with the aim of creating it—and that all the author’s hard work would be spoiled by an interruption such as the reader’s need for a meal or a bathroom break.

Poe first expressed these ideas in his 1842 review of Hawthorne’s collection, Twice Told Tales, which you can read here. The author later restated and elaborated on his ideas in his Philosophy of Composition (1846).

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