Today at the Writers Guild blog I read a post by Rebecca Graf called "Writing a Short Story: Tips to Help You". And yes, there were a few helpful tips for beginners but what really made me grind my teeth was this "Personally, I don't read many short stories...". Her use of short stories is for a launching pad to write novels.
Now I love short stories and I've been reading them all my life starting with Grimm's Fairy Tales. The best piece of advice I could give to any writer of short stories is to respect the form. Yes, they're hard to write because you have to focus on one story, not a dozen side plots. But when you focus on that one story it can turn into a thing of beauty.
You want to learn how to write a short story? Read short stories. Start with "Soft Monkey" by Harlan Ellison. He teaches you how to break the rules and use an unreliable narrator. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor teaches you how to take the mundane pieces of life and turn them upside down. "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl gives you the perfect murder mystery and shows you how to get away with murder. "Cain" by Andrew Vachss turns the basic revenge plot on its ear. And "The Payoff" by Stanley Ellin, well, it just leaves you shaking in your shoes at his audacity.
There are so many authors like O' Henry and Richard Matheson who cover the whole spectrum of genres. Read them. Learn from them.
Do you want something more current? Pick up a copy of the novella "You Were Never Really Here" by Jonathan Ames. When I finished this story I was so pissed at the ending, but as I thought about it I realized that it was the perfect ending. Ames gives you Joe's story and by the time you finish reading you know exactly what he is going to do next, you didn't have to be told. That short and you know the character inside and out. Amazing.
If you're going to write short stories do it for the right reason, because they are a beautiful art form. Don't use them to launch a career. Love them for what they are. And above all, give them the respect they deserve.