Playing the Odds

Art Taylor

In his 1842 review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, Edgar Allan Poe laid out a hefty challenge for short story writers—a pronouncement that likely still threatens to humble many of us today: Speaking of how a “skillful literary artist” should approach craft, Poe wrote that “having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step.

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